Ambrose unveils details of compensation plan for thalidomide survivors
Thalidomide survivors Arlene Vachon, left and Myriam Bouffard celebrate outside the House of Commons on Parliament Hill, after the House of Commons voted to compensate survivors of thalidomide, in Ottawa on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. (Fred Chartrand / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, May 22, 2015 5:07PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 22, 2015 5:56PM EDT
OTTAWA -- The federal health minister has unveiled the details of a multi-million-dollar compensation package for thalidomide victims.
Rona Ambrose says 92 eligible survivors have now received a one-time, tax-free payment of $125,000 to cover their immediate needs.
Those payments were promised back in March as part of a $180-million pledge of support to people whose mothers had taken the drug while pregnant in the 1950s and 60s.
That announcement had also committed to yearly support payments and an extraordinary medical assistance fund and Ambrose has now revealed more specifics on how that money will be allocated, starting next year.
She says those eligible for yearly payments will receive either $100,000, $75,000 or $25,000 per year, tax free, depending on how their existing condition is assessed by a third-party administrator.
An additional $500,000 has been set aside in the emergency fund designed to cover extraordinary medical expenses.
To ensure survivors' needs continue to be met, Ambrose says there will be a mandatory review of funding levels every five years.
"As I have said before, survivors and their loved ones have exhibited great courage in overcoming unique, daily challenges they face through no fault of their own," she said in a statement Friday.
"This tragic event from the 1960s serves as a constant reminder to all of us how important drug safety is and how far drug safety has come in this country."
Thalidomide was a government-approved anti-nausea drug prescribed to pregnant women in the 1950s and 1960s. Their children were born with a range of problems including missing or malformed limbs, deafness, blindness, disfigurement and other disabilities.
Survivors were provided with compensation from Ottawa in 1991, but have long said it wasn't enough.
The House of Commons unanimously supported a New Democrat motion of support for the victims late last year.
A spokesperson for a thalidomide survivors' advocacy group expressed satisfaction with Ambrose's announcement.
" We consider the needs of thalidomide survivors to have been met, " said Mercedes Benegbi, executive director of the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, in a brief interview with The Canadian Press from Montreal.
While survivors would have liked all the money to start flowing immediately, Benegbi said what was most important was their needs were met, especially the structuring of support payments according to survivors' physical abilities.