10/03/2014 04:51 EDT | Updated 12/03/2014 05:59 EST

B.C. Government Apologizes For Firing Worker Who Committed Suicide

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VICTORIA - The allegations were serious, a stern-faced British Columbia health minister announcing that seven employees had been fired and the RCMP had been called in to investigate a collection of data breaches.

More than two years later, another health minister admitted the government was "heavy-handed" in firing a co-op student related to the internal probe as he issued an apology to the family of a former employee who killed himself months later.

Roderick MacIsaac was let go from his position in late summer 2012, just days before the end of his term.

"To be fired when you're working under the supervision of other employees is disproportionate," Health Minister Terry Lake told reporters on a conference call Friday. "We have come to the conclusion that other types of actions should have been considered rather than firing him."

On behalf of the government, Lake said he wanted to relay an apology and sympathy for the stress and sadness MacIsaac's family has endured as a result of the man's death in December 2012.

"What happened to Mr. MacIsaac, of course, was a tragedy. I want to personally express my condolences."

Four ministry employees were fired and three others were suspended without pay between August and September 2012 after an investigation into the relationship between university researchers seeking grants and employees working on B.C.'s Pharmacare program.

Then-health minister Margaret MacDiarmid said the investigation found evidence of potential conflict of interest and inappropriate conduct involving the abuse of drug research information. Personal medical information appeared to have been improperly used for research purposes, she alleged.

While RCMP were contacted, no charges have been laid. The government has never released evidence of wrongdoing by MacIsaac, nor given a fulsome explanation about what happened.

A review of the 2012 firings was later conducted by deputy health minister Stephen Brown. He found some of the employment terminations were unwarranted or excessive, leading to settlements with three employees. Two wrongful dismissal lawsuits are still winding through the courts.

Neither Lake nor Brown were in their current roles at the time.

Lake said that the government apology was prompted by touching public statements made Tuesday at the legislature by MacIsaac's sister, Linda Kayfish.

"I would say that hearing Ms. Kayfish touched us all," he said.

"It really did have an effect on us, and I think made us realize that an apology was appropriate given all we have learned over the last couple of years."

Kayfish told reporters through tears that all her family wanted was an apology and explanation.

"I figured that when somebody makes a mistake and ruins people's lives like this, they had to know there were going to be repercussions," she said.

"For us to fix things, you have to recognize an error. Stand up and recognize that error. Apologize. Be sincere."

A coroner's report said MacIsaac, 46, was experiencing "significant personal stress" related to occupational and academic matters that had arisen in his life when he died.

He was found collapsed on the floor of his home on Jan. 8, 2013, although he hadn't been seen for more than a month. A gas-powered generator in the room had been running until its fuel ran out, the report said.

New Democrat leader John Horgan, who facilitated the woman's news conference, called the apology a "victory" for the MacIsaac family.

The government has appointed the head of the Public Service Agency to review the initial investigation that resulted in the firings. Recommendations will be made to improve how the ministry responds to alleged misconduct in the future.

The deadline for the report is Oct. 31.

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