VICTORIA - British Columbia's government has launched its second public review, but has stopped short of calling a full independent inquiry, into a long-running scandal that saw eight health researchers fired, one of whom took his own life.
Health Minister Terry Lake said Friday another review of the firings is appropriate but rejected an inquiry.
He said he favours a review by the Office of the Ombudsperson, which is mandated to address government fairness, but noted that public inquiries are often costly and lengthy.
The workers or their families have since received government apologies, reached out-of-court settlements, are back at their jobs or are pursuing court actions against the government. The body of doctoral candidate Roderick MacIsaac was found in his home in January 2013.
"The key players will be compelled to be interviewed by the Ombudsperson," said Lake. "It's clear that's within his duties."
He said he wants an investigation into the events leading up to the decision to terminate the employees and the actions taken by the government afterwards.
Lake also rejected the New Democrats' concerns that newly appointed Ombudsperson Jay Chalke could be in a perceived conflict of interest due to his previous employment as the head of a Ministry of Justice branch from 2011 to 2015.
"It's about the office," said Lake. "It's not about the individual. His job is to be the Ombudsperson, and this kind of review certainly falls within the purview of his office."
Members of B.C.'s legislature unanimously approved Chalke as the new Ombudsperson two months ago, and he officially started his new post this month.
Opposition NDP Leader John Horgan said the review is a step forward but he still favours an independent public inquiry. Chalke has the option to appoint another official from within his office to conduct the review, he said.
"I do believe this falls again short of what we've been calling for and what the individuals involved have been calling for, and that's true independence and the ability to have a public and open process here," Horgan said.
The workers were part of a drug-research grant program and were fired in September 2012 amid allegations of inappropriate and possible criminal conduct.
Then-health minister Margaret MacDiarmid said there were allegations that employees inappropriately accessed sensitive medical records, but charges were never laid and media reports later showed the RCMP never investigated the claims.
A government-appointed review concluded last year the firings did not follow existing procedures and reached premature conclusions. Labour lawyer Marcia McNeil's report last December found the investigation was flawed from its start.
The government has consistently rejected calls from the NDP and the fired workers and their families to order an independent public inquiry to unravel the scandal and determine who was responsible for the firings.
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