On august 28, 2012, three days before his eleven-month term as a researcher for the health ministry in Victoria was due to end, Roderick MacIsaac found himself being interrogated. A PhD student at the University of Victoria, MacIsaac had been reviewing the effectiveness of British Columbia’s new smoking-cessation program. He’d been working with a small, specialized drug-evaluation unit that used anonymous health records to conduct its research. Facing him were four investigators looking into several complaints levelled at ministry researchers. The investigators had come to believe that potentially personally identifiable data had been copied to a flash drive for MacIsaac’s use in his dissertation—a privacy breach he denied. If caught lying, MacIsaac was warned, he could be hauled up on criminal charges.
“Are you in the possession of any information,” one of the investigators asked, “that includes data for your PhD?”
“Well, I am in possession of data for the smoking-cessation program,” said MacIsaac.
“I’m going to repeat my question.”
Confused, MacIsaac tried again, more pointedly: “I have not produced any data sets for my PhD.”
By the end of the two-hour ordeal, MacIsaac told investigators a total of nine times that he did not use public-health records as part of his PhD research—he hadn’t even started his dissertation yet. He told them five times that he did not have a flash drive with ministry data in his possession. He insisted that he operated entirely within BC privacy laws, which protect public-health data. The investigators remained unconvinced. They believed he was part of a group of researchers gone rogue: flouting protocols, abusing private data, bestowing contracts on relatives and friends. Having read through MacIsaac’s work emails, they seemed certain they had seen evidence of wrongdoing. You can hear it in their voices on the audio recordings. They are incredulous that the shaky man seated before them refuses to admit he did what he is being accused of. “We’re going to need you to think very carefully about some of the responses that you’re giving us here,” one says. “Because we do have a lot of information in front of us that suggests something different than what you’re telling us.”
Eventually, MacIsaac was told he was suspended and was ordered not to speak about the matter to anyone outside of his union representation. He was instructed to gather his things and was escorted from the building. Nine days later, he received a notice of termination. The letter said he had “irreparably breached the trust of [his] employer, [his] colleagues and the general public.” It also called him “unfit for employment in the Public Service.” Humiliated, MacIsaac withdrew from his PhD program. An introverted forty-six-year-old who had put off his studies to take care of his aging mother through her final stages of terminal cancer, MacIsaac now saw his years of sacrifice in pursuit of a public-service career come to an end—for reasons he didn’t fully understand.
Three months later, MacIsaac decided to stay home instead of travelling to celebrate Christmas with family. Alone in his small, rented coach house near the University of Victoria and surrounded by his history books, he took his own life. On January 8, 2013, his body was discovered by members of the Saanich Police Department who entered his locked suite after his family had been notified that he had missed an appointment at the university.
MacIsaac was one of seven health-ministry researchers who had been either fired or suspended by the end of that previous summer. All of them belonged to the same pharmaceutical-services division, and like MacIsaac, they were bewildered by allegations that they had inappropriately accessed sensitive medical records. While MacIsaac died before his innocence would become public, the coroner’s report mentions a document MacIsaac left behind on his computer, one his family says revealed an intuitive grasp of his situation: that he and his colleagues had been caught up in a flawed investigation, that they were being slandered, and that their lives were upended and careers stalled—some permanently—for reasons that were fabricated. “The government is run by a bunch of criminals,” MacIsaac wrote, according to his sister, Linda Kayfish, who read the document to me over the phone.
Misfire, the scathing and exhaustive 510-page ombudsperson’s report about the firings, was released in 2017. It exposed how, for two years, scores of officials and bureaucrats in then premier Christy Clark’s Liberal government were mistaken about what they thought had happened or were told had happened. Their error not only pushed a scientist to suicide but also hobbled BC’s drug-safety process and cost the province millions of dollars in legal fees and reparations. The episode remains one of the most sensational cases of wrongful dismissal in Canadian history, and it was driven by a set of assumptions that were unfounded and at no point tested—until it was too late.
