Victims of 1960s Thalidomide Crisis Seek Canadian justice
Victims of 1960s Thalidomide Crisis Seek Canadian justice

Victims of 1960s Thalidomide Crisis Seek Canadian justice

They are missing arms and legs, have deformed eyes and hearts and endure constant pain, lifelong symptoms of a monstrous “miracle drug.”

Thalidomiders have learned to live with those disabilities. What they cannot endure is more injustice: the poisonous silence in response to their pleas for help.

“Because of the effort that we did since we are young, to compensate for missing limbs, we suffer today of great physical degenerations,” said Mercedes Benegbi, the executive director of Montreal-based Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada (TVAC).

“Our health has deteriorated a lot, so we are losing our autonomy right now, and we are in constant, chronic pain.”

Through the Right the Wrong Campaign, TVAC and partners are seeking financial support for survivors from the federal government.

The lone survivor in this province was in hospital Monday and was unable to speak with media. Benegbi spoke with The Telegram about the campaign.

She said other countries, such as the U.K. and Germany, gave appropriate assistance to survivors of the drug. The Government of Canada gave a lump sum to survivors in 1991, ranging from $52,000 to $82,000 — an amount Benegbi said isn’t nearly enough to cover expenses related to their health.

“Many of us are at a level of poverty right now, and so we need assistance all day long to help us to dress, to eat, to prepare meals, for hygiene, for our clothes,” she said, adding many are insecure, depressed and dealing with anxiety along with the physical problems they face.

Benegbi said on a scale of one to 10, her pain level is constantly at nine. She can no longer walk for more than a few minutes at a time, and she is losing strength.

“It’s a nightmare. We need assistance.”

The campaign’s goal is to see a $250,000 lump-sum payment for all Canadian survivors, with an additional $100,000 paid out per year to help with ongoing expenses.

Benegbi said TVAC has contacted federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose, but she has not agreed to meet with the association.

“We already met with some bureaucrats, and they are supportive. But we need to engage with decision-makers,” she said.

Today, a private member’s motion supporting the survivors’ request for compensation will be introduced in the House of Commons. It is backed by NDP MPs Libby Davies and Murray Rankin, Liberal MPs Carolyn Bennett and Hedy Fry, and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, a translator for Benegbi said. TVAC hopes for support from all parties.

“It’s a shame right now, this situation of the Canadian Thalidomiders and the non-response of the Canadian government right now. It’s a shame,” Benegbi said.

“We want to feel that we are Canadian citizens, and that our government will care properly (for) us, like the U.K., Germany and other countries did. Why not Canada? Why not us? Why are we abandoned?”

Local support

Yvonne Jones, Liberal MP for Labrador, has added her voice to those supporting Thalidomide survivors.

In a statement sent to The Telegram, Jones said she and the Liberal party are very concerned that survivors’ needs are not being met by the federal government.

“The government has a clear responsibility to do the just and compassionate thing, which means assisting those who have severe disabilities due to exposure of the drug Thalidomide,” she said.

“Our drug approval system failed these Canadians, and now they need government support. I implore the government to assist the nearly 100 Canadians living with severe disability due to Thalidomide exposure.”


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