The whistleblower who set in a motion an ultimately flawed 2012 Health Ministry investigation wants to tell B.C.’s ombudsperson in person what his probe should include.
If the investigation is broad in its scope, Alana James said, she will return to Canada to testify.
“I wrote the Office of the Ombudsperson that I thought fairness required that if the fired individuals be allowed to make a statement, I should also be allowed to make a statement,” said James, a former health information adviser for the Health Ministry who is now working as a lawyer in Australia.
“I am coming to Canada this month so the timing could work well for me to answer any questions they or the committee may have,” James said.
It was James’ complaints of privacy breaches, contracting irregularities and health data mismanagement that prompted a 2012 Health Ministry investigation that led to the firing of eight drug researchers, one of whom killed himself months later.
The provincial government has since settled lawsuits with six of the eight.
James has said her complaints involved assistant or associate deputy ministers, not most of the researchers who were fired, whom she calls scapegoats. “I would suggest they examine the process of concerns I brought to the government from 2010 forward,” said James in an email. “I would agree to come to Canada to be interviewed as part of a real investigation, but not if ... it is yet another exercise in theatrics.”
In the wake of calls for a public inquiry, the legislature’s finance committee will meet for the second time on Wednesday to consider a request from B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake that it forward a review of the health firings to ombudsperson Jay Chalke.
“That is a very good place for this inquiry to be made,” B.C. Attorney General Suzanne Anton said in the legislature during question period on Monday.
“It is the job of the ombudsperson to investigate issues involving government and involving citizens.
“It is the goal of government that the ombudsperson be given utmost freedom to determine what happened in this case.”
In a letter last week, Chalke warned the finance committee of several concerns about a review by his office, saying his legislative powers would have to be expanded to allow him to question people restricted by confidentiality clauses in settlements with the government, and that he would need an adequate budget.
Anton said Monday that all of his concerns can be resolved.
Chalke also asked that the all-party finance committee be unanimous in its decision to refer the investigation to the ombudsperson and that the fired researchers should also be in agreement — and invited to make submissions before the committee decides.
NDP MLA Carole James, the committee’s deputy chairwoman, said the whistleblower’s request to give a written or oral submission will be considered.
Alana James began raising her concerns in December 2010. In 2012, she named individuals as part of her complaint to then auditor general John Doyle, to whom she is now married.
He brought the allegations to the Health Ministry, kicking off an investigation. “Very ironically, the ministry, not realizing that the communication had originated with me, called me into a meeting, said ‘Look what someone sent the office of the auditor general — make this go away,’ which I took to mean, give us something that we can tell the office of the auditor general to make them believe everything is fine,” she said.
Both Chalke and a representative of the attorney general’s office will appear before the finance committee Wednesday to answer questions about a potential probe. Written notice is also expected from B.C.’s finance minister on a budget for the investigation.
Carole James said while a public inquiry would be ideal, the ombudsperson and attorney general will have the opportunity to explain if they believe referring the case to the ombudsperson’s office would work.
“I think there is still a fair bit of work here before ... the committee decides whether referral to the ombudsperson is the right route to go or not.”