B.C. hires former judge to oversee redress over health firings

Premier Christy Clark once again expressed regrets and condolences Friday for the wrongful firings of seven drug researchers — including one who took his own life.

She stopped short, however, of taking personal responsibility for the dismissals, noting that Ombudsperson Jay Chalke found no evidence of political interference in the firings.

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Instead, Clark said it falls to her deputy minister, Kim Henderson, to fix any problems in her role as head of the B.C. Public Service.

“My responsibility is to make sure that the civil service is working well,” Clark said. “We want to be a great employer. The day-to-day decisions about who gets hired and who is fired, though, was made very clear by the ombudsman: Politicians cannot, must not, should not properly be involved in those decisions.

“So I think it was the right thing for Kim Henderson yesterday, as the head of the civil service, to talk about how she was going to deal with this in the next few months to make sure it’s done right, because that is her job.”

Henderson announced Friday that the government has hired former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Thomas Cromwell to oversee reparations to those adversely affected by the firings in 2012.

The move follows Thursday’s release of Chalke’s 488-page report, which recommended government make $1.2 million in “goodwill” payments to people harmed by the firing. The recommended payments range from $15,000 to $125,000.

The report also called for the province to establish a $500,000 scholarship endowment at the University of Victoria in memory of fired researcher and co-op student Roderick MacIsaac, who died by suicide.

Henderson said Cromwell will administer a “reparation process” and issue quarterly progress reports.

“Mr. Cromwell is being asked for advice on whether additional reparations to others harmed by these actions could be appropriate,” she said. “Further, he is being asked to facilitate a settlement process to allow prompt justice for any person who may have legal claims against the government arising from the matters detailed in the report.”

MacIsaac’s sister, Linda Kayfish, said in a statement Thursday she wanted the people responsible for her brother’s death held accountable. “I want the premier to look me in the eyes and take responsibility for the destruction and heartache her government has caused,” Kayfish said.

Clark told reporters Friday that she has already expressed regret for the “tragic” case a number of times.

“I would say [to her] government has apologized and it’s an absolutely sincere expression of regret for what has happened,” Clark said.

The premier was asked by a reporter whether she should have asked more questions when she was briefed on the firings.

“I did ask a lot of questions at the time,” Clark responded. “And, as I said before, the assurances that we all received were that these were absolutely justified and the right thing to do.”

The NDP pounced on Clark’s comments, arguing that they contradicted her evidence in Chalke’s report that she did not recall ever being briefed about the decision to fire the employees. “Either she misled Mr. Chalke or she was misleading the public today on that point,” said Adrian Dix, NDP MLA for Vancouver-Kingsway.

More broadly, Dix criticized Clark for pinning responsibility for the health firings solely on the public service.

He said the report shows that politicians and political appointees were involved in the public “smear” of the researchers and the subsequent “coverup” of government bungling.

“So for her today to say this is just a matter for Kim Henderson and you can count on me to hold her accountable is, let’s just be generous and call it contrary to the facts,” Dix said. “And I think given the damage done to the researchers, the damage done to public health, the facts are important here.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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