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Thalidomide class action in Canada to proceed as Federal Court overturns ruling

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Thalidomide survivors have won the go-ahead in Canada to challenge a compensation program. 

The Federal Court of Appeal ruled Thursday that a lower court judge was wrong to deny class-action certification, and appointed Bruce Wenham as representative plaintiff.

Toronto-born Wenham, 60, says he was born with deformed arms because his mother took thalidomide during pregnancy.

However, the government turned him and 167 others down for compensation because they had no proof of the link to the now-defunct drug.

Wenham argued the documentary proof requirements were unreasonable, and the Federal Court said the Appeal Court erred by citing a specific section of the Federal Courts Act to reject Wenham’s position.

The Federal Court of Appeal said Wenham’s case meets the criteria for a class action to proceed, though it stressed it was not an assessment of how likely it is that the plaintiffs’ claims would ultimately be successful.

In the 1990s, the federal government distributed lump-sum payments of between $52,000 and $82,000 to 109 people affected by thalidomide. 

In 2014, finding that compensation insufficient to cover their medical needs, the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, then representing about 120 survivors, requested that the federal government provide an additional lump sum of $250,000 person and annual payments of $75,000 to $150,000 each. 

In 2015, the federal government announced a $125,000 lump-sum payment to each thalidomide survivor and an annual pension from the government of up to $100,000.

To qualify, one had to have received payments under the 1990 plan or apply before the end of May 2016, provided they satisfied a number of documentary proof requirements that they had been affected.



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Kamala Harris, schooled in Montreal, announces bid to unseat Trump in 2020 – Montreal

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A suburban Montreal high school is leading the cheers north of the border for graduate Kamala Harris, the California senator and former prosecutor who confirmed Monday she’s seeking to become the first black woman elected president of the United States.

“Run Kamala Run!!” Westmount High School’s social-media feeds gushed after Harris confirmed what much of the rest of the U.S. had assumed: she plans on being the Democrat who pries President Donald Trump out of the White House in 2020.

READ MORE: Democrat Kamala Harris officially enters 2020 presidential race

In a memoir Harris describes the heartache of moving from Oakland to chilly Montreal so her mother Shyamala Gopalan, a breast-cancer researcher, could take a job at McGill University.

“The thought of moving away from sunny California in February, in the middle of the school year, to a French-speaking foreign city covered in 12 feet of snow was distressing, to say the least,” she writes in The Truth We Hold: an American Journey released earlier this month.

Her initial foray into Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, a school for native French-speakers, was a challenge: “I used to joke that I felt like a duck, because all day long at our new school I’d be saying, ‘Quoi? Quoi? Quoi?’”

WATCH: Kamala Harris speaks about presidential bid, how she’ll win


By the time she was enrolled at Westmount, Harris had mostly adjusted to her life in Quebec, recalling fondly how her by-then divorced parents both attended her graduation, her mother resplendent in a bright red dress and heels.

“We’re super happy, we’re super proud — we’re always happy when a Westmount grad does well,” said teacher Sabrina Jafralie, whose school counts songwriter Leonard Cohen, former Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day and prime ministerial spouse Mila Mulroney among its famous alumni.

“I think she’s a role model for all of us. Coming from a great school like Westmount, possibly to the White House, is a great story to tell.”

It’s no accident that Harris, whose mother is from India and father from Jamaica, chose Martin Luther King Jr. Day to confirm her plans, which she did during an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.

“My parents were very active in the civil-rights movement, and that’s the language that I grew up hearing,” she said.

“(King) was aspirational like our country is aspirational. We know that we’ve not yet reached those ideals. But our strength is that we fight to reach those ideals … We are a country that, yes, we are flawed, we are not perfect, but we are a great country when we think about the principles upon which we are founded.”

Harris was far from the only Democratic hopeful, declared or otherwise, who was out and about on what would have been the civil-rights leader’s 90th birthday — evidence that thorny issues of race, gender and ethnic tensions will be prominent in the coming primary battles among an already dense and growing field of candidates.

READ MORE: Elizabeth Warren makes first step towards 2020 presidential run

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the 2016 challenger to eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, attended a church service and a rally Monday in South Carolina, where he fell short two years ago and will need support from black voters to contend again.

“It gives me no pleasure to tell you that we now have a president of the United States who is a racist,” Sanders told rallygoers.

WATCH: Kamala Harris says the government needs to reopen, slams Trump for shutdown over border wall






Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, both in the race, also attended public MLK events, as did a number of other “maybe” names, including former vice-president and presumptive front-runner Joe Biden, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Gillibrand said “white women like me” must share the burden of fighting for equality. Warren offered a constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to vote. And Biden, who lingered on his close relationship with former boss Barack Obama, lamented his support for a crime bill in 1994 that imposed harsher sentences for crack-cocaine possession.

WATCH: Presidential hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand tells crowd ‘I will fight for your children’






Harris, too, faces tough questions on issues of justice.

