By: Benjamin Leblanc Re: Toronto Star Copyright 1995 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd. The Tor
By: Benjamin Leblanc
Re: Toronto Star
Copyright 1995 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.
The Toronto Star
April 24, 1995, Monday, FINAL EDITION
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A14
LENGTH: 691 words
HEADLINE: Sex abuse report to MPs attacked Background paper on
recovered memories blasted as 'nonsense'
BYLINE: BY TRACEY TYLER TORONTO STAR
Canada's parliamentary library has quietly been compiling
information for MPs on the explosive issue of repressed memories and
sexual abuse, The Star has learned.
But some of the country's leading medical and legal experts say the
material is dangerously biased and are demanding an explanation and
its immediate withdrawal.
"Someone should investigate how this kind of nonsense was
produced," said Toronto lawyer Alan Gold, a recognized authority on
the law of sexual assault and how the issue of repressed memory has
been dealt with by courts.
The material is "dogma posing as independent research," Gold says.
Dr. Harold Merskey, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the
University of Western Ontario, says he finds the information package
frightening because, "MPs have the power to make laws governing the
system of justice."
"There can be no justice" if policy-makers rely on the information
they've been handed, said Merskey, interviewed at a weekend conference
At issue is a background paper prepared for parliamentarians by a
member of the library's political and social affairs division last
November, on the controversial subject of sex abuse accusations that
arise from what are said to be recovered memories.
Critics say MPs have been given a one-sided account containing
factual errors, with the over-all theme that proof exists for abuse
memories being repressed, but doesn't exist for the theory they can be
implanted - the opposite of what science suggests.
In a March 28 letter obtained by The Star, Richard Pare, the chief
librarian, defends the paper, calling it a non-partisan look at a
difficult subject, in which his researcher tried to examine all sides.
The issue is significant, since the repressed memory controversy
has affected many families in North America in recent years. Thousands
of adults have accused their parents of abusing them as children,
saying memories have only recently surfaced.
But courts in Canada and the United States are no longer likely to
convict on the basis of recovered memory alone. Just this month, a
California judge overturned the conviction of George Franklin, who was
sent to prison for a 1969 murder on the basis of his daughter's
recovery of repressed memories.
Memory researchers say there is no scientific evidence for the
concept, arguing other forces are at work, such as suggestive
questioning by therapists quick to link adult problems with childhood
In the paper prepared for MPs, parliamentary library researcher
Patricia Begin states it is "both logical and responsible" for
therapists to question clients about "past life experiences including
The repressed memory theory has been criticized chiefly by those
charged with sexual assault, Begin writes. Critics say this ignores
vocal attacks by researchers and academics.
They say the paper suggests those who question the legitimacy of
recovered memories are undermining efforts to deal with the problem of
Their concerns also include:
*The paper's claim that no research supports the theory abuse
memories could be implanted. Memory researchers have conducted
experiments in which false memories have been created of being lost
and scared in a shopping mall as a child, and of being in
accidents. The paper says these don't compare with sex abuse.
*The paper's statement that research has documented complete or
partial repression of child abuse memories. This hasn't been proven,
top psychiatrists and memory experts say.
*Claims that no research exists on the prevalence of bad
therapists. However, at least three studies have been done. A recent
one by a University of British Columbia researcher found 25 per cent
of clinical psychologists studied used risky techniques.
"It's somewhat frightening to me to think such misinformation is
being disseminated and institutionalized," said Pamela Freyd,
executive director of the Philadelphia-based False Memory Syndrome
Foundation, who was here on the weekend for a meeting of the group's
"The words I want to use are careless and irresponsible."
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank