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Former patient alleges physical, sexual abuse at Sask. tuberculosis hospital


Warning: This story contains disturbing details.

It’s been more than six decades since Ben Pratt was first admitted to a tuberculosis (TB) sanatorium in Fort Qu’Appelle, Sask., but the George Gordon First Nation man still remembers the abuse he experienced like it was yesterday.

Pratt, 65, stayed at the Fort San sanatorium in the 1960s. He said he arrived when he was four years old and left six years later.

“We were all badly mistreated in that place,” he alleged.

“Thinking about it now makes me want to hurt people because of the way I was treated as a child.”

One day, Pratt claimed he and 21 other children were taken from their home on George Gordon First Nation and sent to Fort San, near Fort Qu’Appelle, without warning.

“There was no notice, nothing. My mom and dad knew nothing about it,” he said.

“They just came, took me and my sister, Olga, and threw us in a bus.”

He said they were told they tested positive for TB. After several visits with doctors in his adult years, he believes he never had the disease.

“They used us as guinea pigs because they never understood what tuberculosis was all about,” he alleged.

Fort San was a provincial TB hospital for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous patients of all ages. It operated from 1917 to 1971. The building was eventually demolished in 2017.

A picture of the Fort San sanitorium taken during a visit to the site before it was demolished. (Courtesy: Ben Pratt)

Pratt stayed in a room with 16 other boys his age. The boys were separated from the girls, and the adults separated from the children. Pratt never saw his sister Olga during his time at the sanatorium.

He also claims he never saw his parents.

In the six years Pratt was there, he says his parents only ever tried to visit twice. Both times, they were chased out of the hospital and off the property.

“I had a lot of anger, a lot of rage and a lot of shame at four years old when I saw my parents getting chased away,” Pratt said.

“Yet, all the white kids got to see their parents. They were never chased away.”

Pratt’s allegations have not been proven in court.

CTV News reached out to the Saskatchewan government for comment on these allegations. In a statement, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health said “it has not been made aware of these allegations and it would be inappropriate for the province to comment on an individual’s health record.”


Pratt’s experience is not an isolated one.

A nationwide class-action lawsuit against the federal government is exposing the alleged abuse that took place in dozens of federally operated TB hospitals across the country between 1936 and 1981.

The statement of claim, filed on behalf of survivors from 31 “Indian hospitals” throughout Canada, alleges Indigenous patients were isolated from the rest of the population in “substandard, ill equipped, overcrowded and inadequately staffed” facilities. The claim alleges this was to prevent TB from spreading to non-Indigenous people.

Fort Qu’Appelle Indian Hospital and North Battleford Indian Hospital are listed in the claim.

According to the claim, patients were subject to “widespread, common and systemic physical and sexual abuse,” which included, physical restraint, beatings with sticks, food deprivation, isolation for “prolonged periods of time,” and forcing patients “to eat their own vomit.”

The claim also alleges Saskatchewan and Manitoba authorized hospitals to carry out TB vaccine trials on Indigenous children.

Steven Cooper, a partner at Cooper Regel based out of Sherwood Park, Alta., helped launch the lawsuit in 2018.

Four law firms are now working together towards “a common goal, which is to find an honourable and complete settlement of the claims,” he said.

At least 1,500 people have been identified as part of the class, according to Cooper, but he estimates more than 100,000 Indigenous people were directly impacted by these federal hospitals.

Cooper said it is hard to determine an exact number as many survivors either do not know about the lawsuit or are not comfortable coming forward.

In lawsuits like this, Cooper said settlements are never guaranteed, adding it could be another two years before survivors are compensated, if at all.

“We’re working towards that,” Cooper said. “Frankly most of these, particularly historical claims involving the Indigenous population, do tend to move progressively and successfully towards settlement.”

A judge certified the class-action proceeding on Jan. 17. The statement of defence has been deferred with no date scheduled.

Canada consented to the certification of the class action and is “engaged in exploratory discussion with the hope of charting a path to resolution outside of the courts,” according to a statement from Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada.

“The abuse of Indigenous Peoples is a tragic and shameful part of Canada’s history, whose impacts are still felt today,” said Kyle Fournier, a spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, in a statement.

“Canada will continue to work with Survivors and Indigenous partners to advance reconciliation, promote Indigenous culture, and put in place appropriate measures that support healing and commemoration of those affected by the harmful policies of the past.”

Fournier said addressing historical claims of harm committed against Indigenous children is a crucial step towards strengthening relationships with Indigenous Peoples.

Pratt said he briefly stayed at the federally operated Fort Qu’Appelle Indian Hospital, one of the institutions listed in the lawsuit, for four months before being transferred to the Fort San sanatorium.

He claimed the treatment and abuse was similar to what he experienced at Fort San.

He shared his story with Cooper’s law firm as additional information for the class-action lawsuit.

Pratt said rehashing his childhood wasn’t easy.

“I had a lot of anger come up—a lot anger issues and a lot of hate,” he said.

He believes it is important to share his experience on behalf of other survivors who are unable to talk about their trauma.

Pratt has been going to therapy for the last 26 years, where he said he finally learned to forgive the people who hurt him all those years ago.

However, he says forgiveness is only the first step in healing—a process he is still undertaking.

Compensation aside, Pratt believes the class-action lawsuit will play an important role in educating society.

“Everyone in this world has to know the wrongs and the hurts that we’ve done to one another,” he said.

“It happened right here in Saskatchewan in Fort Qu’Appelle.”


Pratt said he was sexually, physically and emotionally abused by the doctors and nurses at the sanatorium. The other Indigenous children faced similar treatment, he says, but never the “white kids.”

As part of the TB treatment, Pratt said he would receive needles every day, always in the same spot near his hip.

“We couldn’t even sit down, we’d have to sleep on our stomachs because of how painful it was,” he said.

Ben Pratt (second from the right) poses for a photo during his last days at the sanatorium. (Courtesy: Ben Pratt)

For the first couple of years, Pratt claimed he was mainly confined to his bed in a straightjacket and left in the dark.

Pratt said he remembers being told that the patients could not get sunlight because “the doctors don’t know how to treat tuberculosis.”

Eventually, he said he was sent to a school on the sanatorium grounds during the day.

But Pratt said the worst of the sexual abuse took place at night—around 3 a.m.

“There was one part of the hospital where we were that had about three beds way at the far end … that’s where we would get abused,” he alleged.

Fort San was the first of three provincial TB sanatoriums built in Saskatchewan. The others were located in Saskatoon and Prince Albert.

“I’d really like for white people to know what went on in these sanatoriums,” he said.

“I’ve been in and out of jail many, many times … but jail was a hell of a lot nicer than being in a sanatorium.” Top Stories

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