Rushed decisions by government and flawed investigations led to harmful consequences for eight Ministry of Health workers who were wrongly dismissed in 2012, a report demanding sweeping changes revealed today.
B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke came to those conclusions after an 18-month investigation into the firings.
Chalke is calling on the government to apologize to the workers who "did not deserve the significant personal, financial and professional harm they suffered."
The ombudsperson is also recommending the government make "goodwill" payments to affected individuals, ranging from $15,000 to $125,000 that would in some cases be accompanied by personal written apologies from the government.
Tragedy of Roderick MacIsaac
Chalke is also recommending that the government honour the memory of Roderick MacIsaac, a co-op student who killed himself after he was fired.
The report suggests funding a $500,000 University of Victoria endowment for a scholarship.
"It is my hope that government takes the opportunity to close this dark chapter," said Chalke, urging the government to act on the recommendations.
"The breadth and complexity of the subject matter they were investigating presented ministry investigators with enormous challenges," he said.
Chalke was asked by the provincial government in September 2015 to investigate in the wake of persistent calls from critics and the dismissed employees.
In 2012 the government held a press conference to announce the four dismissals, asking police to investigate.
Chalke's investigation determined it was wrong to mention the RCMP, given the impact on the individuals who were dismissed. He said government claims were "deceiving."
The RCMP did not investigate.
"Government took far too long to realize it had gone down the wrong path," said Chalke.
"These individual and systemic recommendations are designed to make sure this won't happen again, and to create rigorous checks and balances."
Chalke is calling for public interest disclosure legislation that would establish a clear process for handling whistle blower complaints — similar to legislation in place federally and in eight other provinces.
Chalke also recommended legislation to give new authority to the Merit Commissioner to oversee provincial dismissal practices.
The B.C. ombudsperson's report released today probed events from five years ago.
Chalke and investigators obtained 4.7 million records for the investigation and interviewed 130 witnesses under oath during 540 hours of interviews after calls for a public inquiry.
The workers were part of a drug-research program in 2012 when they lost their jobs amid allegations of inappropriate and potentially criminal conduct.
One of the researchers, co-op student Roderick MacIsaac, later killed himself.
A 2014 government report turned up flaws and media later reported that the RCMP never examined the allegations against the researchers.
The province has apologized to MacIsaac's family and reached out-of-court settlements with many of the workers or their families.