House of Commons photo


Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was debate.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Vancouver East (B.C.)

Won her last election, in 2011, with 63% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Veterans Affairs November 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, earlier this week, the Auditor General blew the whistle on the Conservatives' pitiful record when it came to helping injured veterans. Adding insult to injury, we now learn the money they promised to veterans in a face-saving measure will actually be spread over not 5 years but over 50 years.

The Conservatives misled the House, they misled the public and they misled veterans. Why will the Conservatives not own up to their mistakes and be honest with Canada's veterans?

Affordable Housing November 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the co-op housing sector is in dire need of sustainable funding from the federal government because agreements between co-ops and CMHC are coming to an end.

In my riding of Vancouver East there are 30 housing co-ops. Approximately one-third of co-op households will be at risk of homelessness when these agreements expire. Thousands of vulnerable citizens will be burdened with severe financial difficulty.

In an expensive city like Vancouver, securing affordable and stable housing is incredibly difficult, and many people are already spending so much on rent they are just one paycheque away from homelessness.

Co-op housing occupies a vital and unique position because it is secure and affordable. The government has an obligation to ensure the ongoing success of the co-op housing sector by renewing federal housing assistance to low-income households and by building more co-op housing.

I call on the government to recognize that affordable, adequate, accessible, and secure housing like co-ops is a fundamental right for all Canadians.

Business of Supply November 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell my colleague that I thought she made a beautiful speech. I also loved the way she began by talking about the birth of her staff person's new baby.

I feel we have all been touched by this issue in a very personal way. I have often chatted with various members of the House about people they know in their ridings who are thalidomide survivors or about letters and e-mails they have received. It has been very personal.

I just want to comment that last night members of the Thalidomide Survivors Task Force went home and were already getting back to work. With the help of Natalie from Campbell Strategies, they typed up a list of members of Parliament who were born in the years 1961 to 1963. I am not going to read that out because I do not want to embarrass anyone, but they had to do some research to figure that out.

I think they were making the point that there are many people touched by this tragedy, even people born in those years whose mothers did not take thalidomide, which I am sure they are very thankful for. It really makes people think if they were born in those years.

I wanted to put that on the record, because members of the task force did that work and thought about members of Parliament who were born in those years.

Business of Supply November 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her very fine comments today. She was very thoughtful in her approach, as all members have been in the House today.

My colleague asked about settlements in other countries and whether that was something we should follow here. That is interesting for us to talk about. However, at the end of the day, this motion compels the government to act. It opens the door and allows the survivors task force to meet with the government. It sets a framework.

I do want to say that we will be watching that very carefully. We want to see that there is immediate follow-up. We do not want to see this dragged out. It needs to be resolved quickly.

I wonder if the member would agree when I say that with this motion, if it is passed on Monday, as I believe it will be, we, as individual members of Parliament, parties, and Parliament as a whole, have to be very vigilant. We have to work with the survivors to make sure that there is follow-up. We have to hold the government to account and make sure that it does live up to the spirit and the words of the motion so that progress is made.

We do not want any delays here. We want to see a process that can unfold quickly, and we want to see a resolution.

Business of Supply November 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, this has been a very good debate today, and it is a very important issue. We often debate and talk about issues in very broad terms and examine legislation that can be very sweeping. We have even looked at 1,000-page omnibus bills that cover everything from A to Z. Therefore, I find it significant that today we are focusing in on something very specific. It is about 95 people who have survived under very difficult circumstances because of the drug thalidomide. We do not usually have this kind of debate.

We felt compelled to bring this forward in the House because we wanted to see Parliament speak with one voice. We wanted to see action. We wanted to see this issue dealt with in a way that was just and with a proper settlement.

The debate today has been very good. It kind of takes us out of our work in a way of looking at the big picture. It forces us to look at individual lives.

I was very fortunate to meet two of the survivors on Tuesday at the press conference we held. I was so inspired by both of the women for their courage and how down to earth they were in their approach to life. At the same time, I tried to imagine the difficulties they live with every day.

It strikes me that this also speaks to our health care system. In fact, many people in our society have conditions, illnesses and situations. The question on home care and caregiving is huge in our country, and I thought I would touch upon that. Obviously we need to pay attention to that. We have huge issues around supporting caregivers and a need to give much better financial support, because so many families are now facing this as an issue.

Business of Supply November 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the support from the hon. member. I would agree with him that the real heroes are the incredibly strong advocates, the thalidomide survivors who have had the courage to speak out and to be visible. They have brought forward this incredible tragedy of what is happening 50 years after to full public light. For sure, the Globe and Mail article from last Saturday was pretty amazing.