The probe into the suspected data breaches started with a belief that defied reason but simply felt right: that someone had done something illegal and needed to be punished. By the spring of 2012, Alana James, a fairly new health-ministry employee, was convinced that coworkers and contract researchers had broken the law and misused confidential medical information for personal gain. For decades, BC’s health ministry had enjoyed a collaborative relationship with academia, turning to researchers, both inside and outside the agency, for evidence-based research on drug safety. The work required regular access to public-health data, much of it available in BC’s PharmaNet database. A record of every prescription ever dispensed or purchased in the province, PharmaNet is a researcher’s gold mine.
According to Misfire, James had been hired to help draft and review information-sharing agreements between the ministry and outside researchers. Pharma Net is protected not only by strict privacy laws—when used for research, the data is generally stripped of personal details, such as names and addresses—but also by the fact that access can be difficult for researchers to obtain, with terms sometimes taking years to hammer out. Within her first year, however, James began emailing management about suspected illegal behaviours. Her belief—stemming, in part, from her interpretation of the contracts available to her—was that certain projects were being deliberately misrepresented to facilitate the sharing of data with outside groups. James later admitted she found fault in almost all projects that came before her. In fact, according to Misfire, “she believed that many of her coworkers at the ministry, including ministry executives, employees and external researchers, were engaged in wrongdoing.” James’s enthusiasm for outing malfeasance—the ombuds person’s team sifted through hundreds of her outraged emails—prompted her boss, Robert Hart, to express concern as to how she was spending her time.
But, for James, the stakes were high. If researchers were guilty of misusing sensitive medical records, the credibility of the ministry’s recommendations regarding the safety and effectiveness of the drugs it studied was in jeopardy. Among the people implicated in James’s accusations was Rebecca Warburton, at the time a codirector in the ministry’s pharmaceutical branch; her husband, William Warburton, a contract researcher; and William’s second cousin Malcolm Maclure, also a codirector. James had persuaded herself that the three ran a cronyistic ring and were directly awarding one another beneficial agreements. In the rigorous world of drug-safety research, such conflicts of interest are the equivalent of high treason. Yet, whenever she shared her suspicions, James felt dismissed—told, as she put it in Misfire, “to shut up and go away.”
Hart, a veteran of the civil service, considered James misguided. He thought she had no experience with the complicated legislation surrounding data access and didn’t fully understand the complex relationships between those she was accusing, much less the nature of the work they were doing. More crucially, she had no evidence of wrongdoing.
Undeterred, James went over Hart’s head—to then auditor general John Doyle. She complained to Doyle that William Warburton had received a $1 contract from his wife and Maclure to do research work for the ministry in exchange for valuable data. This turned out to be false. William Warburton’s agreement was with a division separate from the one where his wife worked. Maclure had nothing to do with the agreement. And Warburton was not being paid in data but merely had access to data, as would most researchers. But while James’s superiors had reason to doubt her claims, Doyle took them seriously. To be fair, there was context for his concern, even though none of it involved the parties at hand. The previous year, a high-ranking health official had pleaded guilty to charges of receiving personal benefits related to a health-records contract he’d awarded to a doctor. The ministry was still smarting from the scandal; it was an experience the auditor general didn’t care to repeat. Doyle had made a name for himself as a fiercely independent watchdog. “He was a very activist auditor general,” says Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer, who has covered the BC legislature for thirty-five years. “It was that very aggressive approach that he brought to the office that distinguished his time here.” Sensing the possibility of more misconduct, Doyle’s office asked the ministry of health to look into James’s claims.
The unusualness of having the auditor general take a direct interest in James’s complaints meant her allegations became a pressing issue for Manjit Sidhu, assistant deputy minister of finance and corporate services at the health ministry. He assigned a junior auditor to review the facts. As James and the auditor went through other people’s emails and contracts, their investigation widened. According to the report, the junior auditor was “overwhelmed” by James’s claims of rampant wrongdoing in the ministry—claims that “made it appear as though she had uncovered a broad scandal with potentially criminal consequences.” Ill equipped to understand data analytics and the applicable law, the two spent considerable time preparing summary reports for Sidhu. After receiving the reports, Sidhu didn’t challenge the validity of the findings and decided to launch a more formal investigation. As he told the ombudsperson: “All these allegations of preferential treatment and so on…in my mind meant, you know, we need to do more work on this.”
By early summer 2012, an investigative unit was assembled, led by Wendy Taylor, then the director of privacy investigations for the ministry of citizens’ services. Taylor embraced her role zealously, with investigators under her supervision providing weekly updates to Graham Whitmarsh, the former deputy health minister who would ultimately decide to suspend and fire the researchers. Taylor and her team set up meetings with the researchers under suspicion. Told beforehand that these were merely information-gathering sessions, most of the suspected employees were thrown into turmoil by Taylor and her team’s aggressive, accusatory approach. Some employees were asked how well they knew one another and whether they socialized outside the office. They were asked to recall emails from years ago and, if they couldn’t remember, were refused the opportunity to check their emails for context. The investigation typically began with suspension of an employee’s data privileges. A few weeks later, after two or three interrogations, most were fired.
“We didn’t—and still don’t—have any real footing in what the hell happened,” says Ramsay Hamdi, who was fired after twenty-eight years on the job. A specialized health-data analyst, he’d been working with William Warburton, Maclure, and senior researcher Dave Scott on a study that looked at the rising off-label—or unapproved—use of antipsychotic drugs in children and seniors. After taking an email exchange out of context, the investigators were convinced that Hamdi had been trying to hawk public-health records to another researcher. Hamdi says they questioned him about the number of times he’d gone to the Warburtons’ cabin or how often he had lunch with outside contractors. At one point, they asked him to hand over several years’ worth of income-tax returns, believing these would give proof of kickbacks.
The investigators spun similar conspiracies about Ron Mattson, who managed special projects. Mattson says he was at an Alzheimer’s conference in Vancouver when he got a call to return to work in Victoria right away. He was suspended without pay. Two months later, he was fired, although no one told him why. During the investigation, Mattson was asked “odd questions,” such as whether he or his wife had received money from the university. His emails, going back several years, were searched. “They seemed to think there was some sort of collusion between me and Bill Warburton and Malcolm Maclure—which was absurd because I don’t think we’ve ever even been in the same room together.” Dave Scott says he was interviewed four times and, in each session, had to fend off something new—once, he was accused of giving MacIsaac the data that investigators alleged he was improperly using for his PhD. Ultimately, Scott was never clear on why he was sacked.
The investigators even zeroed in on Robert Hart, James’s skeptical supervisor. On August 31, Hart was called into a mandatory meeting where he was questioned about a vague email from William Warburton to Hamdi, involving the suggestion of a $2,000 honorarium for data, that he had been copied on. It was from four years prior, and Hart couldn’t remember the details, so he asked if he could review the email exchange. Instead, he was suspended and escorted from the building. Two weeks later, he was fired. Misfire later found that investigators had “mischaracterized” the email.
Initially, most of the employees and contractors thought it was all a bizarre mistake. The managers would realize it. The union would sort it out. Lawyers would intervene. The accusations then gained momentum. Margaret MacDiarmid, the new minister of health, only a day into her job, held a press conference on September 6, 2012. Without mentioning the names of the ministry employees and drug researchers under suspicion, she announced that an RCMP investigation was underway into the data breaches and inappropriate contracts. Someone in government had already leaked the claim of police-investigated firings to the Vancouver Sun the day before, and the news had been splashed across the front page that morning.
