In 2012, Rob Mattson was fired from his job along with half a dozen colleagues working for the B.C. Ministry of Health doing pharmaceutical research. It was a devastating end to his 28-year-long career as a civil servant: Then-minister of health Margaret MacDiarmid said the mass firings were based on inappropriate conduct involving a breach of individuals' private health records.
Within two years, the government reinstated or settled wrongful-dismissal suits with most of the group. Mr. Mattson even got an apology of sorts. "The government advises that its decision to terminate Mr. Mattson was a regrettable mistake," a press release last August stated. "The government thanks Mr. Mattson for his long years of service as a loyal and dedicated public servant."
But Mr. Mattson's name hasn't been cleared, really, because the government chose to frame the firings in the most serious terms possible, by highlighting the fact that the RCMP had been asked to investigate.
Today, even though the government has retreated from almost all of its initial allegations, it does not appear that the police were ever called off.
A government official told The Globe and Mail that from the province's position, the request to investigate was tacitly rescinded when the cases were settled last summer. "We are no longer asking them to pursue it," the official said. "We consider the matter closed and that we have given all the info that there is to the RCMP and we are not pursuing it any further."
But it's not clear that those instructions have been passed on to the RCMP.
Last week, NDP health critic Adrian Dix released e-mails showing as recently as Nov. 6, the RCMP were still seeking material from the government related to the case. Constable Dean Miller of the Federal Serious and Organized Crime detachment wrote to ask: "Are you any closer to being in a position to forward your findings?"
Meanwhile, the provincial government fought the release of documents related to the firings by arguing that disclosure of the information could reasonably be expected to harm an investigation by the RCMP. It took an order from the Privacy Commissioner last November to break that logjam.
Mr. Mattson, who chose to retire rather than return to his old job, said he has never been interviewed by police. Is the case closed? The RCMP won't say. "We don't have any update at this time," is all a spokesman for the force would say in an e-mail last week.
It's hard to put your life back together when you are, apparently, still under suspicion of criminal activity.
"There is an incredible amount of anger, still, because at the end of the day, [government's] actions led to horrible consequences for all of us," Mr. Mattson said in an interview.
Last fall, after a tearful plea from the family of Roderick MacIsaac, a researcher who killed himself after being fired, Premier Christy Clark promised an investigation. "I'm certain in my own heart that many people were not dealt with fairly," she said at the time. "It was a heavy-handed answer to the mistakes that were made."
The government's investigation into the firings, headed by labour lawyer Marcia McNeil, concluded in December that the process was "flawed from the outset" but the proceedings were so poorly documented that she could not figure out who made the decision to terminate the workers, or why.
Health Minister Terry Lake, in the House last week, suggested that was the end of the matter. "We now have the McNeil report that reviewed the public-service response to the allegations that were put forward. We have taken that report, and we're implementing the recommendations in that report."
Mr. Dix said that doesn't come close to closing the file.
"To say people are under RCMP investigation, and then to produce nothing and leave that smear out there for years, their careers damaged? The government should formally and publicly apologize to everyone involved."
Mr. Mattson laughed when asked about an apology. The damage is done. But he said he would appreciate some certainty about the RCMP probe. "They should probably advise the public, and us, that there is no RCMP investigation," he said.
The B.C. government set the hounds on these workers in September of 2012 when they asked for an RCMP investigation. There needs to be a way to call off the dogs.