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Suspended UVic professor will be exonerated, says lawyer

Sep 14 2012

A University of Victoria professor, under the microscope for months as the B.C. government investigated a privacy breach scandal, only learned of the details of the allegations against her on Thursday, her lawyer says.
Rebecca Warburton, a health economist who also works part time in UVic’s school of public administration, was suspended without pay from her position in the Health Ministry last week.
“I hope and expect it will be concluded quickly, and I’m confident she will be exonerated,” said Victoria lawyer Cathie Boies Parker.
Last week, B.C. Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid fired four people and suspended three without pay from the ministry’s pharmaceutical services division, terminated contracts worth $4 million with UVic and the University of B.C. and suspended drug and PharmaNet data access for its drug researchers.
An investigation turned up potential conflicts of interest and inappropriate contract management and data access with external drug researchers, the government said. It has asked the RCMP to investigate.
The government has not provided evidence or details of its allegations.
“When the allegations have not been particularized to those being accused, you begin to wonder what else is going on,” Boies Parker said.
As part of the investigation, those fired and suspended have been told not to speak publicly.
“Because my client, Dr. Rebecca Warburton, is still committed to participating in the investigation process and hoping she will be exonerated through that, she is in difficult position because she can’t defend herself in public, while the province is speaking in public,” Boies Parker said.
The lawyer also represents Rebecca Warburton’s husband of 32 years, Bill Warburton, a labour and health economist who had a $1-a-year contract giving him access to drug data. It was revoked early in the investigation.
His research on the impact of atypical anti-psychotic drugs on patient health and mortality has been suspended.
“This is very important research in terms of testing the claims of the companies that produce these drugs,” Boies Parker said.
The lawyer said she had also been asking for details of the allegations against Bill Warburton. “He has always conducted himself with integrity and never been part of any privacy breach,” she said.
The government has not released the names, positions or related research of those disciplined.
Those suspended without pay are Bob Hart, director of data access; Malcolm Maclure, a UBC professor; and Rebecca Warburton. Warburton and Maclure are co-directors of research and evidence development in the ministry’s pharmaceutical services division.
Fired are Ron Mattson, a special projects manager; David Scott, a senior researcher; Ramsay Hamdi, a senior economist; and Roderick MacIsaac, a UVic PhD student.
MacIsaac was researching B.C.’s smoking-cessation program, which provides two prescription drugs free of charge — one of which, Champix, is the focus of a class-action suit.
Mattson and Maclure were involved in the Alzheimer’s Drug Therapy Initiative — a project involving the province, Alzheimer Society of B.C., UBC and UVic. Medication costs are covered for patients and information is collected on the effectiveness of treatments. 
Hamdi, Scott and MacIsaac are represented by the B.C. Government Employees’ Union, which is so far working on grievance applications in two of the cases, said union spokeswoman Karen Tankard.
ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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