Story of the “Right the Wrong” Campaign
After decades of struggling with thalidomide-related health challenges, Canada’s thalidomide survivors had defied all the odds. They had adapted by using their teeth and malformed feet, hands and fingers in extraordinary ways to perform daily tasks. But by 2013, 50 years of resiliency had taken its toll. Many survivors were now suffering from nerve damage and painful deterioration of their bodies. Their deteriorating health was amplified by the fact that many survivors relied on their aging parents for financial and physical support – a reality that was pushing many into crisis.
Successive governments had explored options to address the thalidomide catastrophe, but no long-term financial solution had ever been implemented. The only direct funding support from the federal government was in 1992, when Health Canada provided a one-time payment of $65,000 (on average) to each survivor to deal with urgent needs at that time, along with a waiver that removed the options of survivors to sue the government in the future for compensation.
By 2013, it was clear to TVAC that immediate action needed to be taken to address the crisis facing the thalidomide survivor community. Our team contacted several experts in law, communications and government relations to create a pro bono Thalidomide Survivors TaskForce to build the case for long-term financial support.
After many phone calls, emails and passionate discussions, the Thalidomide Survivors TaskForce held its first meeting on May 22, 2013. Members of the TaskForce included:
- Stephen Raynes, a distinguished American lawyer who specializes in general personal injury, medical malpractice and product liability, whose father, Arthur G. Raynes, represented several Canadian families affected by the thalidomide tragedy in their claims against the manufacturer of the drug in the 1970s and 1980s.
- Joe Fiorante, a Canadian lawyer specialized in product liability.
- Christopher Holz, Natalie Dash, and Barry Campbell from Campbell Strategies, a leading government relations firm in Canada.
- Mercédes Benegbi, Executive Director at TVAC.
Working together, the TaskForce conducted research and laid the foundation for the “Right The Wrong” campaign to draw public attention to the crisis facing Canada’s thalidomide survivors and to obtain long term funding support to help them age with dignity.
While the public campaign was launched in November 2014, the behind the scenes work began much earlier in 2013:
- In the summer of 2013, the Task Force started working on the video edited by renowned videographer Shirley Ann Claydon “Right the Wrong: The Canadian Thalidomide Survivors Crisis”. This video, compiling testimonies from thalidomide victims and their families, played a crucial role in the “Right the Wrong” campaign by bringing the survivors’ stories directly to decision makers.
- The TaskForce undertook extensive research of the support programs available to thalidomide survivors around the world, and a review of Canadian-based programs to support survivors from other tragedies, to help build the case for government support in Canada.
- The Task Force commissioned a confidential Life Care report from April Belbeck, an expert in rehabilitation and costing, on the financial support required to support some of most severely affected survivors.
The “Right The Wrong” campaign was launched with a multi-page spread in the Globe and Mail detailing the ongoing struggles of Canada’s thalidomide survivors. Editor-in-chief David Walmsley, along with reporter Ingrid Peritz and columnist Andre Picard, shone a light on the crisis and their dedication to the story was an invaluable resource to the campaign.