Many Canadians have been closely following the beginning of the Trump presidency, watching in shock and horror as Trump passes a series of authoritarian executive orders.
One executive order in particular, planned for the near future, is poised to resurrect one of the darkest chapters in recent American history. I’m talking about the potential reopening of CIA “black sites”—secret prisons where detainees were systematically tortured during the War on Terror.
In 2009, President Obama ordered that these black sites be closed, consigning the episode, perhaps prematurely, to history—alongside a long list of past American crimes.
Accompanying it on that list is a similarly chilling episode that played out right here in Montreal, but which has since been largely forgotten.
Nestled cozily at the foot of Mount Royal, in the middle of the McGill University campus, is the Allan Memorial Institute. Sixty years ago, the now-weathered building was an unlikely accomplice to a series of human experiments designed to study methods of drug-induced mind control.
It was the height of the Cold War. The American military was convinced that the Soviets were brainwashing its captive soldiers. Afraid of conducting research on U.S. soil, the CIA worked to set up human experiments in Canada and found willing collaborators at McGill University.
The experiments were part of a top secret program called MKUltra, covertly funded by the CIA and headed by the psychiatrist Donald Ewen Cameron, former head of the Canadian Psychiatrists Association. The project was part of a broader initiative by the U.S. government to counter alleged Soviet advances in the field of psychological manipulation.
Project MKUltra eventually ceased. All evidence of its existence was quietly tucked under the rug. It was only in the late 1970s, when a trove of previously classified information was released through a Freedom of Information Act request, that the full extent of the crimes committed at the Allen were revealed. The findings were grim.
Over the course of seven years, Dr. Cameron and his team committed ghastly affronts to human dignity. Patients would enter seeking help for standard mental health issues—postpartum depression, anxiety, even marriage counseling— and would be made to sign contracts giving Dr. Cameron full discretion over what treatments they received.