Stephen Raynes Thalidomide Campaign

Stephen Raynes recognized for leading pro bono campaign that resulted in the establishment of $250 million fund for Canadian Thalidomide victims

In July 2019, Stephen Raynes received the American Association for Justice’s Pro Bono award for his leadership of the historic Campaign on behalf of the Canadian Thalidomide Survivors against the Canadian government.  That award is given annually to only one lawyer of the 56,000 American and Canadian member-lawyers.

Stephen Raynes with Task Force members Chris Holz and Mercedes Benégbi

The Historic Campaign

In 2013, Stephen Raynes embarked on a pro bono campaign to secure from the Canadian Government desperately needed financial support for Canadian Thalidomide victims. As a child, Stephen had come to know many of these victims through the groundbreaking work of his late father and Firm founder, Arthur Raynes, who in the 1970s and 1980s represented a number of Canadian children born with Thalidomide injuries.

Recognizing that the physical condition of the then 94 living Canadian Thalidomide survivors was deteriorating, Stephen assembled and led a Task Force to wage a moral campaign against the Canadian Government which had approved the sale of Thalidomide and failed to take the drug off the market in the early 1960s despite knowing that babies around the world were being born with severe birth defects because their mothers had taken Thalidomide during pregnancy. In designing and prosecuting the Campaign, Stephen partnered with Canadian co-counsel Joe Fiorante, Q.C., the political strategy and lobbying firm Campbell Strategies, and Mercedes Benégbi of the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada.

The 2-1/2 year Campaign prompted the Toronto Globe and Mail to publish an in-depth series of articles on the excruciating challenges faced by the survivors and on the details of the Canadian Government’s failures. The Campaign’s unrelenting pressure on the Canadian Government culminated in a 4-hour debate on the floor of the Canadian Parliament and a historic unanimous vote by Parliament on December 1, 2014, in support of a Government Fund.

In May 2015, the Canadian Government announced a $180 million Fund, with every one of the 94 survivors receiving an immediate $125,000 tax-free government grant plus annual lifetime payments.

In the Spring of 2019, the total Canadian Fund was increased to provide an additional $125,000 to each of the survivors and the number of recognized survivors was substantially increased.  The total Fund now exceeds $250 million.  Mr. Raynes continues to lead the Task Force to this day.

Recently, the American College of Trial Lawyers’ Bulletin and The Philadelphia Lawyer Magazine featured Mr. Raynes’ championing the cause of behalf of the Canadian Thalidomide survivors.


Stephen’s leadership of the Campaign has also been recognized by the Toronto Globe and Mail:

This campaign would never have happened had it not been for Philadelphia lawyer Stephen Raynes and his Canadian colleague, Joe Fiorante QC of Vancouver. Working pro bono, they were the campaign’s legal brain trust and were the key members of the team. Mr. Raynes’ connection is remarkably personal: His father was one of the original lawyers who fought and won settlements on behalf of many Canadian Thalidomide children and their families.

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In an interview published in The Conversation, Sir Harold Evans, the former editor of England’s Sunday Times and one of the first public champions for thalidomide survivors, commented:

The fortunes of many of the victims have mostly been transformed in Canada, after a huge and brilliant campaign by The Globe and Mail, inspired by Mr. Stephen Raynes, a lawyer from Philadelphia, who succeeded in getting compensation in Canada increased to give the 100 or so victims a chance of a decent living. That was a far-sighted decision by the Canadian government. How did Stephen Raynes get into the story? His father won a case in the United States.

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