Former prison inmates hope Queen’s will acknowledge past unethical experiments

Two brothers claim to have been the subjects of scientific experiments conducted by Queen’s researchers 40 years ago in Kingston prisons

The outside of the former Kingston Penitentiary.

Two former inmates of Canadian penitentiaries have asked that Queen’s University formally recognize its involvement in unethical experiments that took place 40 years ago.

James and Donny Hogan are two of nine brothers in a family that has collectively served 150 years incarcerated in Canada. James, the younger brother, is 58, while Donny is 65.

Neither Queen’s nor Canada’s Penitentary Museum in Kingston could provide documentation on the experiments, and The Journal was unable to find any documents relating the brothers to specific experiments.The two brothers claim they were used as subjects for scientific experiments run by Queen’s University researchers and funded by the Canadian government. 

However, an investigative series published by the Ottawa Citizen, and a sociological study by University of Alberta professor Geraint B. Osborne, confirmed the existence of the experiments. The Ottawa Citizen and Osborne also confirmed the involvement of Queen’s University in the research.


James (left) and Donny (right) Hogan met with 
Queen’s administration on July 9. 
(Photo by Jacob Rosen)

The two brothers approached Queen’s administrators in June and set up a meeting, which took place on July 9. At the meeting, the brothers presented their evidence of the University’s involvement in the unethical treatment of prison inmates.

“We’re giving them an olive branch to make [up for] what was wronged [and] to apologize for those back then,” Donny said in an interview with The Journal.

In 1976, James was arrested for armed robbery and served a sentence in six different institutions until his release in 1982. He was 18 years old at the time of his arrest.

He served time in several institutions, including Stony Mountain, Manitoba and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan in 1976, Millhaven, Ontario in 1977 and Joyceville, Ontario from 1977-1982. He also had brief stays in Kingston Penitentiary throughout his sentence.

During his stay in Millhaven, James said he remembers taking part in psychic driving experiments — where words are repeated to a patient through a loud speaker — and sensory deprivation experiments, where the patient is placed in a dark room for extended periods of time. 

According to his account, he was locked up in solidarity confinement without any light and words encouraging self-harm were echoed at him through a loud speaker.

He also recalls signing for various pharmaceutical tests without any knowledge of what they involved, he said.

James Hogan was labelled as violent and “anti-social” after taking a prison guard hostage at the Thunder Bay Jail, which he said led to him being targeted for experiments. 

James, along with his brother Donny, say they’re now both on permanent government disability payments and suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and short-term memory loss due to their treatment in prison.

Donny was sentenced to two years in Stony Mountain, Manitoba in 1968 and five years in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan in 1970. 

He said he remembers receiving a concoction of drugs, one of which was called “Blue Heaven”. He said the drug made him feel emotionally numb.

The two brothers say they aren’t looking for a legal dispute with the University, but instead hope Queen’s will take the lead in apologizing for the unethical treatment of hundreds of inmates.

“If Queen’s took that on — because other universities are also involved — they could be a leader in taking on the aftereffects. No other university looked into that part of it,” Donny said.

The two brothers recently reunited in Kingston, where they now live. The brothers said they realized they experienced similar injustices in different prisons, and decided to look further into the experiments.

The brothers came across a series of articles written by Mike Blanchfield and Jim Bronskill of the Ottawa Citizen from 1998-1999, which mentioned that Queen’s University conducted some of the research.

One article from the series describes a conference held on Queen’s campus chaired by then-Queen’s principal John Deutsch. Files from the conference found in the Queen’s archives show discussions about experiments on prison inmates.

Kingston area correctional institutions psychologist and lead researcher for many of the experiments, Dr. George Scott, was also in attendance at the conference.

The Ottawa Citizen series focused primarily on Dr. Scott and a lawsuit filed against him for his alleged use of unethical research methods with prison inmates in Kingston.

According to records at the Queen’s Archives, Scott was a lecturer at Queen’s throughout the early 1950s into the late 1960s.

A research article published in The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice in 2006 describes experiments that took place in Kingston prisons, similar in accordance with the Hogans’ claims. 

The paper, written by a University of Alberta sociology professor Geraint B. Osborne, is titled “Scientific Experimentation on Canadian Inmates, 1955 to 1975”. In it, Osborne cites multiple research papers produced as a result of the experiments in the 1960s by Queen’s faculty.

The Queen’s papers focus on sensory deprivation experiments similar to the experiments described by James Hogan. 

The Queen’s paper, called “Effect of Two Days Monotonous confinement on Conditioned Eyelid Frequency and Topography”, describes the use of inmate volunteers from the Kingston maximum-security prison for experiments. 

Nine inmates “underwent 48 hr. of monotonous confinement in a darkened 8-ft. x 8-ft. cell having a constant 70-db noise level,” he wrote.

Although most of the research he cited was from the 1960s, Osborne said it’s entirely possible that the experiments continued into the 1970s.

“There doesn’t seem to be a formal decision date in which Canadian pens  [penitentiaries] and universities stopped recruiting prisoners for such studies. It probably slowly fizzled out,” he told The Journal via email.

Osborne said it’s also possible that the experiments continued throughout the 1970s, but weren’t published in academic journals because they were deemed unethical. Due to the lack of records available from Correctional Service Canada and the universities involved, Osborne said full corroboration of the Hogans’ claims may be difficult. 

After their meeting on July 9, Vice-Principal (University Relations) Michael Fraser told The Journal that the University has asked the Hogans to follow-up in writing with any specific information they can provide. He said the information will help the University look further into the matter.

The Hogans will speak on CFRC radio on August 10 at 5:30 p.m. as part of the station’s segment on Prison Justice Day.

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