When Parliament unanimously passed a motion on Dec. 1 to extend "full support" to the country's surviving thalidomide victims, it seemed as though a long and cruel era of neglect was over. Five months later, the neglect continues.
Simply put, the victims still don't know what they are going to get in the way of lifelong support. They have been told it's coming, but Health Minister Rona Ambrose has refused to provide any details to the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, the group that first raised the issue of compensation last year.
Ms. Ambrose should be giving comfort to thalidomide victims, not causing them anxiety. Then again, she has never been particularly well disposed to them. Ms. Ambrose ignored the group's original requests for a meeting last year. After The Globe and Mail wrote a series of stories, the Health Minister was suddenly more receptive. Those articles, along with the courageous advocacy of the victims association, led to the motion in Parliament.
Ms. Ambrose subsequently announced that each of the victims would receive a lump-sum payment of $125,000 as part of a $180-million support package. But she never consulted the group. Before making the announcement, she gave the victims group's executive director, Mercédes Benegbi, only 30 minutes notice.
That was in March. The months are ticking by. Canada's thalidomide victims are aging and suffering. Their condition is a direct result of the government's decision to allow an inadequately tested drug to be sold to pregnant women in the 1950s and '60s. They have long deserved compensation. And now it is being dangled in front of them by a Health Minister whose recent public statements have not demonstrated much sympathy for their plight.
When the victims association began its lobbying last year, it represented 97 people. Three have since died. The rest are waiting to find out what their futures hold. It must be agonizing for them but, instead of despairing, they are being proactive. They have told Ms. Ambrose that if they haven't heard anything by May 25, they will go to Parliament Hill to protest.
It's appalling that it might come to that. Ms. Ambrose owes thalidomide victims far more courtesy than she has displayed to date.