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Thalidomide victim Johanne Hebert uses a tool that helps her get dressed at her home in Montreal, Que., last November. The 52-year-old, who takes strong medication for chronic pain, lives alone with the occasional help from social services workers.Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

Let us not speak of justice, because it's too late for that.

But the victims of thalidomide now have some redress, some peace of mind in their final years.

Late Friday, Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced the details of a compensation package for the 92 surviving Canadians who were left with severe disabilities because their mothers took the now-infamous morning sickness drug.

Each will receive a lump sum payment of $125,000 and an annual tax-free pension for the rest of their lives of $25,000, $75,000 or $100,000, depending on the severity of their condition. In addition, the survivors will be able to dip into a $500,000 medical assistance fund to defray the costs of mobility devices and other adaptive tools they may need.

The deal is fair, if long overdue. The only outstanding issue is the "forgotten victims" – a small group of people from that era with limb deformities who don't have medical records to prove their mothers took thalidomide. In the settlement, there is a provision for them to apply for compensation, but the bar has been set high. Some compassionate mediation is in order.

Those muttering that victims of thalidomide are getting "rich" thanks to the $100,000 pensions don't appreciate the suffering and costs that come from living a lifetime with missing limbs, flipper-like arms and damaged internal organs.

Last year, the average income of surviving thalidomide victims was a mere $14,000The history of this tragedy bears repeating.

Thalidomide, a product the German pharmaceutical company Gruenenthal, was marketed as a treatment for morning sickness and insomnia.

In Canada, free samples were distributed to doctors between 1959 and 1961 and given to expectant moms even before the drug was approved by federal regulators in April, 1961. By then, strong evidence was already emerging that thalidomide was causing miscarriages and birth defects. Yet the drug, sold under the brand names Kevadon and Talimol, remained in Canadian pharmacies until May, 1962, fully three months after it was banned in England and Germany.

We don't know exactly how many Canadian women and children were harmed by thalidomide. Worldwide, the drug is estimated to have killed 80,000 babies and left 20,000 more severely disabled. Despite taking a monstrous and inadequately tested drug, most victims never got much in the way of compensation or sympathy.

Thalidomide's Canadian distributor, William S. Merrell Co., made payments to parents who made a fuss, about $10,000 each, to buy their silence.

It wasn't until the late 1980s, when victims of tainted blood undertook a campaign for compensation, that thalidomide victims, with the assistance of the War Amps, got organized and asked for the same.

In 1991, there were 109 Canadians who were able to demonstrate that they were harmed by thalidomide. They received lump-sum payments ranging from $52,000 to $82,000, with the tacit understanding there would be more to come.

Last year, the 95 surviving victims, seeing their health deteriorate dramatically in their 50s, decided to make one last plea for help. They were looking for life-long pensions, like their counterparts in Germany and Britain.

Globe and Mail reporter Ingrid Peritz told their heartbreaking story, and it hit a nerve with the public, politicians and the news media.

The federal government expressed compassion but played hardball at the negotiating table. In March, it announced a $180-million settlement offer that included a $125,000 lump sum payment ($12-million in total) and a vague $168-million "medical assistance fund," from which it was in no way clear anyone would benefit.

The deal was widely panned and the victims refused to accept it, instead redoubling their efforts. On Monday, dozens were planning to protest on Parliament Hill.

The thought of a group of baby boomers, severely disabled by the failings of the federal regulator, limping and rolling their wheelchairs up to the entrance of Parliament, was apparently too much for the government to bear in an election year.

So on Friday, the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada finally got a palatable deal.

It's a bittersweet moment.

Let's not forget that, for decades, corporations and governments alike were able to brush aside calls for justice on the assumption that people with disabilities are weak and ashamed, and dare not make a fuss.

The victims of thalidomide did come forward, sometimes at great personal expense to their health, their dignity, and their privacy. (Three even died during the negotiation period.)

In the end, they forced Canada to own up to this shameful incident in our history, albeit half a century too late.

Rarely has a group of individuals stood so tall, and we are the richer for it.

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