Investigation into Health Ministry data breach “flawed from the outset”

Nobody named or shamed in report that describes a bullying culture in one of the biggest B.C. ministries

Were we expecting too much?

Nobody was named or shamed in the much-anticipated “Investigatory Process Review: 2012 Investigation into Employee Conduct in the Ministry of Health” released Dec. 19. Even the name of the report downplays the gravity of the situation.

Allegations of a major privacy breach and the ensuing botched investigation resulted in lawsuits, out-of-court settlements and even a death. The friends and family of doctoral student Roderick MacIsaac, a victim of suicide, will miss him again this Christmas. My Tyee colleague Andrew MacLeod has led the way on this story, and for all the background, read “What We Know So Far About the Health Ministry Firings.” 

The Opposition NDP slammed the report for its lack of independence and even the former Deputy Minister of Health, Graham Whitmarsh, refused to be involved; he called it a whitewash.

The report contained no names of anyone involved in the scandal. Reviewers Marcia and Sheen Arnold McNeil even included a disclaimer, just in case anyone was looking for a revelation:

“This report is not intended to, and does not, answer questions regarding the specific allegations against the employees. Nor does it answer any lingering questions regarding whether any decision made about the employees was legally or factually sound. This report focuses exclusively on the process leading to the decision making.”

The actual report (which is published below) was released only to those who asked for it. Just like the internal report about the “Quick Wins” scandal, the government refused to publish this report online, citing a flimsy privacy excuse. The decision was more than likely rooted in a desire to bury the story. Dec. 19, after all, is the last real day of business before the Christmas/New Year’s holidays.

The McNeils concluded:

“…the investigation was flawed from the outset, as it was embarked upon with a pre-conceived theory of employee misconduct. This flaw and others I have identified do not align with the investigation training provided by the (Public Service Agency).”

Key excerpts:

“By the time the Investigation Team was formed, the Ministry Review team had already reached the conclusion that some employees had engaged in misconduct, even though this was outside the scope of its terms of reference…

“The resulting climate of fear and anxiety within the Ministry had a negative impact on the productivity of many employees. I was told that while the investigation was ongoing, employees would seek approval of senior managers before completing routine tasks, out of concern that their actions would also come under the same scrutiny. Employees called into interviews with the Investigation Team were manifestly cautious in their responses for similar reasons…

“I find that the interviews did not always give an adequate opportunity for employees to provide a full and fair response.”

The McNeils also found employees did not have an adequate opportunity to review documents and respond to questions about the documents.

“Investigators are not prosecutors. Their mandate is not to interrogate or “go after” a particular person to reach a particular outcome;
“All relevant facts should be investigated. This should include investigating all allegations, and verifying any proposed alibis or other exculpatory evidence; and
“Questions to the employee or others should be open-ended and open-minded. Questions should not be asked with an “end result” or “anticipated outcome” in mind.

The report was issued through the Public Service Agency, which is an arm of the Ministry of Finance. The Minister of Finance? Well, that’s Mike de Jong, who is, according to a prepared statement “still reviewing the report in detail” and said “it is deeply troubling to learn… that there was a lack of due process…”

Before de Jong was the Minister of Finance, he was the Minister of Health from March 2011 to September 2012. The scandal festered under his watch. A proper, independent investigation would endeavor to find out what he knew and when he knew.

What this all means is that there was (and may still be) a culture of bullying inside the Ministry of Health. All the more troubling in a government led by Premier Christy Clark, who purports to be an anti-bullying crusader. She is off to India on Boxing Day with her son to help build a school. Maybe when she returns, she’ll have some ideas (beyond flogging pink T-shirts once a year) to improve working conditions in the government she leads, so that nothing like this ever happens again.

This scandal isn’t over. There is more to come, as the government is working overtime to delay and deny information sought by FOI requesters. As always, I’m glad to receive credible information inside brown envelopes.

Mobile users click here ->McNeil Report FINAL

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