A Montreal woman whose father was unknowingly brainwashed as part of The Montreal Experiments back in the 1950s is seeking compensation through a class-action lawsuit, after close to 100 patients were already compensated in the ’90s.
Plaintiff Julie Tanny is spearheading the latest legal chapter in a decades-old legal battle. Her legal team has just filed a class-action authorization in court.
“It’s never been acknowledged by anybody that happens to be mentioned in our lawsuit and we want justice,” said Tanny, whose father underwent brainwashing treatment for three months in 1957.
Charles Tanny is one of 77 victims who received compensation from the Canadian government in 1992 for experimental treatments by Dr. Donald Ewen Cameron at the Allan Memorial Institute.
The treatments included torture techniques involving drug-induced comas and intensive electroconvulsive therapy aimed at reprogramming the brain. The Montreal-based psychiatrist received funding from the Canadian government and the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
In many cases, patients and their families had no idea what was going on behind the walls of the Allan Memorial Institute.
Tanny has filed a request for a class-action lawsuit against the hospital, the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) as well as the Canadian and American governments, in the hopes of extending compensation to family members and other victims.
“Between 1957 and 1961, the CIA had been funding Dr. Cameron with his treatment,” said lawyer Jeff Orenstein of the Consumer Law Group. “I use that word loosely because we allege it wasn’t treatment at all, but it was experimentation.”
In a written statement, the MUHC and the Royal Victoria Hospital deny responsibility, claiming Dr. Cameron was not their employee.
“The McGill University Health Centre acknowledges that Dr. Donald Ewen Cameron carried out experiments at the Allan Memorial Institute during the 50s and 60s,” the statement reads. “The research attributed to him continues to be controversial, and its consequences, unfortunate.”
“The courts have already established that the Royal Victoria Hospital was not considered, by law, the employer of Dr. Cameron; at the time, he exercised his profession in an autonomous and independent manner.”
But the lawyer in this case claims the hospital should have known the nature of the treatments administered by Dr. Cameron and his team.
In a statement to Global News, the Canadian government says it has already provided help to the victims.
“The Government of Canada believes in taking a fair and compassionate approach to victims and their families. In this case, the government acknowledges the damages and painful scars of the victims who underwent the ‘depatterning’ treatment technique, as well as the impact on their families, and has taken action to provide assistance to those affected.”
But like the MUHC, the federal government also denies responsibility.
Ian McLeod, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, explained a third party was tasked with conducting an inquiry into Dr. Cameron’s work between 1950 and 1965.
“The Cooper Report concluded that Canada did not hold any legal liability or moral responsibility in respect of these treatments,“ he said.
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While most of the patients who were part of The Montreal Experiments between 1948 and 1964 were initially admitted for mild psychological disorders, Charles Tanny was sent there for a pinched nerve.
“In the files, Dr. Cameron notes that after 30 days they were very disappointed that my father had memory of his former life,” Julie Tanny said, “because he was still asking for his wife.”
Tanny was only four and a half years old when her father went in for his three-month treatment. She claims he was never the same afterwards.
“Before, it was always about us — he built skating rinks, took us to Belmont Park,” she said. “When my father came home, it was just complete detachment that never went away, and for three children under 10 years old that’s very traumatic.”
Charles Tanny died in 1992, the same day he was awarded $100,000 in compensation from the Canadian government.