British Columbia

B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke wants more power to probe health firings

British Columbia's Ombudsperson Jay Chalke says he's concerned he may be prevented from properly probing the botched firings of several health ministry employees in 2012.

Several health ministry employees were fired in 2012 in what government calls 'regrettable mistake'

B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke says he's reluctant to probe the health ministry firings until the government changes the law to give his office more power.

B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke says he's concerned his hands may be tied from properly probing the botched firings of several health ministry employees in 2012.

Chalke says a legislative amendment is needed if he is to conduct a thorough investigation of the firings scandal.

In a letter sent to a legislative finance committee on July 7, Chalke said the committee should not refer the investigation to his office unless it's prepared to amend that law governing his powers.

Last week, Health Minister Terry Lake asked the committee to refer the health firings matter to Chalke's office.

However, in his letter, Chalke cited a number of issues that give him pause. For one, he said he does not have the authority to compel testimony from people who have signed confidentiality agreements, noting that his findings will be made public.

Chalke wants access

"Without such an amendment, I predict that the result will, at best, be litigation, cost and delay commenced by one or more persons concerning the ombudsperson's right to information, and, at worst, the inability of this office to obtain key information," Chalke wrote in the letter. 

"My concern about this issue is so significant that I would formally ask that the committee not refer this matter to my office unless it is accompanied by a recommendation to government for an urgent legislative amendment."

Chalke also expressed concern that he might not be granted access to cabinet documents. He also asked for a specific budget allocation to pay for the probe.

In addition, Chalke said he's worried that there might not be enough support for an ombudsperson investigation among the all-party finance committee tasked with referring the case to him.

"Whatever the committee decides to do in this matter, I would ask that it do so unanimously," Chalke wrote. "It is clearly not in the public interest, or in the interest of my office that, for the duration of the investigation ... there be a partisan division about whether the referral is a good and proper approach to address this issue."

Eight health staffers fired

In September of 2012, the government fired eight staffers citing an alleged breach in the handling of confidential public health data.

One of those terminated, University of Victoria PhD candidate Roderick MacIsaac killed himself three months later.

The seven remaining researchers and the sister of the deceased banded together to demand an inquiry into what happened.

Lake said last week that an ombudsman review is the "perfect" avenue to take a critical look at what happened. He also noted that the RCMP reviewed the Office of the Comptroller General's report on the firings and declined to investigate any further. 

But RCMP documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun through a Freedom of Information request show Mounties were never given evidence by the government to investigate the wrongdoing which was used to justify the firings.