Ministry of Health watch

By Alan Cassels, May 2013

Another lawsuit against the Ministry of Health for firings of drug safety evaluation employees

A large question mark still hovers over 1515 Blanshard Street, headquarters of the BC Ministry of Health, as observers try to make sense of the tsunami that has, and continues to wreak havoc in that building and delay drug safety evaluations. Just last month another fired Ministry employee filed her lawsuit against the government, raising the tally to seven lawsuits or wrongful-dismissal grievances. Two other employees were let go (with severance) and one died, a co-op student who was three days away from finishing his work term.

Sources within the Ministry say that four new people have been hired to help with the investigation, some calling this a clear sign of the Ministry’s desperation to find something that will stick. As staff continue to be interrogated, the new hires are busy combing through the emails of the fired employees, surely a morale-boosting exercise for everyone still left in that toxic environment.  

None of the wrongful dismissal and defamation suits have yet been proved in court. Ron Mattson, one of the fired employees, and his lawyer were in court last month trying to pry further details from the Ministry on the nature of the charges against him (a largely fruitless attempt). The start of the legal skirmishes ahead foreshadows how much time and money this fiasco will consume, especially given the fact the government’s legal team, from a Vancouver firm, will be Helijetting over at taxpayers’ expense with the legal meter running. 

There are no answers as to why this investigation has been so stretched out, but the dominant theory at the moment is that the “premature evacuation” (firing people and cancelling contracts) without any of the normal protocols or evidence you’d typically need in such circumstances, was the work of amateurs within the Ministry.

Two curious things remain: The Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid has maintained that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are part of this investigation, yet repeated calls to the RCMP by myself and other journalists have yet to deliver any sense of how they are involved on the file, and they haven’t even talked to any of the fired employees. 

The other curious thing: Why is this not an election issue? Perhaps it’s just seen as a bureaucratic and not a political problem, yet the long-standing eagerness of the BC Liberals to transform the drug evaluation landscape in BC raises questions around motive. All the lawyers and RCMP officers are certainly useful in creating an atmosphere that produces delays and unanswered questions, all nicely packaged to punt forward for the next government to deal with. 

—Alan Cassels

See Alan Cassels feature "The best place on Earth (for pharmaceutical companies)" here.