Health Ministry settlement for dead worker ‘insulting,’ family says

A year to the day after B.C. Health Ministry researcher Roderick MacIsaac was fired with three others as part of a highly publicized privacy breach investigation, his family still wants to know why.

Instead, they received a cheque for $480 — the equivalent of what MacIsaac would have been paid for the three days between when he was fired and when his co-op work term would have ended.

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“It was a slap in the face,” said Doug Kayfish, MacIsaac’s brother-in-law.

Money was never the issue. Four months after he was fired, MacIsaac was found dead in his Saanich apartment, lying on the floor beside a gas generator. The windows were shut, and a briefcase packed with papers — including his will — was open on the counter.

The family has no doubt that MacIsaac killed himself. Six months later, the B.C. Coroners Service has yet to decide.

News of the $480 settlement between the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union and the government shocked family members, who want to know why the 46-year-old University of Victoria PhD student was fired and why it was done in such a public way.

“It’s insulting to want answers of a certain type and be told it’s all settled and it was all about three days’ pay,” Kayfish said.

MacIsaac was born in 1966 and raised in Alberta before moving to Victoria in 1979. He was a self-described minimalist who lived to crunch numbers and work with data. MacIsaac also nursed his mother, who had cancer, until her death in 1998.

He worked in communications before earning a master’s degree in political science from the University of B.C. in 2007. He entered UVic’s PhD public administration program the same year.

Last year, when he landed a job with the Health Ministry — helping to evaluate the province’s controversial smoking-cessation program — “for Roderick, it was the beginning,” said Linda Kayfish, his sister.

On Sept. 6, 2012, Margaret MacDiarmid, then the health minister, announced that four ministry workers — including MacIsaac — had been fired and three suspended without pay.

The allegations included conflict of interest and inappropriate conduct, data management and contracting out. None the information allegedly accessed inappropriately included names, social insurance numbers, or any financial information about individuals. And the data accessed was used only for research, MacDiarmid said.

Doug Kayfish believes MacIsaac was fired for “minor procedural transgressions.” According to a statement MacIsaac gave to the union, he had permission to use data for an assignment but wasn’t able to access it, Kayfish said. He found another employee who could retrieve it, but not in a format MacIsaac could use. A third person was given the data and reformatted it, he said.

By March of this year, seven ministry staff and two contractors had lost their jobs. Five civil lawsuits and three union grievances — including the one on behalf of MacIsaac — have been filed. The government is defending itself and nothing has been proven in court.

The investigation is set “to wind down” by the end of this month, the ministry said Thursday.

At MacIsaac’s memorial service in late January, health economist Rebecca Warburton, MacIsaac’s supervisor at UVic and one of those also fired, expressed hope the group would be vindicated this year — and sadness that MacIsaac would not see it happen.

His sister isn’t so sure.

“The fact they paid him out for the three days says they washed their hands,” said Linda Kayfish. “I doubt he or anyone will be vindicated, the damage has been done.”

charnett@timescolonist.com

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