Canadian Cancer Society applauds decision allowing British American Tobacco and other foreign companies to be held to account

19 December 2013


The Supreme Court of Canada today refused to hear an appeal by foreign tobacco companies seeking to be removed as defendants in Ontario’s $50 billion medicare cost recovery lawsuit against the tobacco industry. The foreign companies were attempting to overturn a May 30, 2013, judgment of the Ontario Court of Appeal that had dismissed their motion to be removed from the lawsuit.

“This decision is significant in terms of a victory for the Ontario government and a defeat for the tobacco industry,” says Rob Cunningham, lawyer and Senior Policy Analyst, Canadian Cancer Society. “Foreign parent tobacco companies such as British American Tobacco must be held to account before the courts for their role in causing an epidemic of disease and death.”

“It is essential that these giant foreign parent tobacco companies be defendants,” adds Cunningham. “The companies have internal documents that provide valuable evidence of what tobacco companies knew regarding the effects of tobacco use on health, and when they knew it. The companies also have very deep pockets that would allow the Ontario Government to collect far more in damages than could be obtained from the Canadian subsidiaries alone.”

Today’s judgment continues a trend. Courts in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Quebec and New Brunswick have also rejected attempts by foreign companies to be removed as defendants. In the British Columbia and New Brunswick cases, the Supreme Court of Canada also refused to hear appeals sought by the tobacco industry. In Saskatchewan, the Court of Queen’s Bench dismissed the tobacco industry motion. In Quebec, the Quebec Superior Court dismissed the tobacco industry motion, and the Quebec Court of Appeal refused to hear an appeal.

The main issue at stake in the medicare cost recovery lawsuit is if the tobacco industry will be held liable to pay damages for tobacco-related health care costs. A trial date for this lawsuit has not been set in Ontario or other provinces.

In addition to today’s legal victory, the government recently introduced Bill 131, which will ban flavoured tobacco products, require patios to be smoke-free, prohibit tobacco sales on university/college campuses, and implement other measures in Ontario.

“We applaud the Ontario Government not only for its ongoing medicare cost recovery lawsuit but also for bringing forward strengthened amendments to the Smoke-free Ontario Act,” says Rowena Pinto, VP, Public Affairs, Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division. “On the momentum of this important step forward on cost recovery, we urge all political parties to support adoption as soon as possible of this important bill to reduce youth smoking.”

The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) is the only national charity that supports Canadians with all cancers in communities across the country. No other organization does what we do; we are the voice for Canadians who care about cancer. We fund groundbreaking research, provide a support system for all those affected by cancer and advocate to governments for important social change.

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For more information, please contact:

Justin Edmonstone

Public Affairs

Canadian Cancer Society

Ontario Division

Phone: 416-323-7026