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Fired B.C. government drug researcher sues province, health minister

Drug research.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

A former British Columbia Health Ministry special projects manager says he's done nothing wrong and he's suing Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid and the province in an attempt to get his reputation back. Ron Mattson said Tuesday he feels betrayed and cheated by the B.C. government who fired him last September amid an ongoing health research grant investigation "for some unknown reason."

Mr. Mattson, a 16-year elected member of View Royal council in suburban Victoria, alleges wrongful dismissal, wrongful withholding of pay and defamation in his B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit.

Mr. Mattson, 59, is one of seven former government workers fired earlier this year as part of a government drug research grant investigation.

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The allegations involved inappropriate conduct after a review of contracting and research grant practices between ministry employees and researchers at the universities of B.C. and Victoria.

"I feel personally betrayed by the government, and after 28 years of dedicated service, I feel cheated," said Mr. Mattson, flanked by his lawyer during a Victoria news conference he called to announce his lawsuit.

"I've done nothing wrong and still I was fired for some unknown reason," he said. "My reputation has been destroyed. I've been forced to retire and go on pension. I'm not sure if I'll ever work again in a similar job with similar responsibilities."

In a written statement Tuesday, the Ministry of Health stated it will not comment publicly on the lawsuit, but intends to mount a defence in court.

"Out of respect for each individual's right to privacy, we have not commented, nor will we confirm publicly any specific personnel information related to employees who were terminated or suspended," said the ministry statement. "We have never publicly disclosed individuals' names in the media, nor do we intend to."

Last September, Ms. MacDiarmid announced three employees had been fired and four were suspended and later fired.

It came after the ministry had launched an investigation into the relationship between university researchers seeking grants and some employees in the ministry division that decides which drugs B.C.'s Pharmacare program would pay for.

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Mr. Mattson's lawsuit is the second civil action launched amid the group of fired ministry employees.

The defamation suit filed by Malcolm Maclure, who was a director of research and evidence development with the ministry's pharmaceutical services division, alleges the ministry identifies him as being involved in the misuse of health data.

Mr. Mattson was employed as the project manager for the Health Ministry's $78-million Alzheimer Drug Therapy Initiative designed to collect data required to evaluate the safety and effective uses of medications used to treat Alzheimer's.

The project was announced in 2007 by former premier Gordon Campbell and was expected to involve more than 25,000 British Columbians diagnosed with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease.

Mr. Mattson's notice of civil claim said he was fired on Sept. 6 by deputy health minister Graham Whitmarsh who stated in a letter that Mr. Mattson arranged for an unauthorized health contractor to receive a disc containing confidential data.

Mr. Mattson's claim said he did not have the authority, discretion or power to provide confidential information to anybody. The lawsuit said Mr. Mattson's superiors and other government officials were the only people able to authorize access to the data.

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"No personal data was ever delivered by Mr. Mattson to any person," said his civil notice of claim.

But Mr. Mattson's Sept. 6 termination letter, which he provided at the news conference, states he breached his "fiduciary obligation to protect and safeguard this data."

The termination letter said that on June 28 Mr. Mattson arranged for an unauthorized health contractor to receive a disc containing confidential data.

"Your conduct is especially troubling given that you were aware, as of June 14 … that a review of the ministry's data practices was under review and that several individuals, including yourself, had had their data access suspended," stated the letter.

The letter also stated Mr. Mattson's termination "is for just cause."

Mr. Mattson's voice shook with emotion as he explained his reasons behind the lawsuit.

"I'm looking to get my name and reputation restored," he said. "I've been treated inappropriately by an employer who I provided 28 years of dedicated service. I want to correct that situation."

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