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Gov't Moves to Empower Ombudsperson to Probe Health Firings

'Work is underway' on requested law change, attorney general says.

Bob Mackin 16 Jul 2015TheTyee.ca

North Vancouver-based journalist Bob Mackin, a regular contributor to The Tyee, has reported for local, regional, national and international media outlets since 1990. Find his Tyee articles here.

After repeating several times in the legislature this week that she wouldn't actively intervene, B.C.'s Attorney General Suzanne Anton said today that an amendment to the Ombudsperson Act is in the works, to enable an investigation of the 2012 botched health research firings.

Ombudsperson Jay Chalke first requested the change in a 10-page letter last week. A legislative committee is currently weighing whether it will ask Chalke's office to conduct the probe.

Chalke told the committee yesterday that a certain section of the Act would allow those who have sworn confidentiality to avoid questioning on the matter. He said it was a significant roadblock, and that he was surprised Anton hadn't accepted his request.

That changed today when Anton wrote a letter to the committee.

"This letter will serve to confirm that work is underway to have a draft of the proposed legislative amendment available," the attorney general's letter said.

"I am advised that the Government House Leader (Mike de Jong) is prepared to arrange for the introduction of the legislative amendment early next week and to seek the consent necessary to move the amendment expeditiously through all stages of debate. Upon confirmation of referral of this matter to the Ombudsperson by the committee, the government would proceed with Royal Proclamation."

Seven health ministry workers and one contractor were fired over an alleged data breach in 2012.* One of them, Roderick MacIsaac, died of suicide a few months later. Some were offered their jobs back and unspecified cash settlements after the government admitted it overreacted.

The NDP and MacIsaac's sister, Linda Kayfish, called for a public inquiry into the firings, but the BC Liberal government has said that would cost too much and take too long.

Chalke's inquiry would take place behind closed doors, although a report would be released publicly.

*Story clarified July 23 at 5 p.m.  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, BC Politics

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