Health firings ‘riddled with stink,’ says sister of researcher

The sister of a UVic student who took his own life after being caught up in the 2012 Health Ministry firings said she doesn’t buy the B.C. ombudsperson’s conclusion that there was no political interference in the firings.

Linda Kayfish also slammed Premier Christy Clark’s arm’s-length response, saying she and others deserve in-person, heartfelt apologies — a request Clark said she would consider.

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“This whole business was just riddled with stink,” Kayfish said.

Kayfish’s brother Roderick MacIsaac, a 46-year-old University of Victoria PhD student who was completing a co-op work term, killed himself in December 2012, about four months after he was fired in connection with allegations of inappropriate conduct involving government drug research.

Seven others were also fired.

In a 488-page report released last week, B.C. ombudsperson Jay Chalke said the eight workers were dismissed after a flawed and rushed investigation and didn’t deserve the personal, financial and professional harm they suffered. He said the premier and other officials did not direct the dismissals, but were aware of them.

Kayfish said that while the investigations and firings themselves may have been apolitical, she believes the following months and years couldn’t have been — especially after reading in Chalke’s report that an investigator had determined as early as November 2012 that MacIsaac had done nothing wrong. “The ministry chose not to contact him and instead delayed and continued their querulous behaviour,” she said. “Rod was still alive then.”

Chalke’s report said MacIsaac was grilled for two hours on whether he used government data for his PhD thesis or had a flash drive with ministry data in his possession. He consistently denied those allegations 14 times.

Kayfish said she has lost her faith in the public service and continues to grieve the loss of her brother, which remains “a sore wound.”

Minutes after calling the May 9 election on Tuesday, Clark said she understands Kayfish is grieving, but said Chalke was clear that politicians didn’t have anything to do with the firing decision.

“I’d be quite happy to repeat the apologies that the government made on behalf of the civil service in the legislature,” Clark said. “If [Kayfish would] like a personal apology, of course I’d be happy to do that.”

In his report, Chalke recommended the government make $1.2 million in “goodwill” payments to people harmed by the firing. The recommended payments range from $15,000 to $125,000. He also called for the province to establish a $500,000 scholarship endowment at the University of Victoria in memory of MacIsaac.

The government has hired Thomas Cromwell, a former Supreme Court of Canada justice, to oversee reparations.

Lawyer Joanna Gislason, who represents Kayfish and fired researchers Ramsay Hamdi and David Scott, said a public process giving the victims access to all relevant documents and allowing them to face those who wronged them should have been undertaken for proper reconciliation.

View Royal Coun. Ron Mattson, who was also fired, said reading the ombudsperson’s report brought back terrible feelings, even as it seemed to accurately outline what happened.

Chalke found the ministry had no evidence of wrongdoing by Mattson when he was pulled from a conference in Vancouver and flown to Victoria to be fired.

“I basically had my guts ripped out when this all started. I went through two years of just hell. And then, when I go back and read the bit of the report on me, when they knew I’d done nothing wrong at the start, that I didn’t actually have to go through all this — it brings back all of the pain I experienced initially,” Mattson said.

“It knocked me down so far. In reality, I’ve never really gotten back to where I was when all this started. It’s something that will probably be with me for the rest of my life.”

asmart@timescolonist.com

— With files from Lindsay Kines

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