We should also thank a public relations firm called Campbell Strategies, a former member of Parliament. People at that firm have been working truly pro bono with the Thalidomide Survivors Task Force for about a year and a half on this issue. We all recognize it is really hard to bring something forward and get that kind of national attention. When it happens and things come together, it is very powerful. That is what has happened. The very important role and ongoing work that Campbell Strategies has provided in supporting the thalidomide survivors with a communications strategy has helped them to bring this story forward.

The member mentioned Bill C-17. He also mentioned that in Europe clinical trials are fully disclosed. He is correct; that is the situation.

We debated Bill C-17 in the House and it was passed unanimously. In committee, the NDP brought forward probably 23 amendments, several of which were about full disclosure in clinical trials. Whether the trials are positive or negative, our belief is that we need to have full transparency and disclosure. This information is often used by researchers and it is often information that is used in other clinical trials. That kind of full and public disclosure is really important. Unfortunately, all of those amendments were defeated. The bill itself is a very important step forward, but I would agree with him that we still have more work to do on this file.

Does the member believe it is critical to have public oversight of these kinds of issues in terms of drug safety? We never want to see a repeat of what happened with the women who took thalidomide, thinking it was a safe drug. This kind of oversight is very critical.

Business of Supply November 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I agree.

I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert for her very wonderful comments today and also for moving the amendment.

The amendment is important. We have held some discussions with the government, and I think the wording that is now being presented as an amendment would allow a better opportunity for the government to respond to the thalidomide survivors task force. I thank the hon. member for moving the amendment today in the House.

I have a comment and a question for the hon. member.

It seems to me that, for thalidomide survivors, the issue of daily living is critically important. There are clearly medical challenges, and the member pointed out in her speech that some of these medical challenges might even be beyond the regular nature of the health care system. It may well be that we will need to have special interventions.

I wonder if the member could speak a little more about some of the daily issues and concerns that have emerged for thalidomide survivors who are finding is so difficult to cope on a daily basis. I think the article in The Globe and Mail laid this out very carefully, and I wonder if the member could comment on that.

Business of Supply November 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the member was at the press conference on Tuesday. I certainly appreciate her support and her words here today.

The story in The Globe and Mail, when it came out, was terribly important. As I said earlier, this is an issue that we have all heard about. We have even mentioned it in debate, in different circumstances

To actually examine the details and the history of what took place is something that is very revealing. It is something that we actually need to learn from, in terms of not only drug safety but how we treat people in our society.

I do think the other element of this motion today is that it is an expression that we cannot leave people in such desperate circumstances. We have to show compassion. We live in a society that should stand for social justice and should stand for ending discrimination and pain and suffering.

For many reasons, on many levels, this motion today is very important. I thank the member for her support.

Business of Supply November 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is entirely correct that, of course, when we look at this issue, we are looking at an impact on a great number of people.

There are the thalidomide survivors themselves, but there are also their families. We know that one of the issues is that, as the survivors age, they are facing the prospect of their parents, who may have cared for them, passing away. They are being left in circumstances that can be isolated and difficult.

We can imagine the burden of worrying about caregiving and who will be there to assist. The burden on the families has been enormous. We even have to think of the families in which maybe the victim who took thalidomide has already passed away, and what those families went through over 50-plus years now.

We can begin to dig into this issue and think about it. While we all live active lives and those of us who are members of Parliament live in a very privileged position, by and large, these thalidomide survivors and their families, through no fault of their own, have lived in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, medically and financially and emotionally. It compels us to take this responsibility, collectively, to right the wrong.

I know that is what we are here to do today.

Business of Supply November 27th, 2014


That, in the opinion of the House: (a) full support should be offered to survivors of thalidomide; (b) the urgent need to defend the rights and dignity of those affected by thalidomide should be recognized; and (c) the government should provide support to survivors, as requested by the Thalidomide Survivors Taskforce.

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to start by saying that I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert.

I am very honoured to rise in the House today to speak to this very important and historic motion from the NDP.

The motion before us calls on the government to right the wrong of the tragic consequences that took place, when, in 1961, the Government of Canada approved the sale of thalidomide as a safe drug for the treatment of morning sickness for pregnant women. It is so important today that we speak out collectively and with one voice, as Parliament, to understand and to address this urgent and tragic issue.

I would like to thank the member for Outremont, the leader of the official opposition, for agreeing to and giving his full support to this motion being brought forward today. I would also like to thank members from all sides because we now know that the government will be supporting this motion with a slight amendment. I am very thankful for that. We have had a lot of discussion. It is historic and important that today we will be speaking in this debate, and we will be bringing forward the visibility of this issue. I hope that on Monday we will be voting on this motion and that it will be a unanimous vote.

