Materials that British Columbia health ministry investigators sent to the RCMP supposedly related to the firing of seven government workers in 2012 included discs of a Who concert video and the classic movie Being There, the response to an NDP freedom of information request shows.
“I don’t know what their interest in the movies was,” said Ramsay Hamdi, who was fired from his job at the ministry along with six co-workers in a purge that government officials, including Premier Christy Clark, have since admitted was badly botched.
Some employees have returned to work for the government, five lawsuits were settled out of court, and Ombudsperson Jay Chalke is now investigating what government decision-makers did wrong after a previous investigation by labour lawyer Marcia McNeil failed to answer key questions about who ordered the firings and why.
Hamdi said he remembers making the copies of the movies, but didn’t know why they’d be sent to the RCMP or why they hadn’t been returned to him. “I guess they were just grasping at straws,” he said. “Maybe the RCMP have been passing them from constable to constable for some weekend entertainment.”
The movies were among materials that appear to have been sent to the RCMP in December 2012, about three months after the government fired the employees and cancelled contracts in a move that officials said at the time was prompted by breaches in data management, contracting and possible conflicts of interest.
Pictures of the discs and other materials were included in a 187-page response to an FOI request that the NDP made for all communication between ministry officials and the RCMP about the 2012 investigation.
Asked why the movies were included in the material sent to the RCMP, a health ministry spokesperson replied by email, “The Ombudsperson has begun his investigation, and I expect any questions will be answered through that process.”
Large parts of the records were redacted before their release, but it is clear that government representatives met at least 10 times between August 2012 and September 2013 with RCMP members in the financial integrity section of the branch responsible for investigating federal serious and organized crime.
A 2012 internal review the government shared with the RCMP appears to have traced the relationships between various employees, researchers and public institutions.
“This is a draft report with forensic email summaries provided, a relationship diagram and other related info,” lead investigator Wendy Taylor wrote to RCMP Sgt. Andrew Cowan less than two weeks before the firings. “Hope this provides sufficient background for starting our discussion Monday. Let me know if you need more.”
In 2013 the government sent the police “story boards,” which were censored from the FOI response.
“The government conduct would be absurd if the consequences were not so tragic and disgraceful,” said Adrian Dix, the NDP MLA for Vancouver-Kingsway. “The Liberal government failed to tell the RCMP for years that researchers had been exonerated. They covered it up. Yet they sent them a DVD of the Who and Peter Sellars’ great political satire Being There.”
Dix said that in September 2012 the government smeared the former employees by announcing that the RCMP was investigating them. It’s now clear there was no evidence that would justify an RCMP investigation.
And when it became clear within government that investigators had made allegations without proper evidence, that was never communicated to the RCMP, Dix said. That speaks to a “lack of character” on the part of the government officials involved, he added.
Hamdi said many of the other materials listed in the FOI documents came from Statistics Canada and the people who were responsible for them followed the proper protocols and kept them in a locked drawer.
“I really think the folks investigating this were in over their heads,” he said. “I just think people’s egos went overboard and this became a dog chasing its own tail. It just doesn’t make sense.”
The FOI documents also include a July 16, 2014 email from RCMP constable Dean Miller. “Just to keep you in the loop, we are concluding our file as we have not done anything on it in over a year,” he wrote to Taylor. “If and when you or your counterparts complete your investigation, let us know and we will reopen it and evaluate it at that time.”
Chalke revealed this month that his report on the firings, which he’d hoped to finish a month ago, has been delayed by up to five months due to an unexpectedly large number of records from the government. While the government initially estimated it had 200,000 documents that related to the case, the number of records has ballooned to 4 million, he said.