Gina Blasbalg was brainwashed by the CIA. The Richmond homemaker was a victim of physical and psychological torture and unethical experiments. The “medical misadventure” took place in Canada more than 50 years ago at the Allan Institute in Montreal.
Although traumatized by the experience, her story is one of triumph, and today her life is about giving back to young people. Our story begins in Richmond, where Gina and her husband Ralph fuss over their four homestay students.
There are two kinds of meat loaf — sweet and savoury — on Gina Blasbalg’s dinner table. The “main” comes with mashed yams and potatoes, mushrooms and peas, caramelized onions, rice and soup with matzoballs. Lisa, Yvette, Jessica and Chris, homestay students from China and South Korea aged 12 to 18, tuck into their food with relish.
The teenagers have spent another day in Canada, living with the Blasbalgs who have created a home, far from home. “They are not picky eaters. Yvette likes everything and Lisa is on a diet,” says mother-figure Gina, who fusses over them constantly.
“We feel they have to eat. The little guy [Chris] is growing,” she says. Like many dinnertime conversations involving young people, the chatter is spotty until Chris lights up about his volleyball game.
Suddenly he’s animated, and the excitement is infectious. It was a thrilling match. He spiked the ball several times. They played a rousing game against one of the best schools in the league. “We call him our Ninja warrior,” says Ralph.
After dinner, Gina keeps track of the children’s’ activities. “These kids need attention,” she says. “They are coming from a different culture. “I know what it’s like to be away from a mother and a family.”
Gina Rossi was a wild kid in postwar Montreal who pounded nails into walls to get attention.
“I must have been a parent’s nightmare,” she says. Her rebellious ways didn’t matter to her kindly father, an Italian-immigrant who bought her ice cream at the park.
Her mother was a different story. Gina says she was “physically and emotionally abusive.” She was just 10 years old in 1952 when her father died unexpectedly. “My world crumbled and my life shattered,” she says.
Her mother did not want to have Gina and her sister around anymore. They were placed in an orphanage. Gina’s vulnerable life as a ward of the state was setting her up for an even bigger trial.
During the late 1950s and early ‘60s, fears spread that the Chinese had learned to ‘program’ the minds of Western prisoners during the Korean War.
New theories about drugs, electric shock and LSD were showing up and institutions wanted to test them. Gina’s helpless condition made her a prime victim for the revolutionary experiments being performed in Montreal.
The timing was perfect when Gina, a 16-year-old emotional wreck, arrived at Royal Victoria Hospital with infectious hepatitis.
“Being an orphan played hell with a child’s mind. I couldn’t stop crying,” she says. When doctors diagnosed depression, they sent her to a gothic 19th century mansion called Ravenscrag, also known as the Allan Memorial Psychiatric Institute.