To the public, it looked like the government was coming down hard on internal corruption. “Even my daughter-in-law said to me, ‘The government wouldn’t make stuff up,’” says MacIsaac’s sister, Linda Kayfish. And yet they did. MacDiarmid’s announcement even blindsided the RCMP, an officer later told the Vancouver Sun. Police had been contacted but were never given evidence to launch an investigation. Unbeknownst to MacDiarmid, the reference to a nonexistent RCMP probe in the press release she read from had been hotly debated among government officials who were cautioned by lawyers against using it. Still, the wording went in. The government, effectively, lied.
It’s an uncomfortable truth: whistleblowers sometimes get it wrong. As Misfire makes clear, Alana James couldn’t shake the feeling that there were problems at the ministry that ran deeper than anyone suspected, and in her few public statements after the firings, in 2015, she continued to stand by her accusations, saying the fired researchers were scapegoats for a larger crisis. (James did not respond to requests for comment for this story.)
But why she was so hell-bent remains a mystery. Was she driven by a powerful sense of moral purpose? Did she have an outsized concern for protecting the private medical information of BC citizens? Or was she simply an ambitious public servant who sought to make her mark? According to Misfire, James admitted that she’d never had the evidence to prove many of her allegations and didn’t have a thorough understanding of the projects she criticized. Nonetheless, she was confident no alternative explanations existed for what she thought was occurring—even after more experienced coworkers repeatedly explained why she was mistaken. Because of the conclusions James jumped to, and the ensuing investigation, seven people were terminated from their jobs for alleged data breaches and then publicly humiliated with declarations of an RCMP probe. But there were no breaches, no inappropriate contracts, no probe. In fact, none of the targeted employees occupied positions senior enough to award contracts; some didn’t even have access to health data.
The consequences of James’s actions underscore how easy it is to be led astray by our need for something to be true. A similar cast-iron certainty appears to have derailed Wendy Taylor’s investigation. After the firings in the summer of 2012, her team kept persecuting employees. The report describes how investigators conducted over twenty-eight interviews with nineteen public-service workers. They charged one employee with breaching the terms of a data agreement, interrogated him five times, and accused him of lying. Taylor then pushed for his termination. In that case, his supervior stepped in, demanding evidence. None was found, and the employee’s job was saved.
But doubts about Taylor’s efforts were finally being raised. When the RCMP and the various lawyers hired by the fired researchers began pressing Taylor’s team for supporting documentation for the decisions it made, it couldn’t provide any proof beyond the thousands of emails it had inspected. By the early fall of 2013, the investigation was shut down. Soon after, the ministry hired outside counsel to look into Taylor’s work. According to Misfire, they concluded there was “insufficient evidence to establish that the province had just cause to terminate any of the employees in any of the cases.”
It eventually became clear to officials that the firings had been a travesty and, in MacIsaac’s case, a tragedy. “Thousands of people had served as co-op students at the ministry,” says current NDP health minister Adrian Dix. “MacIsaac was the only one ever dismissed with cause. And they decided to fire him, knowing all the damage that would cause his reputation.” Senior researcher Dave Scott still remembers how badly MacIsaac reacted to the interrogations. “Rod was going into convulsions and had breathing problems,” says Scott, who describes MacIsaac as someone who hated confrontations. He says they probably went for lunch together half a dozen times. “He wasn’t savvy in the ways of government,” explains Scott. “Bureaucracies can act irrationally. He was almost naive. He figured, ‘I will just work hard, do a good job, things will go okay.’ He did do that, and things didn’t go okay.”
It wasn’t the first time in Canada that a government has played a part in smearing its employees. In the early 1990s, hundreds of workers at a Nova Scotia youth-training centre were dismissed or suspended—and had their reputations destroyed—after being wrongfully accused of sexually and physically abusing students. The youth-centre workers successfully sued the province in the 2000s for millions of dollars in lost wages and damages for pain and suffering. A judge found that the provincial government was, at the time, so single minded in its quest to compensate students who had come forward with allegations of abuse that it didn’t scrutinize the claims properly. One former employee, devastated by the accusations against him, took his own life.
