Toronto Star Legal Affairs Reporter
Ottawa approved using inmates to test everything from steroid enemas to links between height and crime while Canada's prison system operated as a research lab, federal documents show.
The documents are contained in long-buried government files uncovered in the wake of a $5 million lawsuit filed by Dorothy Proctor, one of 23 inmates involved in LSD experiments at Kingston's Prison for Women from 1960-63.
Questions have already been raised in Parliament about the use of inmates in a variety of scientific experiments, revealed after Proctor filed her lawsuit last year.
But the latest documents suggest the experiments may have been more widespread and started earlier than first suspected. For example, one document shows a shipment of LSD arriving at the British Columbia Penitentiary as early as 1958.
The documents also suggest that inmates were forcibly subjected to controversial electroshock therapy.
``It is necessary to show force to get her to accept treatment,'' one Kingston prison psychiatrist wrote of an electroshock episode with a Prison for Women inmate for August, 1954. At the time, a report on treatment in the psychiatric ward was submitted to the warden each month.
``He is very frightened of treatments and very resistive to taking them,'' the doctor wrote in a similar report the next month about a male inmate at Kingston Penitentiary.
Although Canada's justice minister decided in 1949 that consent from inmates was unnecessary for electroshock treatment, the correctional service had a policy by the early 1960s that made it a prerequisite for scientific experiments.
Researchers, keen to take advantage of the controlled environment prisons offered, were allowed to use only volunteers. But some critics question whether prisoners can truly offer free and informed consent to experiments in inherently coercive settings.
The shock therapy also appeared to go beyond its traditional use in treating the severely depressed and was given to inmates who were bed wetters, and suffering from a variety of vaguely defined neuroses and mental illnesses, the monthly psychiatric reports suggest.
In one case, an ``ardent Communist'' who became disruptive when asked about his beliefs may also have received treatment.
Treatments and tests approved by the government spanned 25 years and included:
Dalhousie University medical school, meanwhile, was interested in finding out whether height and criminal behaviour were linked. It received permission to draw blood from tall inmates from Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick, examining it for chromosomes suspected of causing impulsiveness. A fingerprint analysis would follow.
At the time, the federal justice department allowed its use without an inmate's consent as long as prison psychiatrists thought it would be helpful.
Over the next several years, as many as 117 shock treatments a month would take place at the jail and were credited with ending everything from facial rashes, suicide attempts, hallucinations, incontinence and depression.
Occasionally, there were complications. In September, 1951, one inmate turned blue and his heart rate slowed during treatment, requiring artificial respiration by another electrical jolt to speed it up. His treatment was ``temporarily suspended,'' a report notes.
A year earlier, the prison psychiatrist noted ``a difficulty'' with the machine because it was producing only a mild seizure.
Monthly reports from the Kingston Penitentiary psychiatric ward also, however, include several references to inmates for whom shock therapy was discontinued if they were too afraid.
In 1957, the machine's inventor visited the prison and reset it to give ``softer convulsions.''
In May, 1958, a psychiatrist and psychologist at the British Columbia Penitentiary were eager to begin using LSD after learning at an American Psychological Association conference in San Francisco that it showed promise in treating alcoholics. They put their request in a May 28 letter to the medical director of the penitentiary system in Ottawa.
On July 2, 1958, the warden at the B.C. Pen wrote to medical director and deputy commissioner Dr. Paul Gendreau, notifying him that a shipment of LSD 25 in both pills and small bottles arrived from Montreal's Sandoz Pharmaceutical Co. ``sooner than expected.'' The drug wasn't illegal in Canada until 1969.
Medical staff would be able to use the drug on emotionally disturbed inmates ``from both a therapeutic and a research perspective'' once a new psychiatric ward was completed, he said.
It's not clear from the documents whether that actually took place.
Gendreau suggested in other correspondence that he was reluctant to approve the B.C. project until he checked into a New Brunswick inmate's complaints that he suffered health problems as a result of LSD therapy in a prison in the United States.
The use of LSD and shock therapy in the Canadian prison system coincided with CIA-funded ``brainwashing'' experiments performed in Montreal at McGill University's Allan Memorial Institute between 1957 and 1961. However, there is no evidence the programs were linked.
In the McGill experiments, which were conducted by Dr. Ewen Cameron and also funded in part by the Canadian government, up to 130 people were given electroshock, high doses of LSD and subjected to taped messages. At the time, the Cold War was escalating and researchers were interested in unlocking possible Soviet strategies for mind control.
In 1988, the U.S. government settled out of court with a group of test subjects for a total of $750,000. The Canadian government later agreed to a settlement that paid up to an additional $100,000 per person.
Proctor, 56, blames the Kingston prison program for drug addictions that ruled her life for 30 years after her release in 1963, after she served a three-year sentence for stealing a car. She also alleges the drug caused brain damage.
She is suing retired penitentiary psychiatrist Dr. George Scott, former prison psychologist Mark Eveson and the now-defunct Institute for Psychotherapy, a private Kingston clinic operated by Scott where she alleges some of the experiments took place.
In a statement of claim seeking damages for assault and battery, which contains allegations not yet proven in court, Proctor says she was used in LSD experiments and given electroshock therapy against her will as prison officials searched for a cheap and effective means of behaviour control.
``I was just a biological unit,'' she said in an interview.
Only 17 when she arrived at the prison, she quickly earned a reputation for causing trouble, escaping twice by scaling a nine-metre concrete and barbed-wire wall.
