Statement by the Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of Health, on an announcement of a support package for Canadian survivors of Thalidomide

More than fifty years ago, Thalidomide was approved by Health Canada and prescribed to treat morning sickness in expectant mothers. Tragically, Thalidomide caused serious and permanent physical and emotional damage to mothers, children and families.

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.

No regret or sympathy and no amount of financial support can ever undo what happened.

However, today we are announcing support that will help ensure that survivors receive the care they need to live the rest of their lives with dignity.

I have just spoken with Mercedes Benegbi, Executive Director of the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, to thank her for her tireless work on behalf of TVAC members and tell her about new assistance the Government of Canada will be providing to Thalidomide survivors.

Today, our Government is taking a historic step and announcing a package of financial assistance that will help cover the urgent and ongoing healthcare needs of Thalidomide survivors.

The package includes:

  • An immediate tax-free, lump sum payment of $125,000 to each survivor to help cover urgent health care needs; and
  • A commitment of up to $168 million for ongoing medical assistance to survivors. This financial support will be delivered by a third party based on survivors’ individual needs throughout the course of their lifetime.
  • Included in this financial commitment will be an extraordinary medical assistance fund to which survivors can apply for assistance with extraordinary health support costs.

We know that support has been provided over the years from various sources, including payments by the Government of Canada in 1991. 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. The support we are announcing today is responsible and it is the right thing to do.

The victims and their loved ones have exhibited great courage in overcoming unique, daily challenges they face through no fault of their own.

I want to again thank Mercedes for her strength and determination, as well as the Health Canada officials who have worked diligently to ensure today was possible.

This tragic event from the 1960s serves as a reminder to all of us how important drug safety is to our health.

Canadians deserve to know that the medicines in their homes are safe. No drug can be sold in Canada before it is subjected to rigorous safety review by independent experts using the best scientific evidence available.

Thanks to the recent passage of Vanessa’s law, considered the most profound change to our drug safety system in fifty years, and our rigorous drug safety review, Canada has one of the strongest drug safety systems in the world.

Thank you.