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'No Records' of Requested Health Ministry Review

Opposition MLA says he doesn't believe assessment was ever done.

By Andrew MacLeod 16 Feb 2015 | 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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Deputy health minister Stephen Brown was asked in 2013 to conduct a review of the health ministry rehirings. Photo: Government of BC.

The government has no records from the process that led to the rehiring of some of the people fired in 2012 from the British Columbia health ministry, according to the province's response to a freedom of information request.

While the government has one explanation for why there are no documents to release, Adrian Dix, the New Democrat MLA for Vancouver-Kingsway, has concluded that there are no records because there was never a review. When the government says there was, he added, "They're not telling the truth."

The issue goes back to 2012 when the government fired seven health ministry employees and froze several drug research contracts, saying the issues had to do with inappropriate data management, potential conflicts of interest and irregular contracts.

A government backgrounder from October 2014 said that in June 2013, "Stephen Brown was appointed deputy minister of health and was directed by the deputy minister of the public service John Dyble to review the matters related to the privacy breach and ongoing investigations by the ministry."

Brown returned to health from the Ministry of Children and Family Development, but he had previously been an assistant deputy minister in health, responsible for the medical services division until April 2011.

"Upon review, Mr. Brown finalized the investigation, took steps to restore frozen contracts and initiated a process to address terminations of former ministry employees," the government's backgrounder said. Three lawsuits were settled with former employees and two of them returned to work for the ministry.

'No records' of a review

But The Tyee's request for records showing the results of Brown's review, and any related correspondence he may have had, received a "no records" response from the government. "Although a thorough search was conducted, no records were located in response to your request," the Feb. 5 letter said. "Your file is now closed."

The response letter confirmed Dyble instructed Brown to review the matter, restore frozen contracts and "move forward with the legal process to address [the] terminations of former ministry employees," actions, which the letter said, have been completed.

"There was no specific documentation that Mr. Brown developed, as he was acting on the report and recommendations received from Deloitte and from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner," the letter said. "Both of these reports and their recommendations have been made public."

The OIPC report found that health data breaches were possible because the ministry had "failed to translate privacy and security policies into meaningful business practices" and the Deloitte report gave the ministry advice on how to make data management more secure.

The NDP's Dix said the real reason there are no records is Brown never really conducted a review. The government has said Brown's review ended in the fall of 2013, but it's known that lawyers acting for the government continued fighting the cases beyond then, making the plaintiffs continue the discovery process, he said. "The evidence says there was no such review."

The disconnect fits the government's pattern since the firings were first announced, Dix said. "We've seen the government alternatively mislead on this file, and cover up," he said. "Sometimes its cover up and mislead, sometimes it's mislead and cover up... but there's very little else."

Inquiry needed: Dix

Others have also had difficulty obtaining records from Brown's review.

When Graham Whitmarsh, the deputy minister of health, was deciding in November whether to participate in employment lawyer Marcia McNeil's investigation of what went wrong with the firings, he said he had requested a copy of Brown's review but did not receive one.

When Whitmarsh announced he would not participate in McNeil's process, in a written statement he expressed concern that she told him she hadn't had a chance to see Brown's review either. " I am particularly concerned that Ms. McNeil has not been provided a copy of, or access to, the earlier review undertaken by [current deputy health minister] Stephen Brown," he wrote.

"This review is referred to frequently by the government since it allegedly covers the same time period and events, and seems to have resulted in the reversal of some of the actions taken during the original investigation."

Dix said he believes the government made up Brown's review as part of a failed plan to make Whitmarsh the scapegoat, and that the government settled with the fired employees for other reasons.

"They only settled with those employees when it became clear they had to go to court, they had no case to stand on and they were going to be cross-examined under oath," he said. "This is what the premier is afraid of, the people here being cross examined under oath."

Dyble, Premier Christy Clark, Finance Minister Mike de Jong, former head of the Public Service Agency Lynda Tarras, deputy minister Athana Mentzelopoulos and others should all be cross examined under oath, he said, noting the province's system of independent drug research hasn't recovered from the 2012 attack.

"That's why we need a public inquiry," he said.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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