VICTORIA - British Columbia's ombudsman says seven government health workers and a contract employee who were fired five years ago because of a flawed and rushed investigation did not deserve the personal, financial and professional harm they suffered.
Jay Chalke's report, called "Misfire," concluded key decision makers acted on incorrect information to support the decision to fire the workers.
One of the researchers, co-op student Roderick MacIsaac, later took his own life.
Chalke made 41 recommendations in the report issued Thursday to close what he called a "dark chapter," including offering goodwill payments to those harmed, ranging from $15,000 to $125,000, and personal letters of apology for some of the workers.
He also recommended the government honour MacIsaac's memory by funding a $500,000 scholarship endowment at the University of Victoria.
The workers were part of a drug-research program in 2012 when they lost their jobs amid allegations of inappropriate and potentially criminal conduct.
Then-health minister Margaret MacDiarmid said there were allegations that employees inappropriately accessed sensitive medical records, but charges were never laid and media reports later showed the RCMP never investigated the claims.
Chalke told a news conference that his 488-page report is the result of examining 4.7 million records, conducting 540 hours of interviews and taking evidence under oath from 130 witnesses.
He said his findings don't establish legal fault, but are aimed at preventing similar incidents in the future.
Chalke said there was no just cause for the dismissals, and MacIsaac's suicide compounded the harm.
"Mr. MacIsaac's death was a tragedy that has cast a dark shadow over the entire affair," Chalke said.
His report said former deputy health minister Graham Whitmarsh made the decision to fire six of the workers, the seventh was constructively dismissed, and the contract for the final worker was terminated.
"Government took far too long to realize it had gone down the wrong path," Chalke said in a statement.
"It is my hope that government takes the opportunity to close this dark chapter by implementing the recommendations I have made in this report."
The B.C. government asked Chalke to review the firings in 2015 after it rejected a growing call for an independent inquiry.
On Thursday, government spokeswoman Kim Henderson said the government accepts the report's 41 recommendations, including the compensation and scholarship endowment.
Henderson did not rule out possible dismissals of government officials involved in the flawed investigation.