Families of Allan psychiatric experiments go to court

The Allan Memorial Institute is located in Ra-venscrag, the mansion that was the home of Sir Hugh Allan, a 19th-century shipping magnate. (Thomas1313/Wikimedia Commons photo)

Not one, but two legal actions have been launched by relatives of people who were subjected many years ago to discredited treatments at a well-known Montreal psychiatric facility.

This is the latest chapter in a decades-long battle for justice for patients who underwent “de-patterning” between 1948 and 1964, under the supervision of Dr. Ewen Cameron at the Royal Victoria Hospital’s (RVH) Allan Memorial Institute.

These experimental procedures, which were administered without informed consent, left hundred of patients with permanent psychological damage and have had lasting negative effects on their families, the two actions allege.

The first, filed on Jan. 24 in Quebec Superior Court, is an application for class action that was launched by Julie Tanny. The other is a $1 million per family lawsuit led by plaintiffs Marilyn Rappaport and Alison Steel that’s dated Feb. 13.

The class action application, which is being handled by the Consumer Law Group in the public interest, seeks unspecified damages from the RVH, McGill University Health Centre (the Allan was jointly administered by the RVH and McGill at the time) and the attorneys general of Canada and the United States.

It’s alleged that the two governments funded the work conducted by Cameron, a prominent psychiatrist and American citizen who was the founding director of the Allan in 1943.

The Central Intelligence Agency’s support of Cameron’s mind control research was exposed back in 1977 by the New York Times.

None of the four parties listed – or the CIA – has ever admitted culpability in the matter.

Tanny said that over 300 relatives of former patients across Canada and elsewhere have signed onto the suit so far. A court must first authorize a class action application before it is heard.

“For whatever reason, a lot of Jewish people are involved in this,” she said. Jews have been active in seeking redress over the years, the most high-profile case being that of Velma Orlikow, the wife of former Winnipeg MP David Orlikow, who was among nine former patients who reached a landmark settlement with the CIA in 1988.


The 81-page application for a class action lawsuit speaks of “extreme mind-control brainwashing experimentation on unwitting patients, making a mockery of the doctor-patient relationship.…

“Simply put, the Montreal experiments were a form of psychological torture inflicted upon hundreds of unsuspecting persons and which had traumatizing, damaging and emotionally crippling effects that lasted for the remainder of their lives and lives of their families.”

Frequent complaints have included memory loss, altered personality and impaired cognitive functioning.

The filing, which was signed by attorney Andrea Grass, alleges that patients were subjected to “drug-induced sleep/coma, intensive electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), psychic driving, sensory deprivation and the administration of various barbiturates, chemical agents and medications to suppress nerve functionality and activation.”

Psychic driving is defined as subjecting patients to taped messages repeated between 250,000 and 500,000 times.

The lead applicant’s father, the late Charles Tanny, was admitted to the Allan on Jan. 4, 1957, after suffering from facial pain for six years.

The suit states that, “At 8 p.m. that same day (of his admission), Mr. Tanny was placed on sleep treatment. More particularly, Mr. Tanny was placed into an insulin-induced coma where he slept for the majority of the day for the duration of approximately 50 days, in combination with the administration of barbiturates and anti-psychotic drugs.”

It goes on to detail his repeated ECT treatments accompanied by “large quantities” of drugs.

After his discharge, his family found him “very disoriented and confused and he did not remember who he was, who his family was, that he had children or that he owned a business that bought and sold surplus goods from the government.”

The filing states that Tanny “never regained his affectionate disposition, instead he was distant, strict, volatile and violent.”

His daughter, who’s now 65, and her two siblings lost a loving and involved father forever, according to the filing.

As a result, Julie Tanny claims she suffered mental health issues all her life.

She said that if the class action suit is successful, “history will be made” and a lot of relatives’ long-suppressed pain will be relieved.

The second action, which is being handled by lawyer Alan Stein, names the RVH, the McGill University Health Centre and the Attorney General of Canada as defendants.

His clients are seeking $850,000 for physical and emotional damages, plus $150,000 in punitive and exemplary damages per family.

More than 60 mandators – children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews and other relatives – have joined the two plaintiffs.

The suit alleges that Cameron received four grants from the Canadian Department of National Health and Welfare between 1948 and 1964 totalling $162,206.41. Adjusted for inflation, today that would be approximately $1,696,350, it is claimed.

Most of these patients did not have serious psychiatric problems, including many women with postpartum depression, the suit alleges.

It argues that the treatments “further aggravated the mental health of the subjects” and constitutes a “conscious breach of ethics,” even by the scientific knowledge of the time.

The suit cites a 1986 government report written by lawyer George Cooper, which concluded that Cameron’s methods had “no therapeutic benefit nor any basis therefore in medicine or science.”

While it did not admit liability, in 1992, the Canadian government made ex gratia payments of $100,000 each to still-living patients who were “de-patterned” at the Allan between 1950 and 1965. Stein led subsequent legal efforts to expand the eligibility for these goodwill payments.

The current suit stresses that nothing has ever been offered to the families. Last year, a number of relatives, including Rappaport, formed a group called Survivors Allied Against Government Abuse to explore their legal options.

Rappaport’s older sister, Evelyn Rappaport, now 76 and a resident of the Grace Dart Extended Care Centre, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1960. She was referred to the Allan by the Jewish General Hospital. Medical records show that by Feb. 28, 1963, she had undergone 103 rounds of ECT.

Marilyn Rappaport said that her sister was never the same. Evelyn Rappaport was eventually permanently institutionalized and Marilyn Rappaport has been her caretaker throughout her adult life, even though her sister does not acknowledge their familial ties.