Nova Scotia

Potential class-action lawsuit pits Indigenous community against Halifax researchers

Chief Andrea Paul alleges she and 60 other people were subjected to MRI scans without their knowledge or consent.

Plaintiff Chief Andrea Paul alleges she and 60 others were subject to MRI scans without consent

Chief Andrea Paul and lawyers representing two Halifax-based medical researchers and the chief of the Pictou Landing First Nation are in Nova Scotia Supreme Court Monday to discuss the latest steps in a potential class-action lawsuit. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

Lawyers for two Halifax-based medical researchers and the chief of the Pictou Landing First Nation are in Nova Scotia Supreme Court Monday to discuss the latest steps in a potential class-action lawsuit involving members of the Nova Scotia Indigenous community and their families and friends.

Chief Andrea Paul is the named plaintiff in the case against researchers Robert Miller and Sharon Clarke.

Paul alleges she and 60 other people were subjected to MRI scans without their knowledge or consent.

According to court documents, Paul was at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax in March 2017 to have an MRI.

Paul and other members of her community had agreed to participate in a study for the Canadian Alliance for Healthy Hearts and Minds.

Brian Hebert, Paul's lawyer, alleges that after the MRI scans were done for the study, she was kept in the machine for additional scans for a separate project being conducted by defendants Miller and Clarke. Miller and Clarke work for the QEII Health Sciences Centre and Dalhousie University. 

That study, according to the statement of claim, was looking at "MRI elastography of the liver of Indigenous subjects."

Hebert said his client didn't learn of the additional scans until June 21, 2018, by which time the research had been presented to a radiology conference in Halifax.

'She felt violated and humiliated'

"She felt violated and humiliated," Hebert wrote in the notice of action on Paul's behalf.

Notice of the lawsuit was originally served in June 2020. At that time, the Nova Scotia Health Authority (now Nova Scotia Health), Dalhousie University and the Montreal Heart Institute were also named as defendants.

The notice was revised earlier this year, removing the institutional defendants and leaving just Miller and Clarke.

Hebert said Paul has also reached a settlement with the IWK Children's Hospital for its role in the study. Terms of that settlement remain confidential.

"They're saying, 'Nothing about us, without us,'" Hebert said in an interview. "That's the mantra now within the Indigenous community when it comes to research. And there's protocols that have been put in place for a number of years now and it was a pretty flagrant breach of those protocols and very hurtful to the community." 

A hearing is set for next October on whether this case will be certified as a class action. Hebert is confident it will succeed on that point, but he said an actual trial on the merits of the case is likely a couple of years away.

Miller and Clarke have not yet filed a response to the allegations, which have not yet been tested in court.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Blair Rhodes

Reporter

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 35 years, the last 27 with CBC. His primary focus is on stories of crime and public safety. He can be reached at blair.rhodes@cbc.ca

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