Some Canadians are turning to the courts to fight for compensation from Ottawa under its $180-million program for the victims of thalidomide, arguing that they are unrecognized victims of the notorious drug.
A woman from Quebec, Claudie Briand, has filed an application in Federal Court saying Ottawa and the program's administrator treated her in an "unfair and oppressive" way by rejecting her claim for financial support.
Ms. Briand joins a group of Canadians holding a news conference on Parliament Hill on Tuesday to plead their case. They were born with deformities that they believe are due to their mother's ingestion of thalidomide during pregnancy more than 50 years ago, but have been stymied in their efforts to be recognized.
"I want justice to be done," Ms. Briand said in an interview. "Why are we being pushed aside?"
Health Canada set up an independent administrator to run the compensation fund, created last year to help nearly 100 Canadians who had already been formally acknowledged as victims of the drug.
The federal government also opened the door to new claims. Since then, the administrator, Crawford & Company (Canada) Inc., approved another 25 Canadians for the program.
Yet many others have seen their applications turned down. The program says that unless claimants are already part of the list of recognized survivors, they need to provide proof their mothers had taken the drug.
In many cases, doctors and relatives have died, birth records have gone missing, and documents have vanished over time.
Thalidomide was marketed worldwide as a supposedly safe treatment for morning sickness and insomnia, and available in Canada from 1959 to 1962. It was never properly tested and caused horrific limb deformities in thousands of babies around the globe.
Ms. Briand, who lives in Trois-Rivières, was born with a shortened left arm, missing thumb, missing ear and partial face paralysis. Two aunts swore in affidavits that her late mother had been given thalidomide by her doctor.
But Ms. Briand was born in 1959 and says her mother took the drug in 1958, before thalidomide was known to have been available in Canada.
Ms. Briand's claim was rejected. In her court filing seeking a judicial review, the decision by Crawford and the Minister of Health is termed "wrong and unreasonable."
"The file of evidence supplied by Mrs. Briand included information that was sufficiently serious, precise and consistent to lead to the inevitable conclusion that Mrs. Briand is a victim of thalidomide," the court filing says.
The decision has a major impact on Ms. Briand's "personal identity" and financial security, the document says. Ms. Briand worked as an educator for 30 years until the pain from her deformities forced her to leave her job.
The federal fund provides survivors with a lump sum of $125,000 and annual pensions of $25,000 to $100,000.
"Mrs. Briand has gone to great lengths to demonstrate that she is what she has always known herself to be – a survivor of thalidomide," said Anne Tardif, an Ottawa lawyer who is representing Ms. Briand pro bono. "She has suffered for decades. It's perhaps a modest compensation under the circumstances, but it will mean a great deal to her."
The civil case requires proof to be weighed on a "balance of probabilities."
Other rejected claimants are also said to be weighing court actions to have their cases re-examined.
Terry Bolton, an Ontario resident who is speaking for the group heading to Parliament Hill on Tuesday, wants Ottawa to allow independent doctors to evaluate rejected claimants individually.
Ottawa has not closed the door on claims. Health Canada said Monday that some applications for compensation are still under review. "Additional new survivors [of thalidomide] may still be identified," it said.