Dale Dunlop was the litigator who represented many of the falsely accused workers in Nova Scotia. Today he travels across Australia and Britain fighting these kinds of wrongful dismissals, which have become a substantial part of his practice. He’s learned that institutions fall prey to the same pattern: panic sets in and facts become secondary. “The people in charge convince themselves that they really don’t need to properly investigate, and they feel pressured into acting,” says Dunlop. His advice to anyone drawn into a large workplace investigation in which they are being wrongly maligned is to band together with others being accused—then go public. “You need to have your own media campaign,” he says. “The other thing is, essentially, don’t give up.”
By 2014, according to sources close to the investigation, the government started quietly settling with ministry employees who had filed lawsuits. But the controversy didn’t end there. How could so many people have missed so many errors of fact? Moreover, nobody stood accountable and nobody in government had publicly apologized. Sources say that the security desk at the Ministry of Health still kept photos of MacIsaac and other disgraced researchers behind the desk, months after they were exonerated, to alert staff not to admit them to the building.
Kayfish says that her pleas for information about her late brother’s firing went ignored. Many details of the case struck her as outrageous. It was the coroner’s office, says Kayfish, that first notified her about the document MacIsaac left on his computer. Months later, when MacIsaac’s possessions were returned to her, she claims the document had been deleted. Her husband was able to restore the file, but she never received an explanation as to who erased it.
Then there were the insults. After the government withdrew MacIsaac’s termination, in June 2013, Kayfish received a cheque in the mail for $482.53—the balance owed for his last three days of work. “They didn’t even have the decency to write and say they unfired him or anything,” says Kayfish.
Kayfish grew angrier. Two years to the month after her brother was fired, in September 2014, she held a press conference at the legislature in Victoria. To a packed room of reporters, with her husband at her side, Kayfish called on the government to publicly acknowledge the damage it had done. “When somebody makes a mistake and ruins people’s lives like this, you have to recognize an error,” she said.
Jon McComb is a local radio host who has covered the story since news of the scandal broke. “Everybody tried to jump back from this stinking pile of mess,” he says. “If it hadn’t been for Linda stepping up and really fighting for Rod, they could very well have skated right through and nobody would have known the difference.”
Following the media uproar created by Kayfish’s press conference, Christy Clark’s government hired lawyer Marcia McNeil to review the bungled investigation, but the process was rushed and her findings didn’t answer key questions about who ordered the firings. Presumably fearing that a public inquiry could drag out, the government put its ombudsperson, Jay Chalke, in charge of a new report. The investigation that culminated in Misfire began in 2015, took nineteen months to complete, and cost $2.41 million. Chalke’s team scoured approximately 4.7 million records, including 129,000 pages of documents and 6.4 terabytes of data. They conducted 158 interviews with 130 people, including Clark and three health ministers—sessions that added up to 537 hours of recordings. Misfire’s conclusions were unsparing. It called James’s complaints “almost entirely inaccurate,” blamed the ministry for setting in motion investigations it dismissed as “ineffective,” with investigators “focused on trying to build a case” rather than “engag[ing] in a neutral fact-finding exercise.”
Doug Kayfish says that, although Misfire was not the whitewash he expected, it fell far short of what it needed to do. Nobody responsible was ever held accountable, such as the ministers and Clark, who Kayfish feels should have intervened sooner. Clark later said that it would have been inappropriate for her to get involved with human-resources matters. The ombudsperson’s report, Doug contends, allowed government staff, and the minister in charge, to downplay their roles and instead blame misinformation and confusion for what happened. What the report ultimately did, says Doug, “is sacrifice a bunch of peons for the main players.”
