VICTORIA - Health researchers who were wrongly fired by the British Columbia government are calling for an independent public inquiry into how a painstakingly built program could be undone so quickly.
In a letter to Health Minister Terry Lake, the seven workers and the sister of a man who killed himself shortly after being dismissed said the inquiry must have the power and authority to subpoena people and get statements under oath.
The workers who were part of a drug research grant program were fired in September 2012 amid allegations of inappropriate and possibly criminal conduct, but media reports later showed the RCMP never investigated the claims.
Then-health minister Margaret MacDiarmid said there were allegations that employees inappropriately accessed sensitive medical records.
Health Minister Terry Lake was not available for comment on Wednesday but said in an earlier interview that he's not ruling out an inquiry but people's privacy would have to protected so past mistakes of wrongly challenging their reputations aren't made again.
Lake said the government is getting legal advice on how it can release information to the public but still protect privacy while abiding by the confidentiality agreements that have been made.
Several of the fired employees launched lawsuits, at least one of which is expected to go to trial next year. Some people were later rehired and the government admitted the dismissals were a "regrettable mistake."
Almost two years after Roderick MacIsaac took his own life, the B.C. government apologized to his family, and Lake expressed his condolences to them.
The letter from the workers says an inquiry should recommend how to restore public confidence and ensure the government provides certainty on the safety and effectiveness of prescription drugs.
"It should provide the public service with reassurance that evidence will be the basis for public policy and for employment practices."
The group said it did not want the provincial auditor general or any other part of government to conduct the inquiry, "given that the auditor general and many other agencies of government were directly involved in the events that led to the 2012 firings."
"We believe the strength of democracy depends on unbiased evidence, which depends upon independent inquiry," said the letter from Ramsay Hamdi, Robert Hart, Dr. Malcolm Maclure, Ron Mattson, David Scott, Dr. Rebecca Warburton, Dr. William Warburton and Linda Kayfish, the sister of MacIsaac.
The letter said the researchers' work reviewing the effectiveness and safety of prescription drugs saved the province over $100 million over the last two decades by not covering drugs that were later confirmed to be harmful or a waste of money.
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