RCMP officers were blindsided by the B.C. government’s claim that they were investigating eight fired Health Ministry researchers, and never conducted a criminal investigation because the ministry never provided any evidence of wrongdoing, internal records show.
Mounties weren’t warned that Margaret MacDiarmid, who was then the health minister, would announce she had sent the case to the RCMP at the Sept. 6, 2012, news conference where she announced the employee firings, newly released emails show.
Despite claims from Mac-Diarmid’s ministry that its had “provided the RCMP with interim results of an internal investigation,” RCMP emails show the ministry simply gave “high-level explanations of the allegations,” and that “the province’s investigation had not reached any conclusions that could support a criminal investigation.”
RCMP investigators tried five times over almost two years to get more information, but received none of the reports the Health Ministry had promised into what it had publicly billed as one of the biggest privacy breaches in B.C. history.
The Mounties closed the file on July 16, 2014, and informed the province.
But it wasn’t until seven months later that the government publicly admitted it no longer expected police to pursue the matter.
The records, obtained by the Vancouver Sun through the federal Access to Information Act, show that the B.C. government repeatedly pointed to an RCMP investigation over several years, while at the same time doing virtually nothing to inform police about the case and failing to provide any evidence of a crime.
“Despite inferences in the media that the RCMP has undertaken an investigation or received information from the province, this has not been the case,” wrote Const. Dean Miller from the RCMP’s federal serious and organized crime section, in a late 2014 report.
“No tangible evidence or reports related to the allegations have been handed over. As such, no investigation has been initiated.”
NDP critic Adrian Dix said the documents “show a government that not just misled the public but misled the police. And it’s a very serious thing.”
The government “smeared” the reputation of the researchers by repeatedly lying about a police probe it knew did not exist, said Dix.
One of the researchers, co-op student Roderick MacIsaac, committed suicide after he was fired and it was suggested he was under police investigation.
Premier Christy Clark has apologized to MacIsaac’s family, settled several lawsuits, admitted her government acted improperly and reinstated some of the workers. Two lawsuits are continuing.
An independent legal review last year concluded ministry staff botched the internal investigation, leaped to conclusions not supported by evidence and were unfair to accused employees.
The internal documents show the RCMP was reluctantly dragged in and wrestled with how to explain its role to the public.
Meanwhile, politicians kept mentioning the supposed police probe. At one point, the government even used the RCMP “investigation” as a reason to withhold public documents from a Freedom of Information request.
“Informing the RCMP of the matter was, I think, a responsible thing to do,” Health Minister Terry Lake told media, after announcing an apology to the MacIsaac family on Oct. 3, 2014. “It then falls upon the RCMP to look at it and see if it warrants further investigation.”
But the RCMP had no information to review.
“At this point, we have stopped asking for the information and have concluded our file,” Sgt. Duncan Pound, an RCMP spokesman, wrote in an email to colleagues the same day as Lake’s comments. “To continue implying we are in contact with and potentially assessing the matter from a criminal perspective would be less than accurate.”
The RCMP largely relied upon media reports to track the case. The Mounties learned of a second government probe into the firings, conducted by the comptroller general, after reading a column by The Vancouver Sun’s Vaughn Palmer, who had obtained the confidential terms of reference.
The comptroller’s investigation was to look at “suspected financial improprieties in procurement and contracting procedures in the pharmaceutical research division of the Ministry of Health,” including present and former staff.
RCMP Const. Miller reached out to Comptroller General Stuart Newton and his staff, receiving a promise on Nov. 10, 2014 that a report would be shared with police.
“Their investigation is facing staffing shortfalls and legal stonewalling, however they do anticipate providing the RCMP with a report detailing their findings,” Miller wrote to RCMP colleagues.
“When I asked the lead investigator what his intentions were in regards to potential criminal offences, he said that he had not yet uncovered any clear evidence of a crime. That said they will be forwarding us their findings for our assessment.”
The government gave the RCMP the report in April, the Ministry of Finance confirmed Wednesday. The ministry refused to release the report, saying to do so could jeopardize the police review.
“The RCMP are reviewing the report and any further determinations will be up to them,” said a Finance Ministry spokesman.
The RCMP refused to comment on that report Wednesday.