CBC Investigates

B.C. victims of government-funded brainwashing experiments want apology

Two B.C. residents are speaking out about the price they paid for brainwashing experiments done by researchers at the Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal in the 1950s and 1960s.

Patients treated for 'depression' but ended up worse

Laura Clacket with husband Bruce and son Les around the time he says he found his mother unconscious. (Les Clacket family photo)

Les Clacket says his mother Laura couldn't even talk about her time at the Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal where she went for help with her depression and instead was given electro-shock therapy as a subject in CIA-funded and Canadian government-sanctioned experiments in the 1950s.

When he was around 11, he recalls saving her from a suicide attempt after discovering a note and finding his mother unconscious in bed. 

On his deathbed, Clacket says, his father Bruce told him about "the horrible things" done to his mother while she was under the care of Dr. Ewen Cameron at the institute, including electroshock therapy, drugs and cold war-era psychological tests with the aim of "de-patterning" her brain.

Laura Clacket around the time of her marriage in 1947. (Les Clacket family photo)

His cool, aloof father cried, he says, as he tried to explain why his wife was upset all the time and a very unhappy person.

His mother died 10 years later in Sidney, B.C., a recluse who moved out of her bedroom and spent her last decade smoking on the sofa, Clacket said. "She never got better. She never worked."

Clacket wants an apology from the government for what happened to her. 

"My mother and the other patients were tortured. The CIA, through Dr. Ewen Cameron, conducted experiments, and I lived with the repercussions my whole life," he said.

Clacket contacted the CBC this fall after someone sent him an article on a rare out-of-court settlement of a lawsuit about Jean Steel who had gone through similar treatment at the institute 60 years earlier. He is one of several Canadians who  came forward saying they have never been properly dealt with. 

The official compensation program closed more than 20 years ago, but Montreal lawyer Alan Stein who negotiated the deal for Steel's daughter, then told the CBC the deal could provide hope for families of other patients who were initially denied compensation.

Gina Blasbalg says she was subject to sleep and drug experimentation at the Allan Memorial Institute for over three years starting when she was just 16. (CBC )

Gina Blasbalg of Richmond was one of Cameron's patients at the institute, starting when she was just 16. She was in another hospital for hepatitis treatment for over five weeks and got depressed. She says she ended up being subjected to experiments for over three years at Allan Memorial.  

'Sleeping for days'

The experiments with drug-induced sleep would go on for days. She recalls seeing other patients who fared worse.

"Thank God I didn't have all the tests. They were only using drugs with me and sleep therapies and gas." She says she knows she was given LSD because of the hallucinations she suffered and depression that she assumed was drug-induced because she was never depressed after that.

She says she eventually walked out and with the help of her future husband, Ralph Blasbalg, was able to get over the effects of the drugs. It took at least 18 months to get over the symptoms of drug withdrawal. 

Gina Blasbalg credits her husband, Ralph, with helping her deal with the effects of the experimentation. (Blasbalg family photo)

But the memories can still come crashing back, nearly 40 years after she and her family left Montreal and settled in B.C. 

She wrote a book about her experiences called 'Disposable Minds, Expendable People.' 

"It is upsetting to relive. I don't expect to get any money back. They were wrong. They should apologize and reimburse people for lives destroyed. I would like to forget about it and keep on living," she says, grateful to have a supportive family including four children and grandchildren.

With files from Lisa Ellenwood