Canada the smug
February 20, 2005 9:09 AM   Subscribe

Canadian involvement in torture research
Britain, the US and Canada had begun talking about psychological warfare together at least as early as June 1951, when Sir Henry Tizard, the Ministry of Defence's senior scientist, met Canadian scientists and Cyril Haskins, the senior CIA researcher, in Montreal. Among the Canadians was Donald Hebb of McGill University, who was looking for funds to research "sensory deprivation" - blocking out sight, sound and touch to affect people's personality and sense of identity. Early photographs show volunteers, goggled and muffled, looking eerily similar to prisoners arriving at Guantánamo.
posted by sunexplodes (22 comments total)
Yeah, I go to McGill, and we learned about this during Radical Frosh. Just in case it needed to seem any creepier, the experiments took place in the big mansion named "Ravenscrag" up on Mont-Royal.

For serious.
posted by ITheCosmos at 9:27 AM on February 20, 2005

I guess this is the same Sir Henry Tizard who was involved in the development of Radar during WWII - The Tizard Mission (the link is just an high ranking google hit).

Sadly Canada is complicit with and profiteers off of American empire. Nonetheless giving this thread the title "Canada the smug" is, well, not worthy of comment...
posted by Chuckles at 9:42 AM on February 20, 2005

Especially as its an article mostly about the British...
posted by ZippityBuddha at 9:50 AM on February 20, 2005

CIA research at McGill? Don't forget Dr. Ewen Cameron's Acid experiments!

from the book Acid Dreams:

the Agency turned to Dr Ewen Cameron, a respected psychiatrist who served as president of the Canadian, the American, and the World Psychiatric Association before his death in 1967. Cameron also directed the Allain Memorial Institute at Montreal's McGill University, where he developed a bizarre and unorthodox method for treating schizophrenia. With financial backing from the CIA he tested his method on 53 patients at Allain. The so-called treatment started with "sleep therapy", in which subjects were knocked out for months at a time. The next phase, "depatterning", entailed massive electroshock and frequent doses of LSD designed to wipe out past behavior patterns. Then Cameron tried to recondition the mind through a technique known as "psychic driving". The patients, once again heavily sedated, were confined to "sleep rooms" where tape-recorded messages played over and over from speakers under their pillows. Some heard the message a quarter of a million times.

Cameron's methods were later discredited, and the CIA grudgingly gave up on the notion of LSD as a brainwashing technique.

posted by Fuzzy Monster at 9:58 AM on February 20, 2005

The so-called treatment started with "sleep therapy"...Some heard the message a quarter of a million times.

What a tragedy. The psychic anguish these people experienced is probably incomprehensible. A toast for science.
posted by ori at 10:43 AM on February 20, 2005

I've heard of experiments like this. No big deal, I say, since they were volenteers.
posted by delmoi at 10:45 AM on February 20, 2005

I was hoping someone would mention Canada's involvement in the MK-Ultra program (the whole "psychic driving" thing was under the larger umbrella of MK-Ultra).

Institutional creepiness [shudder].
posted by Relay at 11:17 AM on February 20, 2005

Well, many of Dr. Cameron's subjects were mental patients. They were not volunteers.

From the article:
Kastner was a 19-year-old honours student suffering from mild depression when she first underwent “treatment” in 1953. On returning home she sucked her thumb, demanded to be fed from a bottle, talked in a baby voice and urinated on the floor.

posted by Chuckles at 11:19 AM on February 20, 2005

Altered States, anyone?
posted by shepd at 1:16 PM on February 20, 2005

chuckles: it seems the title is worthy of comment, since you commented upon it...

and zippitybuddha: yes, the article is definitely slanted towards British complicity, but seeing as the Guardian is a British newspaper, this only makes sense. however, as a Canadian, I am more interested in the depths to which Canadian research is being used *every* day, *right now*, to torture fellow human beings.

pity a Canadian newspaper couldn't dispense with Canadian smugness towards the idea of 'Canada the Good' to do a similar story.
posted by sunexplodes at 2:19 PM on February 20, 2005

No surprise to me. The fifties were a laff riot all over the Commonwealth.
posted by flabdablet at 3:50 PM on February 20, 2005

Traditional values in America mean reliance on tried and true methods... and that LSD stuff never did quite turn out the way our government hoped, did it?
posted by indices at 4:11 PM on February 20, 2005

While I found the article to be interesting regardless, the text of this FPP was really misleading. I was expecting a big exposé about Canadian involvement in torture and instead got a very informative article about torture policies in the US and Britain with only a few paragraphs mentioning Canada.

Do you have any other links hidden up your sleeve about Canadians and torture that you'd like to share with the class?
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:30 PM on February 20, 2005

How do you get a job being a test subject for torture? What is the job title? What dose it pay?
posted by CaptMcalister at 4:51 PM on February 20, 2005

Gosh, then Canada must be just as bad as America and its torturers today? Oh my lord, oh my goodness! Whatever shall we...

Ah, hell. It's not worth it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:33 PM on February 20, 2005

If this is torture, chain me to the wall!
posted by jessicool at 7:28 PM on February 20, 2005

grapefruitmoon: I don't see how the text of my post was misleading, as I copied and pasted from the article. The title *may* have been misleading, but seriously, how many would have read the article if it had been entitled something like, 'America and UK guilty of torture'...

What interests me (this would be the next chapter of the lesson) is how we 'remember', or memorialize Donald Hebb, one of the main Canadian researchers. No mention of torture (funny enough); instead, stuff like:

Since his death, Hebb’s seminal ideas exert an ever-growing influence on those interested in mind (cognitive science), brain (neuroscience), and how brains implement mind (cognitive neuroscience). link

So that's what we are doing in Guantanamo, Bagra, etc. Practising neuroscience.
posted by sunexplodes at 7:35 PM on February 20, 2005

What interests me (this would be the next chapter of the lesson) is how we 'remember', or memorialize Donald Hebb, one of the main Canadian researchers. No mention of torture (funny enough)

Funny that. In a memorial issue of the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology they don't bring up what you think is a scandal and instead focus on his scientific contributions.

Besides from the linked article it looks like Hebb's contribution seemed pretty minor and not even that ethically suspect. Paid volunteers and avoidance of potenetially damaging propaganda topics and an examination of legitimate questions of science. There was much worse stuff going on in 1951, even without the tainted funding sources.

Accepting funding from U.S. military or Intel agencies isn't enough for me question the reputation of a scientist who not only made big contributions himself but also trained many more who are pretty much the foundation of neuroscience research in Canada.

So that's what we are doing in Guantanamo, Bagra, etc. Practising neuroscience

I get it! You're against the war. Because war is like neuroscience.
posted by srboisvert at 8:53 PM on February 20, 2005

I'm not sure srboisvert... Are we talking about weather the man is deserving of honours as a scientist, or as an individual? If he compromised ethically to further his science I think that should be noted. And yes, accepting CIA funding is a compromise.

Anyway, while looking around for info on this topic I found: Anatomy of a Public Interest Case Against the CIA.
posted by Chuckles at 9:43 PM on February 20, 2005

Well, Chuckles, I don't know if we're discussing Donald Hebbs' merits as a scientist, but we're certainly here to talk about whether the man will weather this storm.

On a side note, hello MeFi! Been lurking around for a while before deciding to post; good to be here.
posted by the cydonian at 2:15 AM on February 21, 2005

That Guardian article is very disturbing - makes me feel physically sick thinking about it...
posted by laukf at 7:41 AM on February 21, 2005

See also this, this, and this
posted by IndigoJones at 5:16 PM on February 21, 2005

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