As a California district attorney and later as the state’s attorney general, Harris frequently opposed or ignored criminal justice reform measures aimed at levelling a playing field critics say is unfairly tilted against black defendants, the former director of the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent wrote last week in the New York Times.

During a question-and-answer session at Howard University in Washington, Harris acknowledged having regrets about some decisions during her tenure. But her office also introduced a number of initiatives to address racial profiling and bias in law enforcement, as well as sentencing reforms, she said.

“Instead of deciding either you’re soft on crime or tough on crime, let’s understand that if we’re going to be smart with the taxpayer’s dollars, let’s get people out of the system instead of cycling through the revolving door of jail,” she said. “One of my biggest regrets is that I’ve not had more time to do more, but it’s my intention to keep fighting for it.”



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Liberals taking new approach for First Nations on-reserve education funding

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The Trudeau government is changing how Ottawa allocates nearly $2 billion in annual funding for First Nations education to help ensure on-reserve students benefit from support comparable to what’s offered in provincial school systems.

Starting in April, the federal government will take a new approach it says will mean a more predictable base of money for First Nations elementary and secondary schools.

Education is a service the federal government pays for on reserves but provincial governments handle in much larger systems off reserves. A 2016 report from the Parliamentary Budget Office estimated that the federal government spent $336 million to $665 million less than would be needed to provide educations comparable to those students get elsewhere.

Some First Nations students stay at home and get substandard facilities, resources and teaching. Some leave home for better schooling but lose connections to their homes and families.

Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan said Monday that the new model was developed after an extensive engagement process involving several organizations, including the Assembly of First Nations.

« This is very good news because we know when First Nations lead these initiatives and when we’re there to work in partnerships with them with funding we know that we will get greater outcomes, » O’Regan said in Ottawa shortly after the new approach was announced.

« This is about communities taking greater control of their education to make sure that it’s specific to their community, that it’s specific to their cultures and traditions and to their language. »

More to do to create equity, says Archibald

Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald called the changes a « strong step, » but she stressed there’s a lot more to do to create equity when it comes to First Nations education and communities.

Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald leads the AFN’s education portfolio. (Supplied/Laura Barrios)

« As the largest growing demographic in the country, investing in First Nations students and young people is investing in Canada’s future, » Archibald, who also leads the AFN’s education portfolio, said Monday in a statement.

« Fair and sustained funding for First Nations children and students, including languages and cultures, will lead to better outcomes for everyone. »

Under the new approach, First Nations schools will also receive $1,500 per student every year towards language and cultural programs. Schools will offer full kindergarten for on-reserve kids aged four and five, O’Regan said.

In a statement, AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde credited the new approach as a significant move toward closing the education gap, saying it will enable First Nations to plan and build quality school systems that address their needs.

Changes to make funding more reliable

The funding will be within the jurisdiction and control of chiefs and band councils, O’Regan said. He added that Ottawa will work with the communities on the issue of accountability.

O’Regan said the changes mean First Nations will have an easier time budgeting for education because they’ll know the money will be there for them year after year.

In the 2016 federal budget, the Liberals promised to spend an additional $2.6 billion over five years to improve education for First Nations children living on reserves.

Ottawa is expected to spend $1.89 billion in 2018-19 on First Nations elementary and secondary education. The annual commitment is set to increase each year until it rises slightly above $2 billion in 2020-21.



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Former ambassadors and academics urge China’s president to release Canadian men

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OTTAWA—More than 100 former ambassadors and prominent academics specializing in China and Asian affairs are appealing directly to Chinese President Xi Jinping for the release of two Canadian men who the Trudeau government says are being “arbitrarily” held by Chinese state security forces.

In an open letter published Monday, a copy of which was sent to the Star, 26 former ambassadors to China and 115 scholars from around the world say they are “deeply concerned” about the detentions and say it sends a chilling message to all who want to build bridges with China.

The letter comes as Beijing moved to soften its tone a week after its ambassador to Canada warned the Trudeau government it would face “repercussions” if it banned Huawei, the Chinese corporate giant that wants to play a key role in developing Canada’s 5G networks, the next generation of high-speed wireless networks.

Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokesperson, told reporters Monday that Ambassador Lu Shaye “did not mean that China intends to interfere in the decision-making of the Canadian government.”

She said Huawei “is a leading supplier in the 5G technology, so losses are inevitable if Huawei is not chosen as a co-operation partner,” later adding “We have been reasoning with the Canadian side, not threatening it.”

Nevertheless, the Chinese spokeswoman talked tough and accused Canada of “irresponsible” remarks and “microphone diplomacy” in its efforts to rally international allies to protest the men’s detention.

She disputed Canada’s claims that the leaders of Germany and Singapore have publicly supported Canada’s position, saying neither made public comments.

Canada’s allies have made varied statements of support.

But the letter published Monday by former diplomats, including five past Canadian envoys, and many others shows more than 140 Western experts on China speaking with one voice. Hua dismissed it Monday, according to a transcript posted on the foreign ministry website.

