Canada subjected Indigenous people to ‘cruel’ medical experiments, lawsuit claims

FILE -- Sanatorium building in Ontario. Getty Images

A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the Canadian government on behalf of a group of Indigenous people who say they were subjected to medical experiments in residential schools and sanatoriums without their consent.

“Inappropriate medical procedures and experiments were conducted by the Government of Canada or their agents, beginning in the 1930s and continuing through the 1970s,” the lawsuit, which was filed in a Saskatchewan courtroom this month, stated.

Tony Merchant, a lawyer at Merchant Law group said: “Indigenous Canadians were the subject of inappropriate medical testing and they deserve compensation for that cruel treatment.”

He said surgeries were undertaken that were different from the way non-Indigenous Canadians were being treated for tuberculosis and other ailments.

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The lawsuit seeks financial compensation for the affected Canadians. The suit has not been tested in court.

‘Portion of his right lung removed’

John Pambrum, the plaintiff who filed the lawsuit, was a patient at the Saskatoon Sanatorium in 1955 and said doctors operated on him and removed part of his right lung as a treatment for tuberculosis. However, this was well after antibiotics had become standard treatment for the disease, according to the statement.

“He was operated on and had a portion of his right lung removed for no reason whatsoever,” the statement said. Parbrum said this procedure continues to harm him to this day, causing him to have a shortness of breath.

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Other class-action lawsuits

This isn’t the first class-action lawsuit over Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people in relation to medical treatment.

In January, an Edmonton woman filed a suit against Canada alleging abuse at the 29 Indian Hospitals the federal government ran from 1945 until the last one closed in 1981.

WATCH: TRC reveals horrific accounts from residential schools

The statement of claim said Indigenous patients suffered consistent physical and sexual assaults, were deprived of food and drink, force-fed their own vomit and unnecessarily restrained in their beds.

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Experiments on Canada’s Indigenous population

Students at various Canadian residential schools were also used as involuntary guinea pigs in a variety of experiments, notably a number of studies on nutrition, according to reports about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Students were given more or less milk, some were given vitamin C tablets (and others were not), some were given vitamin-enriched flour, and others were not. The intent was to determine whether these dietary interventions cut the incidence of various diseases – but the control-group students were never given the chance to share in any benefits, and in some cases, children were denied access to dental care or iron supplements.

They were also used as research subjects without their or their parents’ consent.

Historical research has also revealed that the government tested tuberculosis vaccines on impoverished Indigenous children in the 1930s, according to Maureen Lux, a Brock University medical historian.

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— With files from Global News’ Leslie Young

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