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View Royal councillor sues health minister for defamation with privacy breach firings

Dec 04 2012

A View Royal councillor is suing Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid for defamation after he and six others were fired by the ministry in connection with an alleged privacy breach.

In a notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court Monday, View Royal Coun. Ron Mattson, 59, is also suing the Health Ministry for wrongful dismissal without pay, breach of contract and defamation.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

In May, the Health Ministry began investigating allegations of conflict of interest and inappropriate conduct, data management and contracting out, focusing on the ministry's pharmaceutical services division. The probe is the result of a tip to B.C.'s auditor general in March.

Since then, seven people have been fired, and the ministry has suspended sharing of Health Ministry data and about $3 million worth of contracts with the University of B.C. and the University of Victoria, as well as a funding agreement with the UBC-based Therapeutics Initiative, an independent research group that acts as a drug-safety watchdog.

Mattson, a 28-year Health Ministry employee, is the second to launch a civil claim, but the first to file a civil suit against the minister directly.

The ministry refused to comment Monday on "specific personnel information" related to employees who were terminated or suspended, but added, "We will defend any action related to our investigation and our decisions."

In a notice of civil claim filed Sept. 14, Malcolm Maclure, co-director of research and evidence development in the pharmaceutical services division, sued the ministry for defamation and wrongful dismissal. Maclure claimed in court documents his suspension without pay - delivered in a letter July 17 - constituted constructive dismissal without cause.

Also fired during the ministry's investigation was Bob Hart, the division's director of data access, research and stewardship. He could not be reached for comment.

Three of those fired are union employees - senior researcher David Scott, senior economist Ramsay Hamdi and University of Victoria PhD student Roderick MacIsaac. They launched grievances through the B.C. Government Employees' Union. Grievance hearings are set for mid-spring.

Health economist Rebecca Warburton was the last of the seven dismissed by the ministry, in late October.

Mattson was a special projects manager in the pharmaceutical services division when he was suspended without pay July 17. He was officially dismissed on Sept. 6.

On Sept. 6, B.C.'s health minister and a press release stated that the Health Ministry had "asked the RCMP to investigate allegations of inappropriate conduct, contracting and data-management practices involving ministry employees and drug researchers."

According to court documents, Mattson alleges that the press release implies that employees, including Mattson, were guilty of criminal conduct, which he alleges is false and defamatory.

Police have said they received the ministry's information but there has been no investigation.

Monday's court documents refer to Bill Warburton, a labour and health economist hired as a subcontractor by UVic on the Alzheimer's Disease Therapeutic Initiative study. Warburton's lawyer declined comment Monday until she has read the notice of claim.

Bill Warburton is married to Rebecca Warburton and is related to Maclure.

Warburton, based at UVic, and Maclure, based at UBC, were co-directors of research and evidence development in the pharmaceutical services division.

The Alzheimer's initiative started in 2007 as a joint project involving the provincial government, Alzheimer Society of B.C., UBC and UVic.

Under the initiative, medication is provided for patients with Alzheimer's disease and information is collected on the treatments.

According to court documents, the Health Ministry accused Mattson of "arranging for Bill Warburton, an unauthorized contractor, to receive a disc containing confidential data."

However, Mattson didn't have the authority to pro-vide any confidential data to anyone - including Bill Warburton, who was under contract with UVic, the civil claim says.

"At the request of the University of Victoria, Mr. Mattson fulfilled his sole role and duty and did submit an application to the director of Data Access and Research Services to have Bill Warburton added to a schedule of a contract the government had entered with the University of Victoria called the Information Sharing Agreement as an approved user of the database," according to court documents.

The director of data access and his superiors were the only people with the ability to grant authorization to access the data, the claim says.

The health data never went to UVic or a potential subcontractor, Mattson's lawyer, Christopher A. Siver, said earlier.


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