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Indigenous leader in Nova Scotia accusing radiologists of conducting secret tests

Andrea Paul, regional chief with the Assembly of First Nations, is pictured on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan) Andrea Paul, regional chief with the Assembly of First Nations, is pictured on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)
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HALIFAX -

A Mi'kmaq chief in Nova Scotia has filed a lawsuit against two Halifax radiologists alleging they conducted medical tests on her and other members of the Pictou Landing First Nation without their consent.

In a statement of claim, Andrea Paul says she and other band members agreed in March 2017 to undergo Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax as part of a research project led by the Canadian Alliance for Healthy Hearts and Minds.

The claim, filed in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in June 2020 and certified as a class action on Feb. 7, alleges the chief and 60 band members were subjected to additional "secret" scans of their livers without consent.

"Chief Andrea was unaware of the Indigenous study or that she was participating in it," the statement of claim says. "The MRI scans generated data that reveal intimate medical information about her body without her knowledge or consent. She had been singled out for one reason -- she was Mi'kmaq."

Paul, who was the chief of Pictou Landing when she filed the lawsuit, has since become the Assembly of First Nations regional chief for Nova Scotia.

The lawsuit names Dalhousie University radiologists Robert Miller and Sharon Clarke as defendants.

None of the allegations have been proven in court, and Lawyer Harry Thurlow, who represents the two radiologists, said Monday in an email his clients would not be commenting on the court action.

At the time of the MRI testing, both Miller and Clarke were also employed by the Nova Scotia Health Authority in the radiology department of the QEII Health Sciences Centre, the statement of claim says.

Paul learned about the secret testing on June 21, 2018 and later met with Miller and Clarke, who confirmed the unpublished results had been shared with other radiologists at a conference in Halifax, the lawsuit says. The study was titled: "MRI Findings of Liver Disease in an Atlantic Canada First Nation."

The lawsuit says Paul felt betrayed, violated and humiliated by what she was told, knowing the "long history of subjecting Indigenous people in Canada to cruel medical experiments, including starvation studies among children."

"Chief Andera felt powerless, vulnerable and discriminated against because she was Mi'kmaq. She suffered a loss of dignity and self-esteem as a result."

Among other things, the lawsuit alleges the two radiologists are liable for invasion of privacy, acting recklessly and causing distress and anguish. Both are also accused of negligence, unlawful imprisonment and assault and battery for allegedly keeping the participants inside the confined space of the MRI machine for longer than they should have.

As well, the radiologists are accused of failing to immediately advise participants of serious health issues discovered on the additional MRI scans.

"Unfortunately, there is a long history of oppression of Indigenous people in Canada including many instances where Indigenous people were subjected to medical treatment and research against their will and without their consent," the lawsuit says.

"There is an historically and evidentiary based mistrust of the health-care system."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2024.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

Correction

This is a corrected story. A previous version stated Andrea Paul is the chief of the Pictou Landing First Nation. She is now a regional chief with the Assembly of First Nations.

A previous version also included a reference to defendants who were removed from the lawsuit in an amended statement of claim, as well as a reference to an alleged Charter violation, which has also been removed.

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