British Columbia

Fired staffer fights back in B.C. research scandal

Seven workers who were either fired or suspended in a health research scandal now no longer work for the government, but one of them is fighting back.

Lawsuit sheds light on government allegations against researchers

B.C. Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid says seven workers in all have been fired in the research scandal. (CBC)

Seven workers who were either fired or suspended in a health research scandal now no longer work for the government, but one of them is fighting back.

Dr. Margaret MacDiarmid, B.C.'s health minister, announced in September that the ministry had launched an investigation into the relationship between university researchers seeking grants and some employees in the ministry division that decides what drugs B.C.'s Pharmacare program covers.

At that time three employees had been fired and four had been suspended.

MacDiarmid said Wednesday all the employees are now gone, including one who was suspended and later filed a defamation suit against her ministry.

Once anyone goes forward and says they've been constructively dismissed, then they don't work for the employer anymore," MacDiarmid said.

"None of them any longer work for the ministry."

In September, MacDiarmid said she was "deeply troubled" over the allegations within her ministry, but she said Wednesday she can't give any further details in order to protect the privacy of those involved.

But the ministry filed a statement of defence earlier this month in response to a defamation lawsuit from Malcolm Maclure, who was a director of research and evidence development with the ministry's pharmaceutical services division.

'Preferential treatment' alleged

The statement of claim and the statement of defence contain allegations and claims yet to be proven in court.

The statement of defence denies all of Maclure's allegations and also sheds some light on the issues involved in the scandal.

The statement of defence said that Maclure was suspended for failing to comply with policies and procedures by "giving preferential treatment to his preferred candidate and member of his extended family."

It also alleged Maclure disclosed confidential information and accused him of "facilitating or knowingly failing to prevent the unauthorized access to data by employees and/or third parties."

The statement of defence argued that Maclure ended his employment himself by having his lawyers notify the ministry that Maclure considered his employment to be at an end.

Maclure said in his suit filed Sept. 14 that he enjoyed an "exemplary" reputation as a "world leading authority" in the field of health services epidemiology and had served as a "distinguished scholar" at Harvard's school of public health and at the school of health information science at the University of Victoria.

Claims defamation

"He was at all times during his employment, scrupulous in avoiding conflicts of interest and diligent in preserving and improving data privacy," state the documents.

He said in his suit that he was on holiday with his family in Europe in June when his government email account was shut down and he was sent a letter through his wife's email account informing him he had been suspended.

His suit said his suspension was made known within the Health Ministry and was made worse by media stories about the allegations of inappropriate access to medical information.

Maclure's suit alleged he was identified and the implication was that he was involved in the misuse of health data, was involved in breaches of patient privacy and is guilty of serious employment misconduct.

"The high-handed and callous conduct of the defendant, as set out herein, which has defamed the plaintiff, is ongoing and entitles the plaintiff to punitive and exemplary damages," the suit noted.   

MacDiarmid said Wednesday she isn't sure how long it will take for the investigation.