Thalidomide survivors abandoned by Ottawa: Duclos wants things to move

OTTAWA – Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos is berating his officials to treat thalidomide survivors humanely.

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« The message is very clear: it has to be done better and done faster, » said Minister Duclos at the Log this morning, following the publication in our pages of testimonies of citizens abused by the Canadian Thalidomide Survivors Support Program (PCSST).

Mr. Duclos said he sent a message this morning to Health Canada and Epiq Canada Class Action Services, which administers the program, asking them to do better and faster.

« This program was modified in 2019 for exactly the reasons that were reported in the media: to make it simpler and more humane for people to get the help they need, » said the minister. Duclos at Log.

A senator gets involved

But this is not the case, pleaded today in the Senate the independent senator of Quebec Raymonde St-Germain who held accountable the representative of the government on the basis of the reports of the Log.

Ms. St-Germain’s office has been trying for 18 months to help another thalidomide survivor, Paralympic athlete Yves Bourque, from whom the firm Epiq is asking for documents and analyzes endlessly.

« In plain terms and in a very brief way, he is being treated inhumanely, » the senator said.

However, « it was the Liberal government which, in 2017, changed this program to make it more flexible in terms of demonstrating proof », assures the Log a government source familiar with the matter.

The source, who cannot be cited since she is not authorized to speak publicly on this matter, explains that applicants no longer have to demonstrate « beyond a reasonable doubt » that their disability is due to thalidomide. Rather, they must provide “hard evidence.”

But Yves Bourque is not alone. Patrice Picard, born in 1965 with one hand missing, also confided in the Log.

Although he has no documentary evidence, he knows that his mother used thalidomide during the first trimester of her pregnancy. His medical file prepared by the Montreal Rehabilitation Institute attests to this, indicating that his handicap is a sequel to the infamous pill.

“I registered for the PCSST in 2019, finally believing that an assistance program was possible despite the absence of medical evidence,” explains Mr. Picard.

He successfully passed the first screening stage, as his date of birth matches and the nature of his disability was found to be compatible with the recognized injuries caused by thalidomide.

Patrice Picard

Courtesy picture

Patrice Picard


However, the surveyor was eliminated in the second stage of triage because the ValiDATE algorithm the state uses to triage claimants deems him not a « probable » case. However, his medical file prepared by the Montreal Rehabilitation Institute indicates that his malformation is a sequel to thalidomide.

A federal court judge ruled on August 9 that Ottawa could not eliminate applicants based on this algorithm, which is only a probability tool and therefore cannot replace medical advice.

No one at Health Canada informed Mr. Picard of this judgment in his favor, even though he wrote to Minister Duclos’ office shortly after the judgment to ask for help. In a terse response, he was told to go to Epiq Canada, which manages the PCSST on behalf of the state.

“They gave us that to make sure they eliminated as many people as possible,” grumbles Mr. Picard, who like several other survivors who confided in the Log in recent days believe that Ottawa is putting more energy into eliminating the victims than compensating them.

Questioned today, the Minister of Health made his mea culpa.

“These algorithms should not exist. The contacts must be between humans,” he said, indicating that it is “not normal” that people rejected by ValiDATE have still not been contacted and reinstated in the program.

“We hear from the civil servants that it is the objective to get there quickly, but they must accelerate their efforts even more” pressed Mr. Duclos.

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