The representative of Canadian thalidomide victims meets Health Minister Rona Ambrose on Tuesday amid signs Ottawa is moving closer to announcing a compensation deal for those harmed by the drug.
The government told the House of Commons it remains firm in its plan to give financial support to thalidomide victims – even though it missed a Monday deadline to make its funding package public, dousing the hopes of Canadians with critical health problems waiting for help.
The government told the House that its financial offer is being scrutinized within the federal bureaucracy.
"As one can imagine, in government all sorts of spending programs will have checks and balances that need to be covered off," Eve Adams, parliamentary secretary to Ms. Ambrose, said in response to questions from the NDP.
"We're hopeful that the minister will be able to make an announcement very shortly," she said.
Nearly 100 Canadians who were born with severe birth defects after their mothers took the federally approved drug during Canada's baby boom years are waiting for news they will get financial help. Many are enduring chronic pain due to the wear and tear on their bodies, and are unable to work due to their disabilities.
Mercédes Benegbi, head of the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, says she is putting her trust in Ms. Ambrose even though members were disappointed that the deadline to announce funding came and went.
"Yes, we are disappointed today. But we have a lot of hope that very soon we expect to receive an answer from our government," Ms. Benegbi said in Ottawa after attending Question Period.
"But, of course, the members of my group are still in a crisis. One of them is right now using wood to warm her house," she said. Ms. Benegbi herself is in a wheelchair after a fall this month.
The Tories made a commitment in early December to give financial support to victims of thalidomide, backing an opposition motion to help those born with partial and missing limbs, as well as other disabilities like deafness and internal organ damage, after their mothers took the drug during their pregnancies.
A 1991 federal compensation package gave more than 100 victims lump-sum payments ranging from $52,000 to $82,000. Today's surviving victims say the money is long gone, and they need sustained, lifelong support; several have died since 1991.
Canada approved thalidomide in 1961 as a sedative to treat nausea and insomnia in pregnant women. The United States never approved it, citing doubts about its safety.
With a report from Gloria Galloway in Ottawa