Fired drug researcher drops lawsuit against province

A Greater Victoria drug researcher has dropped his lawsuit against the B.C. government but is pursuing a defamation claim against former health minister Margaret MacDiarmid.

William Warburton, a labour and health economist, lost his contract with the Health Ministry and access to health data, necessary for his employment, in 2012 as part of what the government said was a major privacy breach that it had asked the RCMP to investigate. Seven Health Ministry employees were also fired.

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Warburton, who lives in Oak Bay, filed a lawsuit claiming defamation, breach of contract and interference with contract in May 2013. In court documents, he alleged that the B.C. Liberal government tried to silence him over fears that his findings on the harmful side-effects of drugs purchased by the province would shrink lucrative political contributions from drug companies.

He filed his notice of application to drop part of the case in B.C. Supreme Court on May 25, 2015. The final terms were hammered out with the government this week.

Warburton’s remaining defamation action is based on statements made by MacDiarmid, according to court documents.

“The province, through its senior staff, and Minister MacDiarmid made several public statements, inter alia, to provincial staff and the media, which were false and defamatory of the plaintiff, including allegations of criminality, quasi-criminality and breaches of privacy,” reads the notice of claim, filed on May 6, 2013.

“MacDiarmid gave several media interviews wherein she stated that the ministry’s investigation revealed actual evidence of wrongdoing by the plaintiff and that the RCMP had been alerted,” court documents say.

On Sept. 6, 2012, MacDiarmid said that the ministry had provided the RCMP with interim results of an internal investigation.

Emails between the government and the RCMP show that although MacDiarmid’s ministry repeatedly pointed to an RCMP investigation, none was initiated.

The RCMP opened a file six days after MacDiarmid publicly said: “The Ministry of Health has asked the RCMP to investigate allegations of inappropriate conduct, contracting and data-management practices involving ministry employees and drug researchers” and: “The ministry has provided the RCMP with interim results of an internal investigation.”

The Mounties closed the file on July 16, 2014, without ever having received an investigative report from the ministry.

“I think that speaks for itself, doesn’t it?” said Peter Waldmann, Warburton’s lawyer.

Waldmann said he hopes the defamation case will be heard before the year’s end.

“Bill has definitely been seriously harmed by this and he has no way of clearing his reputation and his career and future except through the courts,” Waldmann said in an interview.

The province will continue to defend itself against the claim. Nothing has been proven in court.

The government has settled with six of the fired researchers, reinstating two and apologizing to the family of a third, co-op student Roderick MacIsaac, who killed himself months after he was fired.

The only other outstanding wrongful dismissal lawsuit was filed by Bill Warburton’s wife, Rebecca.

Rebecca Nunn Warburton was co-director of research and evidence development in the policy, outcomes and evaluation branch of the Health Ministry. She was suspended without pay on July 16, 2012, and was fired in October 2012 in a move she claims in court documents “was calculated by the defendants to inflict, and did inflict, emotional and economic injury.”

The province denies the claim. Nothing has been proven in court.

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