Premier Christy Clark defended Thursday her government’s decision to not release documents related to the controversial firing of eight health researchers, pointing to advice given in a 2013 email from the RCMP.
On Wednesday, the government unsealed the email from a confidential submission to B.C.’s privacy commissioner. In it, RCMP Sgt. Andrew Cowan encouraged the province not to release documents in relation to the dismissals because it might interfere with any possible investigation. The email was dated Oct. 22, 2013.
“To confirm, the RCMP investigation, although suspended pending the final report/investigation by your office, is not concluded,” Cowan wrote
“It is my opinion that at this stage of the investigation, releasing the working papers and source document information specific to the allegations may interfere with the investigation.”
The province calls the document proof it didn’t lie — as the Opposition New Democrats claim — to the privacy commissioner when it withheld the release of documents in a 2013 freedom of information request.
“The RCMP confirmed there is an open file and in their letter referred to an investigation and specifically requested the government not release some of the information under FOI because we needed to respect the work that they are doing,” Clark said while visiting Nanaimo.
“We did that.”
NDP Leader John Horgan, who has been calling for a public inquiry into the firings, said the release of the email proves little.
“This is a desperate act by a desperate government,” Horgan said. “They have been caught in a lie not just to the eight health-care workers and their families but to the people of British Columbia.”
“The Ministry of Health sought out the RCMP to support their position,” said NDP MLA Adrian Dix. “The Health Ministry was telling the RCMP they’d have a report by Dec. 31  at that point, having already blown through four deadlines.
“What the premier was trying to do in going on the offensive today actually shows their continuing effort to cover up the truth and obviously it reflects on the sincerity of her apologies as well.”
The NDP asserts the government knew it had nothing of a criminal nature to give the RCMP and at the very least should have told the privacy commissioner the police case was closed in the summer of 2014.
The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association has asked privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham to investigate whether the government intentionally undermined the freedom-of-information process.
In the end, the government lost its fight not to disclose the information and Denham’s office ruled in 2014 it wasn’t persuaded that disclosure of documents would interfere with any possible police activity.
On Sept. 6, 2012, then B.C. health minister Margaret MacDiarmid announced a series of firings and suspensions of drug researchers in the Health Ministry and said the government had asked the RCMP to investigate.
RCMP emails from 2014 and this year acquired under a Vancouver Sun freedom of information request and made public last week show the Mounties opened a file only a week after the province made its firing announcement.
Despite prodding from police, the province never provided more information and the file was closed July 16, 2014, records show.
Of the seven civil servants and one contractor who lost their jobs, two health researchers were rehired and the government settled with four others, one posthumously.
Student Roderick MacIsaac, fired three days shy of his co-op term ending, killed himself three months later.
Two cases remain before the courts.