Some of the fired workers believe James presented the BC Liberals with a golden opportunity to halt or suspend research unpopular with the drug manufacturers that had donated close to $600,000 to the party since 2005. Before his contract with the ministry of health was terminated, William Warburton had been studying the risks associated with antipsychotics, which are highly profitable drugs for the pharmaceutical industry (indeed, three of the ten most expensive medications covered by BC PharmaCare—adding up to millions of dollars in sales—are antipsychotics). Such drugs, however, are routinely prescribed for mental-health problems for which they were not originally intended, and as a result of his preliminary research, Warburton claims to have discovered that patients who take antipsychotics to treat their depression had a statistically higher mortality rate—meaning that thousands of patients could be dying prematurely.
Antipsychotics weren’t the only type of drug generating concerns among researchers. MacIsaac, along with Hamdi and Scott, had been reviewing the impact of BC’s antismoking program, launched with great fanfare in 2011 by Clark. One of the drugs funded by the program was Champix, which is manufactured by Pfizer, a donor to the BC Liberal Party. Designed to treat nicotine addiction, Champix has been controversial because of warnings from both the US Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada that link the medication to side effects that include agitation, hostility, and thoughts of self-harm or harm to others—warnings that, at the time, were affecting sales. Concerns about the drug prompted France to stop covering varenicline, the active ingredient in Champix, in 2011. That same year, the scientific journal PLOS One published a study that said of 3,249 reports of suicidal behaviours or depression, 90 percent were linked to varenicline. The findings, the study concluded, made varenicline “unsuitable for first-line use in smoking cessation.” (Pfizer has consistently defended the safety and efficacy of Champix, which remains an approved drug in Canada.)
The pharmaceutical unit investigating the smoking-cessation program had close ties to the Therapeutics Initiative, a well-respected watchdog agency launched in 1994 by the University of British Columbia to provide unbiased information about new drugs offered through BC PharmaCare. TI’s very independence, however, also appears to have made it a target of successive premiers’ offices. In 2008, the Liberal government assembled a task force dominated by pharmaceutical companies to review TI, which resulted in the reduction of the agency’s role in the province’s drug-review system. Two years later, according to some reports, the Liberals slashed TI’s funding almost by half. Then, in 2012, in the middle of the data-breach firings—and right after, according to CBC news, the health ministry turned down a proposal from TI to study Champix with a leaked email by a former BC government employee saying that evaluation of the drug was getting “political”—the agency’s funding was cut yet again.
Current health minister Dix stops short of accusing the Liberals of jeopardizing public health in order to do favours for party donors. Instead, he says they created a negative climate toward drug assessment. Dix believes the government had little patience with researchers slowing the drug-approval process, and that attitude trickled down to midmanagement. “Big pharma has an impact on politics everywhere,” says Dix. “To a degree, the power of that industry doesn’t require a conspiracy. That’s why ministers of health need independent reviews. Not because big pharma is intrinsically evil, but because they are involved in public health and inevitably profit from that.”
In terms of public health, the cost of the scandal has been significant. The halted research projects have set back the whole culture of drug safety, says Rebecca Warburton, now teaching at the University of Victoria. In her opinion, the inability to fully and promptly understand the effects of drugs on BC patients means that PharmaCare is “paying tens of millions annually for ineffective and overused drugs,” a situation which, she believes, has led to “deaths and injuries.” The new NDP government reinstated TI’s access to the BC health data, as well as some funding, but TI remains a small group surrounded by powerful pharmaceutical companies.
Then deputy health minister Whitmarsh’s role in the fiasco eventually caught up with him. He left in 2013 as part of a cabinet shuffle and now works as a health consultant in the Bahamas. Former health minister MacDiarmid, who was sued by several of the persecuted researchers for defamation and wrongful dismissal (the lawsuits were settled by the province), said recently in the Vancouver Sun that she felt “mostly sadness” about the part she played, which included announcing, at the now infamous press conference, an RCMP investigation that didn’t exist. MacDiarmid blames Whitmarsh for feeding her false information and claims she learned the truth only years later. In response, Whitmarsh said he never “knowingly misled any cabinet minister.” As for Taylor, the lead investigator, she had been promoted within the ministry of justice but left her position several years after the firings. (Taylor did not respond to requests for comment for this story.)
