Commentary, Opinion

Redressing the history of medical injustice at McGill

Content warning: Enslavement, medical abuse, racial and colonial violence 

McGill’s troubled history of abuse and complicity in violence toward Black, Indigenous, and disabled people is nothing new. James McGill enslaved at least three Black people and two Indigenous children, an increasingly recognized and discussed reality within the community, especially following professor Charmaine Nelson’s work, Slavery and McGill University: Bicentenary Recommendations, and the Black Students’ Network and the Indigenous Students’ Alliance’s 2021 video essay on McGill’s history of enslavement. 

McGill, as an institution, has also committed atrocities in the Allan Memorial Institute under the MK ULTRA experiments. Dr. Ewen Cameron worked in a team with the CIA at the Allan Memorial Institute in the 1950s and 60s to conduct brainwashing experiments and psychological torture on patients admitted for mental illnesses. Eyewitness accounts suggest Indigenous children were also subjected to Cameron’s abuse, and Indigenous groups such as the Mohawk Mothers suspect there may be unmarked graves under the Royal Victoria hospital. 

Survivors of these abuses have since filed lawsuits against McGill, the Royal Victoria Hospital, the Canadian government, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Until now, though, the Canadian Supreme Court has refused the government and hospitals’ motions to dismiss the case, forcing McGill to confront its legal and moral liability. Given its involvement in this kind of abuse, McGill must acknowledge its wrongdoing and implement reparative measures for survivors and the larger McGill community, such as providing monetary reparations and committing to addressing current issues of medical abuse. 

Cameron’s aim was to “de-pattern” brains to create a blank mind canvas susceptible to ideological influence and malleable to different objectives. Considering that McGill prides itself as a global leading institution with a history of “expanding minds,” the university should confront its history of psychological torture and forced ideological indoctrination. McGill can no longer ignore the experiences of survivors of the abuse who recall being comatose for weeks at a time, drugged with LSD, put in sensory deprivation rooms, and forced to listen to the same recordings on endless loops. 

During the Korean War, the CIA funnel-funded Canadian researchers like Cameron to lead these psychological experiments at McGill. As the first chair of McGill’s psychiatry department, Cameron had the authority to legitimize his practices to psychiatry students he worked with, who would later become professionals in the health-care system. In this way, his structural and institutional impact would trickle down to harm racialized and disabled people. Indeed, Quebec’s systemically racist healthcare endangers Black, Indigenous and other racialized individuals—proof of the longstanding effects that colonial violence has on institutions like hospitals, which will need to implement radical measures to enact long-overdue change.

The MK ULTRA experiments are not the first time McGill has come under scrutiny over its harmful past, and it certainly will not be the last. McGill’s colonial legacies were first forged as part of the university’s founding and this history continues to shape the institution today. In 2020, McGill finally changed the racist name of its sports teams following persistent advocacy by Indigenous students. McGill is also built on the stolen and unceded land that is part of the Treaty Land of The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, of which the Kanien’kéha Nation, the Anishinaabeg, and Haudenosaunee peoples are a part. As Kahentinetha, a member of the Mohawk Mothers, said, “The entire McGill University is a crime scene.” 

If the university hopes to show any accountability and work to regain the trust of the community, McGill has a responsibility to publicly acknowledge the numerous atrocities it has been a part of and apologize to survivors. At the very least, the university must go forth with legal processes without posing any obstacles to the families of survivors. McGill must be willing to be held accountable, and should develop plans to ensure decolonial and anti-oppressive approaches are embedded into the university’s own health system. Further, it must take steps to halt all abusive measures within the health-care system at large. Any effort at reconciliation by McGill is insufficient as long as the university neglects their responsibility in redressing the pattern of medical injustice.

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  1. Cameron/CIA legacy of torture continues to this very minute.
    Cameron et al are howling in hell as the torturers of today also will.

  2. Ongoing illegal human research, see Thornburgh v US Dept of Energy, Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, illegal training contracts Academi, TEVET, TN subcontractors – ORNL illegal human research lab since 1950s, covering illegal human research, insider trading, sex trafficking, IP theft, plagiarism, voyeurism, criminal invasion of privacy, torture etc with “law enforcement, counterterrorism training exercises” “Its all legal for law enforcement, counterterrorism training exercises per US DoJ and for electronic surveillance per Dick Thornburgh” [email protected]. Threats of arrest, deportation, homeless shelter, hospitalisation, death if obtain lawyer to use Academi, TEVET, Tennessee, Canada, Quebec et al for human trafficking etc. Blocked from lawyers to sue, threatened “we already have your lawyers from our agencies” “In re Thornburgh test case” “Scopes II”

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