Jack Stoddart, one of Canada's biggest book publishers and distributors, has filed for creditor protection on behalf of three of his publishing and distribution businesses.

The court protection, which was granted late Tuesday, affects Stoddart Publishing, General Publishing/The Musson Book Co. and General Distribution Services (GDS).

And while Stoddart Publishing says it will continue to publish while it works through its restructuring plan, the financial difficulties in the GDS book distribution business have the potential to hurt the 200 other publishers who rely on Stoddart to distribute their books to retail stores.

Papers filed in court said General Distribution Services' secured and unsecured creditors claim the publisher owes them $45.7 million. More than a third of that $16.2 million is to the Bank of Nova Scotia.

Stoddart says his publishing empire ran into problems expanding its warehouse operations. And late payments and excessive returns from the former owners of the Chapters book chain didn't help either.

GDS also lost several big publishing clients, including Key Porter Books and Douglas & McIntyre. Both publishers are already thought to be owed significant amounts by Stoddart.

"I am confident that we could have met many of these challenges individually," Jack Stoddart said in a statement. "But taken together, they were overwhelming."

Stoddart publishes such authors as Arthur Black, Pierre Berton, Thomas d'Aquino, Rod McQueen, David Foot, David Suzuki, Walter Stewart, and Judy Rebick.