Fired Researcher's 'Last Words' Deleted from Computer, Sister Says

Coroner denies claim it removed message from Roderick MacIsaac's laptop.

By Andrew MacLeod 8 Jul 2015 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, April 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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Roderick MacIsaac took his life after health ministry fired him with others over allegations never proven and no longer pursued.

The sister of Roderick MacIsaac, the former B.C. health ministry co-op student who committed suicide in 2012 a few months after being fired, is complaining that the provincial coroner's office deleted a key document off MacIsaac's personal computer before releasing the laptop to his family.

"The decision to suppress this document raises serious concerns for us and [is] another issue to be dealt with in a public inquiry," Linda Kayfish wrote in a July 6 letter to Premier Christy Clark.

"It is part of a continuing pattern to cover up mistakes and actions by the powerful, while exposing those, such as Roderick, to the full force of government power," she wrote.

But Matt Brown, the regional coroner for the Island Region, denied that anyone in his office, under its direction, or with the police, deleted anything from MacIsaac's computer. "I feel very confident the laptop was returned to the family with nothing deleted," he said in a phone interview late yesterday. "I've confirmed that with the police."

The computer was protected with a password and it is standard practice for the coroner's office to ask the police to help in situations where the investigation requires some technical expertise, Brown said.

MacIsaac was fired in 2012, along with six others, after the health ministry announced allegations related to data management, contracts and conflicts of interest. The government has since reinstated two of the people who were fired and settled out of court in three wrongful dismissal and defamation lawsuits. It has apologized to MacIsaac's family for the firing.

Kayfish said the coroner's office told her in January 2013 that the document written by her brother existed, but that her family would have to wait until the office's investigation into his death concluded before they could know its contents. In June of that year, someone from the coroner's office read her the document, but replaced any names with letters of the alphabet.

The office declined to provide her with a copy of the document, citing the Coroner's Act and the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and when the machine was given to the family in October 2013 the document had been deleted, she said.

Brown said that because MacIsaac's letter came into the coroner's possession through its investigation, it could not directly release it to the family, similar to how it would not be able to release a medical record or other personal document.

The coroner's office was aware, however, that the family would receive the computer when the investigation ended, and Brown was surprised to hear they believed the document had been deleted, he said.

Family disappointed

"Imagine our disappointment," Kayfish wrote in her letter to Clark about the document. "A man's last words, meant to be read by family and friends regarding his abrupt departure were no longer available."

Kayfish said that she and her husband were able to recover the document and will share it as part of any public inquiry into the firings.

"In my view, Roderick would have wanted those reviewing the matter to see it and for his family to have it," she said. "It is not necessarily accurate, nor correct. It reflects his frustration with the public dismissals at the Ministry of Health."

The message was clear and concise, she said. "There was no personal message to me or anyone other than those meant to be found by the investigators that I can discern."

The coroner had the right to use the document as part of its investigation, but now it belongs to her brother's estate, she said.

"Roderick created a document as a private citizen on his personal equipment," she wrote. "He was no longer a government employee. He took steps to ensure this document was easily read. It is a view of what happened to him in a process where he was wrongfully dismissed, a fact subsequently admitted, acknowledged and apologized for by your government."

Kayfish also reiterated her opposition to the provincial government steering the matter to the Ombudsperson's office. "In our brief review of the Ombudsman's Act, I cannot see how the Ombudsperson could conduct a meaningful investigation of the Coroner's action in this matter, another reason why the matter requires a full public inquiry."

The best way to avoid the financial costs of an inquiry or further investigation would be for the government to provide answers about who ordered the firings and why they did so, she said.

"The matter still requires investigation without prejudices and interference," she wrote. "The strength of our governing system depends on trust, in truth and justice for all."  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, BC Politics

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