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A class-action lawsuit filed in Nova Scotia alleges that two Halifax radiologists, assisting in a Canada-wide study, conducted secret medical research on Mi’kmaq Chief Andrea Paul and dozens of other members from Pictou Landing First Nation without their consent.

The lawsuit, filed in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in 2020, was certified on Feb. 7.

According to the statement of claim, the plaintiff, Ms. Paul, underwent an MRI at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax on March 17, 2017, as part of a medical research project conducted by the Canadian Alliance for Healthy Hearts and Minds (CAHHM).

Afterward, Ms. Paul alleges that she was confined in the MRI scanner chamber while the defendants, radiologists Robert Miller and Sharon Clarke, took additional scans as part of a separate, secret study using MRI elastography to evaluate the livers of Indigenous subjects.

The lawsuit says an additional 60 people were subjected to the same secret study.

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

Lawyer Harry Thurlow, who represents the radiologists, told The Globe and Mail, “the defendants have no comment at this time.”

Dr. Miller is a prominent radiologist in the faculty of medicine at Dalhousie University. He has served as a board member and president of Doctors Nova Scotia and the Canadian Association of Radiologists. In 2018, he received the Canadian Medical Association honorary membership award for his 40-year career as a radiologist at Dalhousie.

Dr. Clarke is a radiologist in diagnostic imaging at the QEII Health Sciences Centre. She is also an assistant professor in diagnostic radiology at Dalhousie.

Ms. Paul says in the lawsuit that she was unaware of the second, separate study or that she was participating in it. Data from the secondary MRI scans was withheld from principal researchers and only provided to the defendants, alleges the suit.

The statement of claim says Ms. Paul learned about the separate study on June 21, 2018, after the defendants’ unpublished research, titled MRI Findings of Liver Disease in an Atlantic Canada First Nations Population, was presented to radiologists at a conference in Halifax.

The court certification documents cite the 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. These instances include studies on the effects of starvation on Indigenous children and forced sterilization on Indigenous women.”

In the statement of claim, Ms. Paul said she “felt powerless, vulnerable and discriminated against because she was Mi’kmaq.”

The claim alleges she later met with Dr. Miller and Dr. Clarke weeks after the conference and discovered that the secondary MRI scans were taken without her knowledge or consent. She felt betrayed, the lawsuit continues, because she had voted as a Pictou Landing First Nation council member in support of participation in the CAHHM study.

Ms. Paul is seeking a declaration from the defendants for invasion of privacy, unlawful imprisonment, assault and battery, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, charter breaches, and damages.

The lawsuit previously named the Nova Scotia Health Authority, Dalhousie and the Montreal Heart Institute. The certification order named only the radiologists.

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