Mr. Speaker, on Friday, the thalidomide victims were stupefied to learn that the government was going to offer only half the anticipated lump sum as compensation.
Following talks between the Thalidomide Victims Association and the office of the Minister of Health, everyone seemed to agree that the lump sum of $250,000 was fair.
Given the urgency of the needs and the age of the victims, the parties had to agree on a realistic sum that represented an acceptable strict minimum. It is ill-advised to cut this sum and thereby reopen and set back the negotiations.
It goes without saying that we are grateful to the government and the office of the Minister of Health for the efforts made and the steps taken to reach an agreement in this case, but we need to move forward.
Unfortunately, at this stage, some victims feel like this is a step backward. The government's current offer of $125,000 is clearly an affront to the settlement process initiated by the parties.
Canada has a moral obligation to take action, and last Friday's offer is an unacceptable setback for victims. This amount of money is insufficient and not in keeping with the reality these survivors face and the serious mistake the Canadian authorities made at the time. For the moment we are not clear on what comes next, but we do know that there is a huge difference between the original requests examined by officials at Health Canada and the offer the minister made on Friday.
These brave individuals have endured tough physical, mental and emotional battles. We must not make their already difficult lives even more difficult. Victims are telling us that the government is needlessly making the process longer to benefit itself. That is a very sad commentary. We must not break the bond of trust.
At this stage in the process, we encourage the parties to return to the negotiating table and we officially call on the government to clarify the offer it made and explain how the payments will be made after the lump sum is paid. We also call on the government to show some compassion on this issue. This is not the time for strategic calculations.
We need to be careful not to break the bond of trust between the government and the people in charge of the task force representing the victims in this case. Let us not forget that to them, this is the fight of their lives and the government is in the unfortunate position of being an adversary.
Members of the task force defending the victims' rights are prepared to sit down with government officials for as long as it takes to come to an agreement, but the more time that goes by, the more victims will die before the first cheque is issued.
I think that there has to be a meeting between the minister and the executive director of the Thalidomide Victims Association, Ms. Benegbi. Detailed explanations are needed to move forward. I also believe that the key parties need to have a frank discussion and that negotiations need to be reopened.
A positive resolution is still possible, and I believe this slight setback is temporary. The harm suffered by the thalidomide victims goes beyond comprehension and the government has to do everything in its power to mitigate the suffering of these people. The solution is within reach. I am sure that both sides are reasonable people who will be able to overcome their differences in the name of dignity and justice.
Let us put ourselves on the right side of history and stop making cold and inhumane calculations once and for all. I am asking the minister to clarify her offer and stop presenting half-measures that give the impression of bad faith and inappropriate strategies.