'Everyone ... has a sob story': Thalidomide survivors say they were belittled by disabilities minister

'Everyone ... has a sob story': Thalidomide survivors say they were belittled by disabilities minister
From CBC - December 5, 2017

Members of a thalidomide survivor group say they felt belittled and are appalled after meeting with Kent Hehr,the federal minister for persons with disabilities, and accuse him of making repugnantstatements about their life expectancies.

The ministerflat out denies at least one of their claims and said he has apologized if some of his comments were misinterpreted.

Fiona Sampson, a thalidomide survivor who attended the Oct. 19 meeting, told reporters on Tuesday that Hehrdegraded those in attendance with his remarks.

"In response to members of the group reading really heartfelt testimonials, Minister Hehr apropos of nothing commented, 'Well you do not have it as bad today as adults as you did when you were kids,'" said Sampson, a human rights lawyer and chair ofThalidomide Survivors Task Group.

"Then he went on to say, 'Well you do not have it so bad. Everyone in Canada has a sob story.'"

Sampson said one of the most repugnant statements in the 30-minute meetingcame after the group explained to Hehr that they have shortenedlifespans and have already lost five members since the House of Commons passed a unanimous motion to support survivors back in 2014.

"He said to us, 'So you probably have about 10 years left then now. That's good news for the Canadian government.'We were shocked and appalled," she said.

One of the members in that meeting was hospitalized in the ICU two weeks later, said Sampson, making his comments "especially repugnant"

Sampson said her team wrote to the prime minister directly about the meeting and Hehrlater called her to apologize.

In a statement, Hehrdenied making comments about lifespans at the meeting, but said he apologized to the organization after his comments were misconstrued.

"My heart goes out to thalidomide survivors. I have listened to their stories and I know our government, led by the minister of health, is taking the concerns very seriously and I will continue to advocate on behalf of all Canadians with disabilities," said Hehr in a statement issued Tuesday.

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