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RCMP in 'holding pattern' on data allegations, waiting on BC health ministry

The RCMP is waiting for more information from the British Columbia government before it can decide whether an investigation is needed into allegations that came out of the health ministry in September.

"We're a little bit in a holding pattern," said Duncan Pound, an RCMP spokesperson in the province.

The RCMP received an interim report from the province, but won't decide whether an investigation is warranted until it receives the government's final report, he said. It expects that report soon, he said. "We're waiting to review the information."

On Sept. 6 Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid announced the province had asked the RCMP to investigate allegations related to potential conflicts of interest, contracting and responsible data management.

The ministry has fired five people and suspended two others without pay. It has also put a hold on certain drug research contracts including ones to UBC's Therapeutics Initiative.

MacDiarmid has repeatedly cited the investigation as the reason she could not answer many of the questions about the allegations, saying she'll share information when she can.

"We're continuing to provide the RCMP with information as we move along and our investigation continues," today said Ryan Jabs, a spokesperson for the ministry.

The case is complex and there's no timeline for when the final report is expected to be complete, he said. "We hand over information to them as we go along."

Researchers are getting an answer similar to the one given to reporters. A month before the matter was made public, the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association requested records related to data sharing agreements involving four researchers.

The Sept. 17 response from the government said no records could be released, in part because releasing them might be harmful to law enforcement.

"The stuff we asked for is all pre-existing," said Vincent Gogolek, FIPA's executive director. "These are just basic contractual documents," he said, noting that MacDiarmid has in the past said contracts should be made public as a matter of routine.

"Suddenly no information can go out because the Mounties may be interested? No, it doesn't work like that," he said. "This is clearly being used to block the release."

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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