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b.c. election 2017

Premier Christy Clark is pictured in Burnaby, British Columbia, Wednesday, February 22, 2017. Ms. Clark says the government offers its condolences, but it is up to the civil service to deal with the fallout over dismissed researchers.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

B.C. Premier Christy Clark says it's up to the head of the province's civil service to deal with the fallout from a scathing report critical of the firing of eight health researchers over a data breach – a controversy linked to the suicide of one of the workers.

In her first comments since the release of a long-awaited report by Ombudsperson Jay Chalke, Ms. Clark told a news conference that the government has apologized "more than once" and "offered our deepest condolences" for what happened. She said the government would be working to do whatever it can to ensure all of the recommendations in the report are enacted, including appointing a former judge to oversee that process.

But she noted that Kim Henderson, deputy minister to the Premier who is also the head of the B.C. civil service, has accepted the report's recommendations and that "this is an issue she needs to resolve."

Ms. Clark said it is appropriate that government has a limited responsibility in managing the civil service.

"As Premier, I know that it is wrong, absolutely wrong for politicians to interfere with hiring and firing decisions in the civil service. We should not be doing that," she said.

The Ombudsperson's report found that the decision to fire the researchers in 2012 followed a flawed and needlessly rushed process, and that the government misled the public by suggesting, wrongly, that the RCMP had launched an investigation. The report also found that there was no political interference in the decision to fire the researchers, but said the government bungled the situation further as it slowly retreated from its initial allegations of wrongdoing.

The report breathed new life into the scandal, which had prompted repeated calls for a public inquiry, less than a week before the start of the provincial election campaign. The firings were announced at a news conference in September, 2012, by newly appointed health minister Margaret MacDiarmid. At that time, Ms. MacDiarmid told reporters the RCMP's corporate-crimes division was investigating allegations of breach of privacy and conflict of interest involving inappropriate access of medical information.

One of the researchers, Roderick MacIsaac, killed himself after enduring "badgering" interrogations by government investigators, and then being fired just two days before the end of his student co-op term.

The 500-page report, titled Misfire, says the decision to fire the health researchers was made by then-deputy health minister Graham Whitmarsh. It was only after Mr. Whitmarsh left government that the new deputy minister of health, Stephen Brown, called off the investigation.

According to the report, it was not until Mr. MacIsaac's grieving sister, Linda Kayfish, held a news conference in September, 2014, that the government decided to review how the unfounded firings occurred, and the Premier issued an apology to Ms. Kayfish. Even then, the Premier did not acknowledge that Mr. MacIsaac had done nothing wrong.

After the report was released Thursday, Ms. Henderson offered an "unqualified and comprehensive" apology. She said the province accepts all the recommendations in Mr. Chalke's report, including a proposal to establish a $500,000 university scholarship in Mr. MacIsaac's name.

On Friday, B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan was dismissive of Ms. Clark's comments about the public-service responsibility in dealing with the file. "Every time there's a problem, Christy Clark points a finger. She attacks rather than helps," he said. "I think that speaks to her character."

With a report from Justine Hunter in Victoria

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