A key figure in the the firing of eight Ministry of Health researchers has refused to take part in a review into the botched dismissals, saying the government is holding back key information in a bid to avoid embarrassment.
Graham Whitmarsh served as the deputy minister of health in 2012 when the workers were fired following an internal investigation for alleged breach of privacy involving personal health records. Mr. Whitmarsh left government in 2013, and announced on Tuesday he will not answer questions from Victoria labour lawyer Marcia McNeil, who is conducting the review for government.
Ms. McNeil must now complete her work by Dec. 19 without direct input from the senior bureaucrat responsible for those dismissals.
"I believe Ms. McNeil is a credible professional who is in a difficult position trying to complete a review established with an unreasonably restrictive scope and terms of reference," Mr. Whitmarsh wrote in a letter released Tuesday. "While Ms. McNeil may be independent, clearly the review is not."
Health Minister Terry Lake, asked about the letter in Question Period, urged the opposition to wait for the final report from Ms. McNeil before deciding if her work is incomplete. "Then all of us will have an ability to determine how comprehensive it is and if there are next steps that need to be followed," Mr. Lake said. "We would say that it's unfortunate if people outside of government choose not to be interviewed by Ms. McNeil."
The B.C. government has mostly retreated from the 2012 firings of researchers who were conducting independent studies into the safety of selected prescription drugs. Most have been re-hired or have settled wrongful dismissal actions out of court.
The retreat was headed by the current deputy minister of health, Stephen Brown. Government officials say Mr. Brown reviewed the firings, and then took steps to reverse them, but Mr. Whitmarsh said Ms. McNeil has been denied a copy of the deputy's report on what what he found.
"I am particularly concerned that Ms. McNeil has not been provided a copy of, or access to, the earlier review undertaken by Stephen Brown," he wrote.
Ministry officials later said Ms. McNeil has interviewed the current deputy minister of health, but he did not turn over a report on the affair because he never wrote one.
Adrian Dix, the NDP critic who has led the opposition's campaign on behalf of the fired workers, said the absence of even an internal report underscores the government's reluctance to accept wrongdoing. "They fired people wrongly and to this day they cannot bring themselves to genuinely say 'I'm sorry'."