British Columbia's Health Ministry has fired four people and suspended three others without pay over allegations of improper conduct involving government employees and drug researchers.
The government has also forwarded the results of an internal investigation into those concerns to the RCMP, Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said on Thursday.
Saying she was "profoundly disappointed" by the developments, Ms. MacDiarmid said the government has also taken other steps in the wake of the investigation, including suspending two companies' contracts worth about $4-million and temporarily suspending any sharing of ministry data with drug researchers.
Details of the alleged misconduct have not been released. But Ms. MacDiarmid said it concerns the use of research data and the relationship between ministry employees and researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria.
"There is clear legislation and policy in this area – the way that data research is to be done, the way that contracts are to be managed," Ms. MacDiarmid told reporters. "And we believe that those rules, legislation and regulations have not been followed."
The government investigation began after a tip to the Auditor General's office in March about contracting irregularities and inappropriate research grant practices.
A formal investigation began in May, and employees were suspended in July and August without pay. Four were fired on Thursday. The timing is a result of information obtained through the internal investigation, Ms. MacDiarmind said.
Ms. MacDiarmid was appointed health minister in a cabinet shuffle earlier this week and was briefed on the investigation shortly after she was sworn in.
The motivation for the alleged misconduct is not known, but it appears data was taken and used for purposes that had not been approved, she said. At this point, it does not appear a monetary gain was involved, Ms. MacDiarmid said.
"We don't have any indication that it was used for anything other than research," she said.
B.C.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner has also been informed of the investigation, she said, but at this point individuals whose information is alleged to have been improperly used have not been informed.
"I would be somewhat reassured to know that the information was used for health research purposes, and we don't have any indication that it was used for anything other than that," Ms. MacDiarmid said.