On Tuesday, I had the honour to be joined, with my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, by two members of the thalidomide survivors task force. Mercédes Benegbi and Josée Lake came from Montreal to join us in a press conference, where they spoke and shared some of their experiences of what it has been like, over more than 50 years, to be a thalidomide survivor. It was very moving to hear their words and to hear them speak about their deeply personal experience, and of the experience of 95 survivors in Canada. Hearing what they had to say is a day that I will not forget.

I am also very thankful that the people at The Globe and Mail decided to focus on this issue. We saw the original story that they did last Saturday, which was a very comprehensive piece. It gave us the history and background, and brought us to the current situation today, with so many survivors living in pain and suffering and with great financial hardship. To me, it was one of those moments when a whole bunch of things came together. We have to recognize that the thalidomide survivors have for 50-plus years been living in a way that has been quite invisible.

It is a story that we are aware of. I remember when we debated Bill C-17 in the House, on drug safety, a bill that we supported. I remember that when I debated that bill in the House, I mentioned the history of thalidomide. I did not know then that a few months later we would actually be debating the issue of thalidomide. There is some continuity here, and some historical importance to what we are doing. Of course, drug safety in this country is critically important, and although we would have liked to see some improvements to it, the bill that was passed a few months ago was a very important bill.

When we look at history and see what has taken place in this country around drug safety, and we look at this terrible tragic situation that took place in the early 1960s, it is so compelling. It speaks to the core of why we are here. As parliamentarians and legislators, we need to pay attention and ensure that there is proper regulatory oversight for drug safety.

When this drug was first brought on to the market in the early sixties, it was deemed to be safe. The tragedy is that when the story began to unfold and the consequences began to be known about women who had miscarriages and babies being born with terrible deformities, Canada was very slow to react. It took decades, right up until 1991, for there to be even some discussion around compensation.

If we look at the amount of compensation that was given in 1991, we can see how terribly inadequate the small settlements were to the survivors. It really did nothing to help them. They even had to sign gag orders that they would not speak out afterward. The small settlements they got in no way dealt with the long-term effects of what they were dealing with.

We know today that the consequences of thalidomide have left people dealing with very severe and debilitating pain. It has taken 50 years of work, which has taken a toll on them, not only emotionally and financially, but of course physically. Many of the survivors are now suffering from nerve damage and painful wear and tear on their bodies. It has caused enormous challenges for them, including the loss of the ability to use their limbs to care for themselves, and damage to their spines and joints, which severely limits their mobility. It has impacted on their ability to gain employment. It means that they have often had to depend on others for very basic tasks, such as using the toilet, dressing, preparing meals, doing all of the daily things we take for granted.

Fifty years later, with this group of people who are aging, the health consequences of what they face have become even more serious. It is critical that we not lose more time. There are only 95 thalidomide survivors left in Canada. I believe there were originally about 120 people; some have already died. As these survivors age, their health and financial needs will only grow.

Time is of the essence, and it is very important that we take a stand today and that Parliament speak out. New Democrats call on the government to right the wrong and immediately sit down with the survivors task force to begin the work to arrive at a just settlement for the survivors. That is what this motion would accomplish if it is passed. I want to stress that time is of the essence. We cannot lose another day, week, or year.

There are some precedents in terms of what other countries have done. For example, the government in the United Kingdom is providing regular payments to survivors. Germany offered a one-time lump sum payment. The thalidomide survivors task force is asking the government to sit down and work with it in creating a program that would provide a one-time payment to address people's immediate needs, as well as ongoing payments that would assist individuals based on their own individual circumstances. It is something that needs to be done based on individual needs.

I have had a lot emails over the last couple of days, and I want to refer to one from a former colleague, Penny Priddy, who was a member of Parliament for Surrey. She wrote:

It was the summer of 1963 and I was working at HSC/Sick Kids in Toronto. Her name was “Maria”. She was about a year old. [...]

“Maria” was born without arms. [...] Her legs were not able to support any weight. Her mother had taken thalidomide. [...]

Given what we know, I expect her life was filled with challenges and barriers that required a strength that many of us cannot begin to imagine. [...]

Thank you...for listening to the voices of all of the Marias' who were victims of a system that was so rushed to get a questionable drug to market that they did not consider the unthinkable legacy that they were creating for its smallest citizens.

Today, with this motion, we have an opportunity to right that wrong, and I thank all members of the House who will be supporting it.