Vos excellences, invités distingués,
C’est un immense honneur d’être ici ce soir, je remercie les juges pour cette nomination et j’aimerais saluer les autres formidables finalistes.
I’d like to start by marking the presence of an extraordinary person in the audience here tonight, Mercédes Benegbi, head of the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada. If I draw attention to Mercédes it is because she was the heart and soul of the campaign by thalidomide survivors to obtain recognition in Canada, and she was an indispensable part of my effort at the Globe and Mail to bring their plight into the public eye, from beginning to end.
The Globe’s series on thalidomide and survivors’ struggle for support began last year in a way that reminds us what journalism is all about. Survivors were suffering from the ravages of the drug and trying to present their case to the federal government. They were unable to get their voices heard. So they turned to the Globe and Mail to be a voice for them.
For several months, I had the privilege of speaking to survivors and visiting their homes. They led me on a voyage that taught me the meaning of courage and resilience, but also of pain and hopelessness.
What they all had in common was the belief that Canada had allowed a devastating drug into the country but had simply forgotten about its victims. What they all wanted was recognition for that mistake, and help so they could face their future with dignity.
The article sparked a response that was surprisingly swift. Within nine days, I joined thalidomide survivors in the public gallery of the House of Commons as MPs voted in rare unanimity to promise them support. The moment Parliament rose together in a standing ovation and turned to applaud the survivors above is one I will never forget. Survivors hugged loved ones and several began to sob. They said they never thought they would live to see that day. If journalists are supposed to be hard-nosed observers who maintain cool detachment at all times, I will admit to failing abjectly at the task that night.
Parliament’s recognition and the government’s pensions that grew out of it marked a significant moment for myself personally and for journalism in general. Canada’s nearly 100 survivors can now count on getting pensions, every year, for the rest of their lives. More than that, it has brought the sunlight of recognition into lives that had been lived in the shadows. I learned of one thalidomide survivor who, after years of being a virtual shut-in, has opened the curtains of his home and begun to go out.
I did not accomplish this alone. The results come from the backing of a great team, starting at the top with Editor in Chief David Walmsley, who put the newspaper’s clout behind the cause of thalidomide survivors and championed their struggle. The newspaper’s support meant that I always knew I would have the time and space to press their case, especially at times when the course of the campaign seemed uncertain. I also want to highlight the work of photographer Michelle Siu, whose touching portraits conveyed survivors’ struggle with beauty and sensitivity.
But my deepest gratitude goes to the survivors themselves. They opened their hearts and shared their stories with me, and Mercedes led their fight with grace and uncommon strength. Through them, Canadians had the opportunity to show who they are: A people of compassion who believe in righting a wrong. The survivors brought out the best in us and for that, I believe we owe them a debt.
À tous les survivants et à Mercedes en particulier, je tiens à dire un énorme merci. Ça a été un honneur de parcourir ce chemin ensemble. You will never be forgotten again.
Thank you all very much.