Thalidomide victims offered $125K payment
Sonja Puzic, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, March 6, 2015 3:32PM EST
Last Updated Friday, March 6, 2015 7:03PM EST
The federal government is offering a $125,000 lump-sum payment to each Canadian thalidomide victim.
Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced the offer on Friday, saying the money is tax free and intended to cover urgent health-care needs.
The compensation package also includes up to $168 million for ongoing medical assistance for all victims of the dangerous drug given to pregnant women decades ago.
“We know that support has been provided over the years from various sources, including payments by the Government of Canada in 1991,” Ambrose said in a statement.
“However, our government understands that we have a clear moral obligation to support the survivors of this tragedy. It is also clear that more support is needed to assist with survivors' on-going health needs.”
Mercedes Benegbi, the executive director of the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, said the group is “thankful and grateful” for the offer, but needs to take a closer look at the details.
“We will be reviewing this response in detail to make sure that it will adequately meet all the long-term needs of all the 95 Canadian survivors,” Benegbi told CTV News Channel on Friday.
Benegbi said she found out about the compensation package just 30 minutes before it was officially announced and has “a lot of questions for the government” about the whole process.
Still, she said, “it is a great day for the thalidomide survivor.”
The Thalidomide Victims Association has been pressuring the government to announce a funding package and had given Ottawa a deadline in late January. But at the time, Ambrose said it would take more time to determine how to best help the victims.
Opposition parties chastised the Conservatives for the delay, saying that thalidomide survivors have been suffering with disabilities their entire lives and don’t have time to wait.
Ambrose's office had previously said that senior Health Canada officials were working around the clock to set up a funding package.
Thalidomide, approved by Health Canada and marketed as a morning sickness drug to pregnant women in the 1950s and 1960s, caused severe birth defects in thousands of babies worldwide, including shortened limbs and malfunctioning organs.
“On behalf of the Government of Canada, I would like to express heartfelt sympathy and great regret for the decades of tremendous suffering and personal struggle that exposure to thalidomide has inflicted on survivors and their loved ones,” Ambrose said Friday.
“No regret or sympathy and no amount of financial support can ever undo what happened.”
Benegbi said getting compensation from the federal government has been “an extremely long battle,” but added that she welcomes Ambrose’s announcement.