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Health Worker Fired to Protect Liberal Donors, Suit Alleges

BC gov't aimed to preserve pharma profits alleges notice of claim by terminated researcher.

By Andrew MacLeod 7 May 2013 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative bureau chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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Explosive law suit file in BC Supreme Court Monday by fired health researcher Bill Warburton.

The British Columbia government's attack on research that exposes the harmful effects of pharmaceutical drugs was aimed at protecting the profits of donors to the BC Liberal Party, according to court documents filed this week.

Bill Warburton, whose contract was terminated last July, filed his notice of claim in B.C. Supreme Court on May 6, 2013.

"The Province's acts against Dr. Warburton are part of a bad faith program by the Defendants to end the investigation of harmful effects of drugs which risk leading to diminishing payments to their political contributors," said the notice.

"[The acts] constitute misfeasance in public office as the Defendants were aware that their deliberate acts against Dr. Warburton were illegal and would likely harm him," it said.

The notice of claim names Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid and the province of B.C. as the defendants.

"Dr. Warburton's research related to the Contracts included investigation of harmful side-effects, including mortality, and risk assessment of drugs purchased by the Province through its programs, and had the potential of disrupting financially significant payments to large pharmaceutical companies, many of whom were major contributors to the Liberal Party who formed the government in the Province," it said.

International expert

Warburton is a 59-year-old health and labour economist with degrees from Queens University, the University of Western Ontario, the London School of Economics and the University of London.

He is a former director of the economic analysis branch of the province's ministry of human resources and "an international expert in analysis of administrative data for research purposes" published in numerous peer-reviewed journals, the notice of claim said.

He had a $1-per-year contract "to conduct complex data analyses at the Ministry of Health," it said. The contract gave him access to data the defendants were aware Warburton "required the contract in order to fulfill his other related research obligations which provided him with income and professional enhancement."

On Sept. 6, 2012, newly appointed Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid announced seven ministry employees had been fired or suspended and several contracts stopped as part of an investigation related to potential conflicts of interest, contracting and responsible data management.

Four of the former employees have filed wrongful dismissal and defamation claims against the government, including Rebecca Warburton, who is married to Bill Warburton, Malcolm Maclure, Ron Mattson and Bob Hart. Two others -- Ramsay Hamdi and Dave Scott -- have launched a grievance through their union, the BCGEU.

The seventh former employee, Roderick MacIsaac, was found dead in his home in January. The B.C. coroner's office investigated, but is yet to announce the cause of death.

Liberal donors

"At all material times, the Defendants were aware that Dr. Warburton was investigating very profitable drugs, he had found evidence of strong harmful side effects, and that the drugs were not primarily prescribed for approved uses," said Bill Warburton's notice of claim.

Manufacturers of the drugs Warburton investigated included Bristol Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca Canada Inc., Eli Lilly Canada Inc., Janssen Inc., Pfizer Canada Inc., and Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc.

"The Province had commenced programs and financing to attract major drug companies to British Columbia," the notice said. "Also, the Liberal Party was receiving significant contributions from these drug companies, and the Province was eliminating drug safety programs that could cause restrictions on sales of the products of these drug companies ... including ending drug analysis programs such as that of Dr. Warburton and of the Therapeutics Initiative at the University of British Columbia."

The companies had sales in the billions of dollars, it said.

Revoking Warburton's access to data in June 2012 caused him to lose more than $100,000, the notice said. "The Province at all times was aware that revocation of data access would result in harm to Dr. Warburton and intended such result."

A month later the province terminated his contract in a letter that "stated it was for Dr. Warburton's failure to perform certain unspecified obligations and for improper access to provincial data. No specifics were given." The allegations were false, the notice of claim said.

"The Province knew or ought to have known that its investigation was flawed, superficial, politically motivated and conducted by novice, unqualified, inexperienced investigators," it said. "Despite requests, the Province has not disclosed the basis of its false statements concerning Dr. Warburton. Nor has it provided Dr. Warburton information and opportunity to reply and refute them."

Between them the six companies named in the notice have given over $115,000 to the BC Liberal Party since 2005, according to Elections BC's donation database.

Allegations in Warburton's notice of claim remain unproven in court.  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, BC Politics

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