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gary mason

The scandal the B.C. government is desperate to see fade away, won't. That's because the ruthless and wrongful firings of eight health-ministry workers three years ago needs more than just an apology and some out-of-court settlement money to disappear; it needs a public inquiry.

Most in the province don't understand just how atrocious a story this is. People have become more incensed over Premier Christy Clark's plans to shut down a bridge for a few hours on a Sunday to stage a yoga event. And yet the health firings are far more egregious, which is why the government is loath to have people put under oath so we might finally learn who was responsible for this reprehensible decision that put eight decent and honest people through a living hell.

One of those who was dismissed and thrown into the dark shadows of suspicion ended up taking his own life.

The Vancouver Sun recently breathed new life into the shocking affair when it disclosed there was never an RCMP investigation into what happened, contrary to what the government was telling the public around the time the firings became news. No, as it turned out, the Mounties could never get the province to release the information they needed to proceed with a proper probe. Consequently, nothing was done.

In fact, all the government did by muttering about the criminal inquiry that was supposedly under way was cast the (falsely) accused in a more damaging light.

Not only did these people not have an honest opportunity to defend themselves, the media were reporting that their actions were the subject of a police review, one that might possibly lead to criminal charges.

Had the RCMP been given the information to take a proper look into what had happened, we might have learned how it all shook down; who in government made the call to fire these people. The police might have been able to determine if the eight were being scapegoated toward some other end.

Of course, the government likes to say that this entire fiasco has already been investigated, by labour lawyer Marcia McNeil. It was. And Ms. McNeil found no evidence that the eight workers had improperly shared sensitive and protected government information, as alleged. Her report concluded that the workers were subject to intimidation tactics and were not given any opportunity to defend themselves against the charges the government had launched against them.

But what Ms. McNeil was unable to do, given the limitations of her authority, was find out who ordered the firings in the first place. Another reason she wasn't able to determine this was the disturbing lack of any kind of paper trail. Was all the incriminating evidence deleted? Or were the most sensitive of discussions on this matter held verbally?

We don't know. We don't know a lot of things.

Health Minister Terry Lake has had the task of trying to defend the government on this file, a thankless job if there ever was one. He continually says the government has apologized and taken full responsibility for its actions. To some extent that is true, but it doesn't want the public to know the full story. Putting people under oath might reveal some horribly uncomfortable truths, the kind that can permanently damage a government.

The fact that those workers, whose lives were so terribly impacted by what happened, would like to see an inquiry into this debacle matters little to the government. While the individuals who were targeted may have been treated beneath contempt, the Liberals believe they've done all they need to, and that should be the end of it.

It shouldn't, of course. But unfortunately, it likely will be.