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Sister of Fired Researcher Losing Faith in Government Probe

'We have become disheartened,' says Linda Kayfish, whose brother killed himself.

By Andrew MacLeod 5 Dec 2014 | TheTyee.ca

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

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Researcher Roderick MacIsaac took his life in 2012 after the government fired him.

The sister of a researcher who committed suicide three months after the British Columbia health ministry fired him said she's unhappy with the progress of a government review into the matter.

"When we first heard that there was to be an independent review we were hopeful," said Linda Kayfish, whose brother Roderick MacIsaac killed himself in 2012. "We have become disheartened," Kayfish said in a prepared statement.

Premier Christy Clark has apologized for the "heavy handed" firings of MacIsaac and others and had said the review was intended to find out what happened. The government announced the review on Oct. 3, initially with a deadline of Oct. 31. The deadline has since been extended to Dec. 19.

When he was fired MacIsaac had been designing an evaluation of the province's smoking cessation program, which started in 2011 following a leadership campaign promise Clark made. She promised to start a publicly funded smoking cessation program, which now pays for nicotine gum, nicotine patches and two prescription drugs to help people quit smoking.

MacIsaac died in December 2012, about three months after he was fired. The B.C. Coroners Service ruled the death a suicide.

Kayfish was unavailable for an interview, but said in the statement that she had spoken with Marcia McNeil, the Victoria employment lawyer the government engaged to conduct the investigation. Kayfish said she discovered McNeil lacked many of the basic documents from MacIsaac's firing.

"We provided documents, including Roderick's suspension, and firing letters, none of which she had seen," wrote Kayfish. "We provided the emails between Roderick and the union representative."

Kayfish said the discussion did not address any events that happened after October 2012. The review isn't looking at events that occurred after the September 2012 firings.

The terms of reference for the government review were written by Linda Tarras, who, at the end of October, retired as head of the Public Service Agency.

Documents 'cherry picked'

Kayfish questioned the depth of McNeil's investigation. "Other than ourselves, Ms. McNeil seems to be pretty much only talking to government and not the people that bear the brunt of this," she said.

New Democratic Party leader John Horgan has said in the legislature that as of the end of November, he understood McNeil had not spoken to any of the people who had been fired in September 2012. Six employees besides MacIsaac were fired, as well as Bill Warburton, whose contract with the ministry was terminated and who is suing the government.

Health Minister Terry Lake and Premier Christy Clark have responded to criticisms of the review process by saying everyone should withhold judgement until it is released. Clark said in the legislature the report would be released to the public on Dec. 19, but has since backtracked to say the release will likely be after that.

The government appears to only be showing McNeil what they want her to see, Kayfish said in the statement.

"We can only assume that most of the documentation is also cherry picked by government."

Nor had McNeil interviewed as of early December any of the union representatives from the B.C. Government and Services Employees' Union that represented MacIsaac and two others who were fired, she said.

Lawsuits ongoing

The investigation may result in changes to firing policies, but it won't get to the bottom of what happened, Kayfish said. "It falls far short of doing justice to the whole debacle. It certainly is not good value for the people of British Columbia considering how much it costs and how little value is in it."

At the time of the firings there were already policies and procedures in place that were not followed, she said. "Why would anyone think new ones would make any difference and why would it take millions of dollars and over two years create them?"

She added, "They would have us think it is very, very complicated but it is not."

Kayfish said the firings have damaged independent drug research in the province, as well as B.C.'s reputation in the international research community.

Graham Whitmarsh, who was deputy minister of health when the employees were fired, has also said he will not participate in the review, though he would if it were truly independent.

Three lawsuits stemming from the firings have been settled out of court. Two of the people who sued have returned to work for the ministry. A third received an apology and a settlement, but said he chose to retire rather than return to the ministry.

The grievances on behalf of three fired union members were settled in 2013, but none of the three returned to the ministry. MacIsaac was posthumously "unfired."

Two lawsuits remain before the court.  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, BC Politics

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