In her statement of claim, Proctor alleges Scott and Eveson administered LSD experiments in the prison. ``So, I went on a trip without my luggage,'' she said in an interview. ``I thought I had lost my mind.''
Lawyers for Scott and Eveson won't let their clients discuss the case. But in statements of defence, the two men are adamant that no experiments took place.
In his statement, Eveson says he knows nothing about Proctor receiving electroshock therapy. He says his LSD research at the Prison for Women was intended to be therapeutic, to help inmates with personality disorders. It was carried out with the inmates' informed consent and according to accepted medical standards of the time, he adds.
In his statement, Scott, now 84, denies participating in the LSD study, but says he knew about and endorsed it. Both doctors dispute Proctor's claim that they should have known about any risks at the time.
Proctor's medical problems, they add, were caused by the result of her later drug abuse.
As for shock therapy, Scott says he never coerced inmates into it and denies Proctor ever received it.
Proctor began her fight in 1997, when she wrote to then-solicitor-general Herb Gray. In an interview, Proctor says she was starting to clean up her life after decades of living on the streets, hooked on heroin and cocaine and working as an RCMP informant.
She began to remember what had happened in prison, recalling hallucinations in which her cell bars turned into snakes. ``I was helpless, totally helpless,'' she said in an interview. ``I couldn't bring my brain back.''
Following her 1997 letter, a two-member board was formed and ordered to investigate. Later that year, board members Marg Benson and Ross Hastings concluded that up to 23 women, including Proctor, were given LSD in the study. Only four have been identified because records are missing or destroyed.
In their report, Benson and Hastings said they weren't convinced the women were adequately supervised during the study, which they called a `'risky undertaking.''
They also concluded that Proctor was justified in claiming she couldn't give informed consent and that it was wrong that she had once received LSD while she was in segregation.
Perception disorders stemming from LSD use were first reported in 1958, they noted, and Proctor's symptoms were ``an undeniable example of substantial, debilitating long-term effects.''
But they said it was impossible to confirm or deny the experiment led her to become hooked on drugs. They were also skeptical about shock therapy being forced on her.
Still, they recommended the correctional service ``make every effort'' to discover who the women were and develop a settlement package.
The service commissioned another study in 1998 by the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and the Law that concluded further research was needed to determine whether inmates consented to take LSD.
No consent forms have been found, investigators Norbert Gilmore and Margaret Somerville noted.
Further study was also needed into whether inmates suffered long-term effects, they added, recommending a toll-free number be set up to encourage contact from study participants.
The correctional service has since placed newspapers ads, but moved little on compensation. Tracking down the women raises privacy issues, because many may have received pardons or have relatives who are unaware of their criminal pasts, Commissioner Ole Ingstrup has said.
An internal briefing note in the government files also mentions the `'financial implications'' of acting on the recommendations.
Proctor says the government's inaction prompted her to file her suit. ``They could have looked good, paid us off, and we would have went whistling off into the sunset. But, no. They decided they were going to fight me, but they picked the wrong one to fight.''
Another lawsuit may be filed soon. A 75-year-old grandmother known as Jane Doe, who alleges she was given LSD and electroshock therapy while an inmate at the Kingston jail in the 1960s, says she intends to bring a class-action suit on behalf of other prisoners. She is asking Ontario's Superior Court to grant her anonymity before she begins.
The question of consent has become key as the issue unfolds.
By the early 1960s, electroshock therapy had become widely accepted by psychiatrists as a relatively low-risk treatment for a small group of disorders linked to depression, wrote the McGill investigators Gilmore and Somerville.
Carefully obtaining written, informed consent from inmates was a prerequisite for the therapy by that time, they wrote, and it required explaining the purpose of the treatment along with its potential benefits and risks.
At 17, Proctor wasn't at the age of consent, and it's unknown whether LSD treatments might have affected her ability to agree to shock therapy, they added.
If medical staff were trying to control inmates' behaviour through drug use and shock therapy, it likely wasn't justified even by the ethical standards of the time, they wrote.
Even before research guidelines were introduced into the prison system, general medical research had guidelines. In 1948, the Nuremberg Code was developed in response to the experimental horrors of Nazi Germany and required anyone serving as a research subject to give free and informed consent.
Toronto lawyer James Newland, who represents Proctor and Jane Doe, argues that inmates are never able to freely give consent because they are locked in oppressive environments where their well-being depends on measuring up to the expectations of their keepers.
The problem was also recognized by prison officials as early as 1949.
``No shock treatments were given during May as we are waiting for word from the Dep't. in regard to the necessity of having signed permission from the convict that requires treatment,'' Kingston Penitentiary psychiatrist C. M. Crawford wrote on June 6, 1949.
``These patients are almost never in a position to say,'' he added.
Clearly, prison doctors at the time had their hands full. Psychiatric-ward reports of the era paint a heart-wrenching picture of inmates drinking Fly Tox and attempting hangings, stuffing their ears with toilet paper or prying teeth out with a spoon.
``I don't have any sympathy for them (prison doctors),'' Proctor says. ``Ethics are ethics. Ethics are a state of mind.
``If you had good intentions and were going to experiment on somebody, you wouldn't come into (segregation) and (treat) an inmate in that shape. You would immediately demand their release, get them to hospital and get them cleaned up, fed and healthy.
``And then you would have a conversation with them about what you wanted to do.''
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