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British Columbia Internal report sheds little light on B.C. Health Ministry firings

In 2012, the Ministry of Health began investigating the pharmaceutical services division because of allegations of inappropriate data access, intellectual property infringements and irregular procurement methods.

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Reports on provincial investigations into the B.C. pharmaceutical services division that led to the dismissal of eight drug researchers, and later apologies from the government for mishandling the affair, have been released with scores of pages blank.

The deletions mean the long-awaited release of the documents sheds little light on controversial events such as the suicide of one former employee and the government's admission its investigations were flawed.

"Large portions of this report have been redacted to comply with obligations under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA) – including names, details, findings and conclusions," said a statement by the Ministry of Finance released with an investigation report by the Office of the Comptroller General that was completed in June, 2015.

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"Given the personal information involved here, there are significant limits on what can be said," Jamie Edwardson, communications director for the Ministry of Finance, said in an e-mail that accompanied the documents.

In the spring of 2012, the Ministry of Health began investigating the pharmaceutical services division (PSD) because of allegations of inappropriate data access, intellectual property infringements and irregular procurement methods. The PSD provides financial assistance to B.C. residents for prescription drugs and selects which drugs will be covered.

In July, 2012, investigators produced an interim update for the deputy minister of health, and employee dismissals and suspensions followed. The reasons were never made public. One of those who was fired, University of Victoria co-op student Roderick MacIsaac, 46, took his own life a few months after his dismissal.

In the fall of 2012, the Comptroller General began a parallel investigation into the PSD. Both documents were released Monday in response to FOI requests from the NDP and the media.

Last year, the government apologized for mishandling the issue and admitted the allegations had not been proven. Some employees were rehired and some settled through wrongful dismissal suits, two of which remain before the courts.

The internal health ministry report shows that, among other things, investigators tracked the flow of money through a complex web that included government employees, contractors, consulting firms and research organizations.

But a two-page matrix and four-page appendix describing the "relationship web" was redacted. Also blank are four pages headed "Shuffling Monies/Funds," two pages labelled "Personal Gain" and 12 pages on conflict of interest. "The primary purpose of the investigation was to confirm or dispel allegations regarding suspected procurement and contracting improprieties involving the PSD," states an internal ministry of finance memo released with the report.

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The memo says that "shortly after the fieldwork commenced," the investigations unit encountered challenges getting information from the University of Victoria and the University of British Columbia that limited the scope of the examination. The memo did not say how the investigation was connected to the universities.

"The most significant obstacle occurred in the team's inability to collect critical electronic evidence from UVic and UBC. Specifically, both universities refused access to their electronic files, and prescribed data collection/examination protocols that would have prevented the investigation team from meeting its professional examination standards, if the team had accepted the universities' protocols," the memo states.

The investigation team added that it was still able to gather sufficient evidence to complete its examination. Representatives for UVic and UBC said they had not seen the report and needed to review it before commenting.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly said the Office of the Comptroller General's  investigation into the firing of Health Ministry researchers was finished in 2013. In fact, the investigation concluded in June, 2015.

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