For more than a century, the Canadian government pursued a policy of forcibly removing First Nations people from their homes and imprisoning them in largely church-run "residential schools" where violence, rape and other forms of abuse were rampant. The last residential school closed in 1986.
From the 1930s to the 1950s, medical researchers carried out inhumane, nonconsensual medical experiments on the children in the residential school system. Many of these involved deliberately malnourishing the children, while denying them other forms of care (such as dental care) to ensure that they were accurately measuring the health impacts of starvation. Subjects were also given experimental, harmful medications that created long-lasting health problems for them, some had unnecessary surgeries performed on them. Experiments were also carried out on indigenous people living on reservations, and in the hospitals and sanitariums operated for indigenous people.
A coalition of First Nations survivors of these experiments have launched class action lawsuit against the Canadian government, which created and regulated the residential school system, hospitals, reservations and sanitoriums..
The plaintiff in the case is John Pambrun, 77, a First Nations man who spent nearly six years of his childhood in Indian hospitals and sanatoriums. In 1955 – long after antibiotics had become the standard treatment for tuberculosis – doctors removed part of his right lung, according to court documents.
“We can’t find anything in the medical records that indicates that he even had tuberculosis,” said Merchant. “We’re just mystified.”
The years of treatment took him away from his family and his education, while the partial loss of a lung left him suffering shortness of breath and limited his employment options. “It has just been gnawing him all these years that he was mistreated by a nation that took him into their care and had a special responsibility for his care,” said Merchant.
Many of the allegations contained in the lawsuit stem from investigations done by Ian Mosby at the University of Guelph. In research published in 2013, he documented more than a decade of nutritional experiments on indigenous peoples.
Canada sued over years of alleged experimentation on indigenous people [Ashifa Kassam/The Guardian]