Disabilities Minister Kent Hehr is on the defensive after being called out for comments he made during a meeting with a thalidomide survivor group earlier this year.
During a face-to-face meeting back on October 19, where the topic of discussion was compensation for thalidomide survivors, Hehr allegedly made insulting and degrading remarks.
Fiona Sampson, a survivor and attendee at the meeting quoted the minister as saying, “‘You don’t have it as bad today as adults as you did when you were kids,”‘ and, “‘everyone in Canada has a sob story. Lots of people have it bad in Canada– disabled people, poor people, not just you.”
Patients have received a lump sum payment of $125,000, but many are struggling with the cost of daily living due to the extent of their poor health.
Sampson alleges that when Hehr was told what the impact was for a person’s life span after being exposed to thalidomide his response was: “‘So, you probably have about 10 years left now. That’s good news for the Canadian government.”
“It felt like a physical blow to my body,” Sampson said of the comments. “We were shocked and stunned because really, he is the minister responsible for persons with disabilities. He’s supposed to be our champion … Not only did he not step up as a champion, but he degraded us, he insulted us.”
Disabilities Minister Kent Hehr
Hehr has denied making the last statement pertaining to a shortened life being a good thing for the government, and said that upon receiving a letter of complaint from the group last month, he immediately called them personally to apologize.
“As someone with a disability myself, it was certainly not my intention to offend anyone,” he said in a statement. “While some of my comments were misconstrued, as soon as I learned that my comments were felt to be offensive, I immediately called the organization directly and apologized.”