New Brunswick

Judge orders tobacco companies to file defence

A New Brunswick judge has ordered several big tobacco companies to file their defences in a major lawsuit launched by the province.

Companies have filed numerous procedural objects since 2008

A New Brunswick judge has ordered several big tobacco companies to file their legal defences in a major lawsuit launched by the provincial government to recover health-care costs.

In March 2008 New Brunswick became the second province — after British Columbia — to file a lawsuit against tobacco companies to recover the costs of treating people who smoked in the years the companies refused to reveal the health risks.

However, the companies have launched a series of procedural objections, slowing down the lawsuit, since 2008. They have not yet filed a statement of defence, a response to the government's claim.

They have argued that the provincial government's lawyers have not been specific enough, and have not provided details requested by the companies.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Thomas Cyr said that there is no evidence that the companies need more detail and he has ordered them to file their defence by Aug. 20.

Cynthia Callard, the executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, said that similar rulings in other provinces have been important.

"We’ve seen that they’ve put in objection after objection, motion after motion, each of which takes up court time and each of which takes months of preparation for court hearings, and each of which delays the final court decision," Callard said.

"When the judges are stepping in and saying, ‘No more of this nonsense, we’re going to get to a court date,’ then we find that things move forward a bit faster."

No one from the provincial government was available to comment on the ruling, and none of the tobacco lawyers returned CBC’s calls.

The companies named in the suit include: Carreras Rothmans Limited, British American Tobacco and Philip Morris U.S.A, JTI-MacDonald Corp, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Imperial Tobacco Ltd.

Four years have passed since the lawsuit was first introduced by the provincial government. Attorney General T.J. Burke launched the lawsuit, at the time predicting a financial windfall.

"Those numbers of course are going to be substantial," he said at the time.

New Brunswick's government first announced in December 2006 that it would take legal action against the companies, but the Tobacco Damages and Health Care Cost Recovery Act was only proclaimed in March 2008.