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Health ministry keeps drug contracts secret

The B.C. Ministry of Health is refusing to release a list of drug research contracts awarded since Jan. 1, 2011, for fear disclosure would harm law enforcement.

One of Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid's first duties after being appointed Sept. 5 was to announce the RCMP had been called to investigate a privacy breach and conflict of interest. Six people have been fired.

A Sept. 7 Freedom of Information request seeking a detailed list of all drug research and evidence contracts worth $10,000 or more was withheld in full, according to an Oct. 22 letter.

MacDiarmid, who was previously the minister for Open Government, did not respond to an interview request.

Health Ministry media relations manager Ryan Jabs responded with a statement:

"As part of our investigation into allegations of inappropriate conduct, contracting and data-management practices involving ministry employees and drug researchers, we temporarily suspended all of our drug research contracts worth $4 million with drug and evidence development researchers at the Universities of British Columbia and University of Victoria," Jabs wrote.

"Two weeks ago, we restarted a portion of these contracts, as we determined that restarting them would not jeopardize our ongoing investigation, and that proper contract procurement processes and proper data management and protections of personal information are in place.

"However, we cannot at this time comment on the specifics related to which contracts are or are not under review because our investigation is still underway, and providing further details publicly may influence this investigation."

An appeal of the FOI denial has been filed to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Vancouver-based journalist Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to The Tyee. He can be reached at;

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