Ontario looks to move ahead with lawsuit against tobacco companies

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TORONTO — Lawyers representing the Ontario government are asking a judge to lift a stay on legal proceedings against three major tobacco companies so the province can pursue a lawsuit to recover smoking-related health costs.

Ontario launched its lawsuit against a dozen Canadian firms and their parent companies roughly a decade ago and the case was projected to go to trial late next year or in early 2021.

But pre-trial preparations stalled last month after three of the tobacco companies involved in the suit sought creditor protection in response to a separate legal battle in Quebec.

Quebec’s highest court upheld an earlier judgment in March ordering the companies to pay out more than $15 billion to smokers in that province who took part in two class-action lawsuits.

The companies quickly turned to the Ontario court for relief and obtained an order suspending all legal proceedings against them as they try to negotiate a settlement with all their creditors, including several provincial governments.

In a hearing Thursday, lawyers for Ontario argued their trial should be allowed to go ahead because the remaining 11 companies involved will not have to take part in mediation.

“I don’t believe this court has the authority to compel non-parties to participate in settlement negotiations,” lawyer Jacqueline Ball said.

The trial cannot proceed without the three companies because the case includes joint allegations that involve them, she said.

Ball said the province remains committed to the settlement discussions and, in the event it obtains a judgment against the companies, it would not seek to have that judgment enforced while negotiations continue.


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