Le Lézard
Classified in: Health
Subjects: LAW, AVO, MAT

Tobacco litigation: Four and a half years of negotiations and no deal in sight

Health groups urge provinces to prioritize tobacco victims' claims and call for more transparency

OTTAWA, ON, MONTREAL, and EDMONTON, AB, Sept. 20, 2023 /CNW/ - Next week on September 27, 2023, Canadian tobacco companies will ask Ontario's Chief Justice for another six-month reprieve from lawsuits in order for them to continue negotiations with provincial governments and other claimants under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) (the link to be posted here).

In advance of this hearing, material filed with the court indicates that these talks have bogged down and that a conclusion is not in sight. However, the tobacco industry is not blamed for these delays, but by inference provincial governments are.

In response to this disclosure, Canadian tobacco control groups are calling for a profound course correction by provincial governments, and for legislators and the media to demand greater accountability and transparency on this public policy concern.

While lawyers for injured Quebec smokers do not oppose the request for another extension, they have signalled that a "critical attempt to arrive at a resolution" is needed by seeking out and putting in motion "alternate solutions" in order to arrive at a settlement.

Justice for tobacco victims should not be held hostage by provinces

"Clearly, the tobacco industry victims have lost faith in the process, and who can blame them?" said Flory Doucas, Spokesperson and Codirector of the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control. "Including this next stay, five years will have passed since they won their class action lawsuits against the industry without seeing a single penny in compensation, and hundreds have died of their tobacco-related disease in the meantime."

"It's time for the provinces to stop standing in the way of these smoking victims whose court-ordered compensation has been stalled.  For a quarter century, they have sought justice from tobacco companies and are the only claimants who have gone to trial, let alone received a unanimous ruling from six judges. These victims are by definition ill and increasingly old ? already an estimated 700 of them have died during these settlement talks," adds Ms. Doucas.

The health groups make a distinction between the entitlement of injured smokers for financial compensation and the need of provincial governments to protect their health care systems. "The rights of Quebec smoking victims to receive financial compensation can be satisfied without hindering the ability of provincial governments to use their cost-recovery lawsuits to impose reforms on the industry that guarantee reductions in tobacco and nicotine use and reduce the cost of treating the diseases these products cause," asserts Ms. Doucas

"Economic analysis shows that the provinces could generate greater savings in health care costs by forcing major change on industry behaviour than they could extract from this industry, especially since the latter option would enable manufacturers to continue selling deadly products in order to generate revenues that would be needed to  make financial restitutions to the provinces."

Call for transparency

"After 54 months of secret negotiations, there is neither light at the end of the tunnel nor any hint of what is going on in the dark," explained Cynthia Callard, Executive Director of Physicians for a Smoke-free Canada. "At the heart of these negotiations is the future of an industry which is currently responsible for two-thirds of substance-related deaths in Canada, and whose products kill more than 46,000 Canadians each year. Private parties might be forgiven for negotiating in secrecy, but the provincial governments sitting at this negotiating table have a duty to provide their citizens with transparency and accountability for their public policy decisions regarding this industry."

"Just as tobacco companies should be held accountable for the harms they have caused, provincial governments should be held accountable for allowing such harms to continue through potentially irresponsible and short-sighted resolutions," said Les Hagen, Executive Director of Action on Smoking & Health (ASH Canada).

"These are historical negotiations. Provinces have the upper hand while Big Tobacco's back is to the wall. This is a unique opportunity to phase out smoking and the commercial tobacco trade. Canadians in all provinces have a right to know what their government is attempting to achieve in these talks, and whether it is choosing a future without commercial tobacco, or one which will perpetuate this harmful rogue industry."

Excerpts of the affidavit by Philippe Trudel, representing Quebec Class Action Plaintiffs' Affidavit:

"Based on developments over the past six months, I can affirm without any hesitation that a global settlement is currently not in sight.

... the Mediation process has been severely undermined by certain Claimants who have reneged on prior positions and failed to act in an acceptable or appropriate manner.

... we are well past the time that the Quebec Class Members, who have been waiting 25 years for justice to be served, should have received the court-ordered compensation to which they are rightfully entitled.

...  there will be few, if any, victims left alive to receive their rightful compensation from the tobacco companies.

...  approximately 700 Quebec Class Members have unfortunately succumbed to their tobacco-related illnesses and died and many more are becoming increasingly frail. Certain Quebec Class Members could wait no longer and have opted to end their lives by assisted suicide."

SOURCE Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control

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