“I wonder who these western scholars and officials are and how much do they know about the real situation regarding the cases of the two Canadian citizens,” she said, adding foreign citizens are welcome in China. “As long as they abide by Chinese laws and regulations, there is nothing to worry about.”

Chinese state security officials arrested the two separately after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, wanted by the U.S. for allegedly lying to skirt American sanctions on Iran.

The Chinese government is rebuffing Canada’s calls for the men’s release. Beijing says the Canadians are being held on suspicion of “activities endangering China’s national security” but they have not been charged.

“Many of us know Michael Kovrig through his work as a diplomat in Beijing and as the senior expert for northeast Asia at the International Crisis Group, an organization whose mission is to ‘build a more peaceful world’,” the letter reads.

“In both roles, Kovrig regularly and openly met with Chinese officials, researchers, and scholars to better understand China’s positions on a range of important international issues.”

“Michael Spavor has devoted his time to the task of building relationships between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and China, Canada, the U.S., and elsewhere.”

Spavor had co-ordinated sporting and cultural trips into North Korea through his China-based business and made headlines when he worked as a fixer for former NBA superstar Dennis Rodham’s trip to meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Read more:

China’s ambassador accuses Canada of ‘backstabbing’ in arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou

Chinese police prevent Canadian woman from returning home on connecting flight through Beijing

Trudeau enlists Trump to seek release of Canadians detained by China

The one-page appeal, in English and Chinese, says that kind of on-the-ground engagement is the foundation of serious research and diplomacy.

It says their detentions “send a message that this kind of constructive work is unwelcome and even risky in China.”

It cautions that people who share “Kovrig and Spavor’s enthusiasm for building genuine, productive, and lasting relationships must now be more cautious about traveling and working in China and engaging our Chinese counterparts.” That leads to less dialogue and greater distrust “and undermine(s) efforts to manage disagreements and identify common ground.”

“Both China and the rest of the world will be worse off as a result,” the signatories wrote.

Among the group are six former ambassadors to China from Canada — Fred Bild, Joseph Caron, David Mulroney, Earl Drake, Guy Saint-Jacques and Rob Wright. It is also signed by former envoys from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Sweden, and Mexico, two former U.S. deputy assistant secretaries of state, and former foreign ministers from the U.K. and Australia.

The letter “respectfully” asks the Chinese president for the “immediate” release of the two Canadian citizens “so that they may be reunited with their families.”

One Canadian signatory, Joseph Caron, ambassador to China from 2001 to 2005, said he signed the letter “because it was the moral thing to do,” but declined further comment.

David Mulroney, who was Ottawa’s envoy from 2009-2012, said the letter is signed by a list of people “who have spent decades learning about China and trying to understand and interpret it. China has an interest in being better understood.”

He said it should remind people that “this is more than a Canada-China dispute.”

“Many people, from many places, are worried about the extent to which China is closing itself off, and punishing those who have struggled to understand it and explain it to others.

“China typically succeeds by isolating countries and punishing them, while others look on in silence. Sweden has just experienced this, and now we are, too. By broadening the discussion about what’s happening, we make it harder for China to bully smaller states.”

Last week, Beijing’s ambassador in Ottawa Lu Shaye signalled the Chinese government has no intention of intervening in what is now an investigation led by state security forces. He said that as the investigation “deepens and advances” the charges would be made “clear” and “specific.”

Lu insisted China is taking “compulsory measures” under law against the men. He contrasted that with Canada’s detention of Meng which he called “groundless” because she has broken no Canadian law. Meng is out on bail, restricted to remaining in Vancouver where she lives at one of her two mansions pending her extradition hearing. China wants her set free immediately.

On Sunday, newly appointed federal Justice Minister David Lametti said officials in his department, not him, will decide the next step, which is whether to issue the “authority to proceed” to put the U.S. case against Meng before a Canadian judge.

Under a bilateral treaty, the U.S. has until Jan. 30 to produce its documents or “record” of the case to Canada’s justice department’s international assistance group, which then has 30 days to review the package.

If all is in order, the justice department officials would grant the authority to proceed and its lawyers would argue on behalf of the U.S. before a Canadian judge that the U.S. has produced documents that meet the legal threshold to have Meng extradited to face fraud charges. A Canadian court judge will decide if indeed the U.S. has produced enough evidence that would have been sufficient to send Meng to trial if the conduct had occurred here, but doesn’t pronounce on guilt or innocence. Then it’s up to the justice minister to decide whether to surrender Meng to be extradited, taking account of legal and political factors.

“I will only intervene after a court decision to extradite with respect to the execution of that decision,” said Lametti.

“So in terms of the process I will stay away from the process in order to not be tainted if I do have to make a decision one way or the other,” Lametti told reporters Sunday.

The ex-diplomats’ and academics’ letter comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues his efforts to speak to other national leaders about Canada’s concerns in the affair.

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc



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