Mr. Speaker, today we stand as a Parliament to call for support for the survivors of thalidomide and to work with people on the ground and the Thalidomide Survivors Task Force.
For people who might be watching at home or on YouTube later, I will give a quick background on what it is and what happened.
Thalidomide is a drug that was marketed as a safe treatment for nausea during pregnancy in the early 1960s. While it was a sedative, the drug, instead of being helpful, caused miscarriages and severe birth defects, including missing limbs, organs, and deafness and blindness. Approximately 10,000 thalidomide survivors were born worldwide. We cannot really be sure how many people were affected in Canada, but we know that approximately 100 survivors are still living in Canada.
According to the Thalidomide Victims Association, 62% of the survivors are women and 38% are men. They live across our country: 19% in western Canada, 20% in Ontario, 58% in Quebec, and 3% in eastern Canada. Therefore, Canadians from coast to coast to coast have been affected by this drug, which was thought safe in Canada in the early 1960s.
I will spend most of my speech on the current situation of the survivors.
After about 50 years of attempting to work around their limitations, it has really taken a toll on many of the survivors, who are now suffering from nerve damage and painful wear and tear to their bodies. This has caused enormous challenges for them, including the loss of the ability to use their limbs and to care for themselves, and damage to their spines and joints, which severely limits their ability. They have a limited ability to maintain employment and are dependent upon others for basic tasks, such as using the toilet, and dressing and preparing themselves.
This deterioration of the survivors' health has placed them in a very precarious situation, whether financial or emotional, and quite a few of them suffer from mental health issues as well. I will provide some examples from people who have been courageous in sharing their experiences with the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, and I will read excerpts from a report from the association.
In 1992, there was a lump-sum payment. A deal was negotiated and compensation was given to the survivors who were affected by thalidomide in the 1960s. Lump sum payments were made in order to deal with the urgent needs of the survivors, but speaking with people I know, as well as reading reports by the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, we know that the lump-sum payments did not help with long-term investments for these families. Many suffered socioeconomically because of the fact that they could not afford to pursue post-secondary education, and they continue to be affected in the workplace today because of that.
I will speak about the education aspect, including about primary school and undergraduate-level education. Fewer than 5% of thalidomide victims were able to achieve their primary level of education, compared to more than 15% of the Canadian population at the time. At the undergraduate level, significantly fewer thalidomide survivors pursue a post-secondary education. Only 25% were able to complete their post-secondary education at the undergraduate level, compared to 35% of the Canadian population on average.
Another angle to look at is financial security and employment. Today, 31% of thalidomide survivors are afraid to quit or lose their jobs because of the pain and treatment they have to deal with.
As well, 17% cannot work anymore and are now dependent on their pensions, if they have been able to accrue pensions, or are dependent on disability benefits or on family members to take care of them, and 58% are actually afraid to lose their jobs, which would lead to a further deterioration of their situation.
Looking at just these three statistics, we see that a lot of the survivors of thalidomide are living in fear. They fear losing their job and they fear quitting their job if they are in a precarious situation at their workplace. They are afraid to move to other employment because they know they may not be able to find other employment or will be further victimized because of the pain they have to deal with.
Looking at the lump sum compensation that was made to the victims, we see that 20% do not receive any more compensation today, 50% make less than $10,000 a year in the annuities that continue to be paid from the compensation, and 75% receive only $20,000 a year as compensation. We know that $20,000 a year and $10,000 a year are definitely far below the poverty line in this country.
The victims and survivors of thalidomide are living below the poverty line, or that is the compensation they are receiving. That is just not right.
I want to talk about two people in my life who are thalidomide survivors. An example of those in the statistic of 20% who receive no more compensation is Charles. Charles is a friend of the family. He did receive some compensation for his urgent needs at the time. Now he does not receive much compensation anymore. He was able to get a special steering wheel for his vehicle.
Charles is an amazing guy who, though a thalidomide survivor whose arms were affected by the drug, overcame his adversity by getting his 5th degree black belt. Charles is an amazing guy. It goes to show that anything is possible as long as people believe in themselves, and Charles is an amazing example of that.
He has been able to make accommodations. For example, he is able to drive by using a special steering wheel in his vehicle. However, he has sadness. He says that it is really sad that he cannot spread his arms around his kids. It is true. Even though he lives with such optimism and persistence to continue and do well, that is the reality for him. I spoke of fear earlier, but there is also the sadness. This is their reality.
Another example is Daniel, who is a greeter at the Powerade Centre in Brampton, one of the sports arenas in the GTA. His arms and his legs were affected. He cannot drive and is completely reliant on public transit, but Daniel is absolutely another example of beauty and optimism. He has a smile as big as the world. He is always the life of the party. However, privately, he will also share that he lives with a lot of pain. He tries to be optimistic and positive about everything and positive about life, because that is what he has to do to move on with life.
Let us look at some more statistics on daily life: 26% require partial or full assistance of another person in preparing their meals, and 14% require full assistance for showering.
I want to share some more quotes about some of the participants in the report. Here is a quote:
I find it more difficult to manipulate the tools and material necessary to my work; I need help more often.
We are talking about job security.
In talking about mental health, here is another quote:
If I go back approximately 5 years ago, I had suicidal thoughts and had no stable and fulfilling work. The fear of not having enough money and losing my autonomy can make me very anxious.
We are talking about people who continue to live with fear and anxiety.
Here is another one, about future stability and pension:
Can only work part-time hours as a result of my disability. Part-time employees are not allowed to contribute to pension and therefore, despite working for 21 years, I have no pension. I find this very scary for the future.
There is fear and anxiety about the future.
Here is another quote: “I will need to retire earlier than 65”.
This person is living with fear. Knowing that the age of retirement has now been increased to age 67 by our current government, this person, who is living in extreme pain, will now need to wait. This person is already saying they cannot continue working until age 65, yet they will have to work until age 67.
I am thankful for the leadership we are seeing and the cross-party support we are seeing for the motion. I would have loved to speak more about Dr. Frances Kelsey and her bravery, but I am also saying that we need to work together with the thalidomide survivors task force. We are asking for a negotiation that would allow the creation of a program that would provide a one-time payment for urgent needs and ongoing monthly support as well, based on people's levels of disability and their ongoing needs.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I look forward to further questions.