Human Experimentation in the Canadian Federal Penitentiary System

Dorothy Proctor, CAEFS
Kathleen Kendall, University of Southampton

From the late 1950 through to the mid-1970s, hundreds of Canadian federal prisoners were used as subjects in a variety of experiments. These included clinical trials of pharmaceuticals such as penicillin, sedatives and LSD as well as anti-bacterial agents and pesticides. Other studies focused on sensory deprivation, pain tolerance, electroshock and narcoanalysis (drug induced hypnosis). While pharmaceutical companies funded many of these research projects, financial support was also received from the federal government. Despite the fact that some of these experiments were reported in scholarly journals and autobiographical accounts, the general public remained largely unaware or uninterested. However, in the wake of recent legal action, much interest and controversy surrounds these prison experiments. Using archival data, correspondence, reports, newspaper accounts and interviews, this presentation critically examines the experiments. It will be argued that the prison experimentation resulted from the intersection of penal, scientific and political interests including: the dominance of a rehabilitative philosophy and medical model within the penitentiary system; advances in and the heavy promotion of pharmaceuticals; academic arrogance; and the Cold War. The gendered, racialized, classist and homophobic nature of the experiments will be emphasised and parallels to current penal practices will be drawn.

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Updated 05/20/2006