Reconciliation statement on SickKids’ History with Indigenous Peoples
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada states that without truth, justice is not served, healing cannot happen, and there can be no genuine reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. It is with this belief in mind that SickKids wishes to acknowledge harmful aspects of the hospital’s history with Indigenous peoples as a first step on the path of reconciliation.
Between 1942 and 1952*, on behalf of the Department of Indian Affairs of Canada, SickKids physician Dr. Frederick Tisdall led nutritional experiments on malnourished populations in Indigenous communities and residential schools. During these experiments essential vitamins were withheld from children who needed them and regular physical examinations may have been confusing, painful, and potentially traumatic. The experiments were conducted without children or their parents’ consent, and by modern standards of medical research ethics would not have been approved. Findings of the studies did little to alleviate the underlying causes of malnutrition for Indigenous children, and for most, the health risks experienced over the course of the studies outweighed any benefits received. As an organization, SickKids bears responsibility for having allowed this unethical research to occur.
More recently, in 2015 SickKids closed its Motherisk Drug Testing Lab after it was determined that the lab’s testing procedures did not meet appropriate standards for forensic use. In response, The Government of Ontario established the Motherisk Commission to review past court cases potentially impacted by the Motherisk Drug Testing Lab. Commissioner Judith Beaman’s 2018 report indicated that historically drug testing had been disproportionately imposed on Indigenous families in the provincial child protection system and in legal proceedings. While SickKids did not play a role in determining who would be tested, we recognize and regret that the issues identified with the lab potentially had a greater impact in Indigenous communities.
SickKids extends our sincere apologies to Indigenous children, families, and communities that were negatively impacted by the events described above. We recognize that there may be other circumstances about which we are unaware which may also have caused harm and extend our apologies for any other circumstances in our shared history where we have failed to provide culturally safe experiences to Indigenous children and families. With recognition of historical context, SickKids is committed to a path of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples that is based on truth, mutual respect, and partnership.
As an organization, SickKids has much to learn about the experiences of Indigenous peoples in Canada, as well as how the diverse cultures, educational backgrounds, and histories of our staff shape the care we deliver. For the past 18 months we have engaged Indigenous partners to direct us in this learning and growth, and in the coming years will continue to work with partners to identify, prioritize, and implement improvements to ensure accessible, culturally appropriate services for Indigenous children and their families.
* Dr. Frederick Tisdall passed away in April 1949.
- Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future Report, 2015
- Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942–1952
- Canada’s shameful history of nutrition research on residential school children: The need for strong medical ethics in Aboriginal health research
- Report of the Motherisk Commission, 2018