Since the story broke in 1977, Canadian government officials have consistently denied knowing that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had financed brainwashing experiments at Montreal’s McGill University in the 1950s and 1960s. But last week a newspaper report based on documents from the Public Archives of Canada suggested that Ottawa knew as early as 1953 about the experiments conducted by Dr. Ewen Cameron at McGill’s Allan Memorial Institute. Furthermore, the report in The Toronto Star said that the government co-operated with the CIA and the British defence department in supporting a separate series of mind-control tests at McGill by Cameron’s colleague, Dr. Donald Hebb.
According to the report, the Hebb project was discussed at a secret meeting on June 1, 1951, at a Montreal hotel. In attendance were Hebb, head of McGill’s psychology department, and officials from the Canadian Defence Research Board, the CIA and the British Defence Research Policy Committee. The report said the Canadian defence department subsequently gave Hebb $40,000 for his sensory deprivation experiments, under which volunteer McGill undergraduates were put in isolation for up to six days to determine whether they would become more susceptible to propaganda. It also said that on Jan. 1, 1953, Hebb wrote to a senior defence department official about his brainwashing tests which referred to Cameron’s “work with this method.” Reaction to the revelations was swift. Washington lawyer Joseph Rauh said they proved that Ottawa had lied to nine Canadians who were the subjects of Cameron’s experiments. In 1980 the Canadians launched a suit against the CIA for $1 million each. They claimed their lives were ruined by the experiments, which used the hallucinogen LSD, sleep deprivation and electroshock. Said Rauh, who represents the nine: “It’s becoming clearer and clearer that the reason the Canadian government never took our side in the case is because its own hands were dirty.” Meanwhile in Ottawa, opposition MPs demanded that the government publish a report on federal involvement in the experiments. But Trade Minister James Kelleher, standing in for Justice Minister John Crosbie, would only say that Crosbie was reviewing the study by Halifax lawyer George Cooper and would report to Parliament.
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