Then there’s the scandal’s cost to taxpayers, which, according to government documents, is estimated at $9 million, an amount that includes cash settlements with the fired workers, legal fees, and the price tag for two reports. The BC Liberals hired former Supreme Court judge Thomas Cromwell to oversee the implementation of the Misfire recommendations, which included new rules around the way government employees conduct internal investigations. In a 2018 letter to the deputy minister to the premier, Cromwell emphasized the trauma that employees suffered as a result of the public announcement of a police investigation. “Completely innocent people feared that they might have done something wrong, they became suspicious of close friends and colleagues and worried that the police might appear without warning to search their homes,” he wrote. There’s still a long way to go. “It is also clear to me from my many contacts with Ministry employees and contractors that serious challenges remain to be met before the goal of reconciliation has been achieved.”
Unfortunately, there’s often no way to entirely fix the damage that false claims can inflict. “I’ve seen the toll that they take,” says Dunlop, the Nova Scotia litigator. “Some people just don’t recover.”
A year after he was fired, in July 2013, Hart says he received a call from his lawyer, who said the ministry was willing to settle. It was offering eighteen months’ salary and removal of the firing letter. But Hart wanted to be made “whole” again. He wanted his job back, he wanted his missing salary paid, he wanted any pension he’d lost, and he wanted his legal expenses paid. His lawyer responded: “Christ, they will never go for that,” Hart recalls. In early December of that year, his lawyer called and asked if he was sitting down. Hart says the ministry had agreed to everything: reinstatement of his job, lost wages, and payment of a $46,000 legal bill.
Still, Hart feels the rawness of the events of 2012. For months after he lost his job, he would walk to his former workplace two or three times a week and circle the building. He’d stop and look up at the dark windows, toward the offices of the executives who had played a role in firing him. It didn’t matter that they probably couldn’t see him. “I wanted them to know that I was still there,” Hart says.
Mattson, who still doesn’t work full time, says he suffered from depression and financial loss. William Warburton estimates he lost $600,000 in income and legal costs. He also says he never got a severance and lost part of his pension. After Misfire’s release, Hamdi and others each received $75,000 in “goodwill” payments from the provincial government as recommended by the report. The payments didn’t stop there. In December 2018, Hamdi says he was awarded nearly $500,000 as compensation for lost income and pension. He was also awarded another $225,000 in ex gratia payment, for his suffering. The researchers, estimates Hamdi, were awarded a total of at least $2 million when they finally got their payouts, at the end of 2018. Hart says even his wife, Dawn, was compensated for the trauma it caused in their marriage.
Hamdi’s payout was small comfort. As the son of a surgeon who co-invented an artificial vertebra in the 1960s, Hamdi has been around health science all his life. In the office, he was outgoing and jocular. Unsure if he wants to go back to work six years later and recovering from his third ulcer surgery, he spends a lot of time on his boat.
The Kayfishes are still struggling. “I have good days and bad days—it’s a huge wound to heal,” says Linda. In April 2018, at Rebecca Warburton’s urging, the university gave Roderick MacIsaac his PhD posthumously. Also, the new NDP government set up a $500,000 scholarship—recommended by the report—in MacIsaac’s name. Linda and Doug find little solace in that. “I am very much afraid that the lesson of all this has not been learned,” says Doug. “There’s a systemic problem in government that you can’t call them to task on anything. If you don’t fix that, you’ll have this problem again and again.”
August 19, 2019: An earlier version of this story stated that the University of Victoria gave Roderick MacIsaac his PhD posthumously at the urging of William Warburton. In fact, it was Rebecca Warburton who helped initiate the process. The Walrus regrets the error.