During the Cold War, the CIA funded a series of secret brainwashing experiments at a prestigious psychiatric clinic at McGill University.
No method was too bizarre, including using LSD, hypnosis, prolonged periods of induced sleep, and electrical shocks to the brain. Patients were given the treatment without explanation or consent, and even decades later complained that they had never completely recovered.
In 1980, the fifth estate exposed the magnitude of the human tragedy with this episode in which two Canadians told their stories publicly for the first time.
Bob Logie was admitted to Allen Memorial hospital at age 18 to treat psychosomatic leg pain. He was repeatedly given LSD as a test subject without his consent.
Logie also received an experimental therapy called depatterning. He was exposed to massive doses of electroshock therapy and kept asleep for up to a month at a time. Tape messages were played repeatedly while he slept.
“I feel like I’ve been completely used. I feel like my mind has been completely invaded. I suppose if guinea pigs have feelings they’d feel like I do,” Logie told the fifth estate host Adrienne Clarkson.
Logie said the effect of the treatments stayed with him and that as a result anxiety built up and he couldn’t hold down a job for long.
No one knows how many patients were exposed to the program of chemical and electro-shock treatments at Allen Memorial. But documents and testimony have revealed that the Montreal experiments were part of a series of psychological projects given code names such as MK Ultra and run by the CIA in a quest to understand how to brainwash people.
The American spy agency launched the experiments after the Korean War, when soldiers came home criticizing the American way of life. The CIA was convinced that the Communists had found the key to brainwashing and set out on an elaborate but secret attempt to use any chemical or psychological means to discover how to work with it.
The CIA set up a number of fronts that were run by its brainwashing experts. In Canada, that included the Human Ecology Fund, which paid for the research conducted at McGill University.
Between 1957 and 1961, the CIA funneled about $62 thousand dollars for its brainwashing experiments to Dr. Ewen Cameron, the director of the Allen Memorial hospital. It’s possible that Cameron didn’t know where the funding for his research came from.
Many years passed before there was any public or official acknowledgment of what patients at Allen Memorial had been through. the fifth estate followed the story for until 1998, when the CIA agreed to pay some of the patients an out of court settlement of $750 thousand. The case had been in court for several years.
It emerged that during that time Ottawa helped suppress evidence that CIA officials had apologized to the Canadian government when the CIA experiments were first revealed – evidence that legal experts said would have gone a long way toward settling the case quickly.
In 1992, the Canadian government agreed to compensate some of Cameron’s victims $100 thousand each. In exchange, the victims signed away the right to sue the government or the hospital.