Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Day 42 : Jacques LaRivière

For information on accessing documents, see note at the end of this post 

The first time that the trial of the Quebec class actions against tobacco companies heard about Jacques LaRivière, it was from the former president of Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd., Mr. Jean-Louis Mercier.

He was an amazing guy, Mr. Mercier said. It is rare in life that you meet a guy as bilingual as him. He was a guy from Manitoba with a French name, LaRivière, who had worked at both Radio-Canada and CBC - he worked in both languages. He was the spokesperson for the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council. It was his job to meet the media when there was a press meeting - all those sorts of things he handled.
(Unofficial translation)

Today, not quite two months later, it was Mr. LaRivière's turn to be questioned on the operations of the industry's trade association, the CTMC. He is the second witness from that organization to ever testify at trial (Bill Neville, the former president of the CTMC, had testified on June 6 and 7).

Mr. LaRiviere is one of the older generation of tobacco industry officials who have testified at this trial. More than 30 years ago, in 1979, he was assigned to the CTMC account when he was working for the Montreal public relations firm Public and Industrial Relations (PIR), but became an employee of the CTMC when it was transferred to Ottawa in 1984. He retired from the CTMC in 1994.

Jacques Lariviere explaining in 1985
that second hand smoke is a ventilation
issue, not a health hazard
Jacques LaRivière is too large a man to be described as healthy-looking, and he referred to hip problems when accepting the offer to sit while testifying. Nonetheless, there are many his age (78) who would envy his physical and mental state. He does not look so very different than he did when he appeared on CBC's The Journal more than 25 years ago.

Hearing him speak, it is not surprising that he is a former radio man. His voice remains robust, and unlike most witnesses he knows how to use a microphone. He uses his voice with deliberate expression - emphasizing words and putting a melodic flow to ideas he wants to emphasize. He knows how to tell a joke to break the tension and attempted to do so a few times in the morning. His voice was also expressive in an unintended way - audible sighs and long pauses suggested that over the day he found the experience of testifying increasingly taxing.

I have reached the age when memory is the faculty that forgets, he said soon after Philippe Trudel began asking about the dates Mr. LaRiviere began to work for the CTMC. Other than dates, however, he expressed few reservations about his power of recall and seemed certain of either knowing or not knowing the answer to a question, remembering or not remembering a document placed before him.

His work at CTMC was primarily communications, he explained. The job of a communications officer requires a lot of repetition, and many of the answers that Mr. LaRivière provided had the air of long-practice.  What was the  mandate of the CTMC? To protect the rights of the manufacturing sector of the industry and to communicate to interested parties the purposes of the council.  What were those rights? To produce a legal product which was also legal to sell and legal to use.

The CTMC denied that smoking caused illness and disease

One of the most frequently asked questions at the time Mr. LaRivière was managing communications for the CTMC was whether the tobacco industry accepted that cigarettes caused disease. Today, Mr. Trudel asked this question in several ways. After a few false starts, this witness gave a clear answer that the industry had denied causality at the time of his employment.

Q. Does tobacco cause death or disease?
A. There are circumstances, I supposed – yes – there is an acknowledgement that there is a risk involved and that risk can lead to disease.

Q. Was tobacco consumption a cause of illness and diseases? Did the CTMC acknowledge that when you were there?
A. I do not believe that they did.

Q. Did they deny it?
A. I remember a denial of the causal relationship at one point in time, yes.

Q. ...All of the time you were there?
A. That may be accurate.

Q. Do you know the reason for the denial?
A. The example that comes to mind is the statement that smoking causes cancer.  If that is the case why is it that people that smoke all their lives do not get cancer.

Q. This is the logic behind the position?
A. No... the statement that was made was an absolute. "Smoking causes cancer."

Q. If the statement is "smoking causes cancer in certain persons" – you would agree with that?
A. I don’t have the medical background.

Q. What about the CTMC? Was the CTMC in agreement with the statement at the time you were there?
A. I do not recall that.. (he shakes his head)  No.

The unread voluntary code

The trial has heard repeatedly of the voluntary marketing code (1984 version, Exhibit 20004) that the industry first adopted in the early 1970s in part to head off regulation by government. One of the most surprising bits of Mr. LaRivière's testimony today was that he had not read the document, and was not familiar with the versions that were renegotiated during his time at the CTMC.  Repeated questions on the topic by Mr. Trudel - separated by some hours and a break -- suggest that this admission was not a slip of the tongue or a misunderstanding. (The code is 19 short paragraphs and 3 pages long.)

CTMC Voluntary Code - 1984
Mr. LaRivière's responsibilities with the code were focused on section 11 (regarding how close to a school a billboards near schools - he said his interpretation as that the prohibition extended to traditional billboard and also to exterior signs on stores). How he could have avoided being intimately acquainted with this important short document remains a mystery.

From the documents produced today, it would appear that on more than one occasion it was up to Mr. LaRivière to pass complaints about violations of the code to the companies responsible. A series of complaints were filed by the Non Smokers Rights Association (Exhibit 480, 480A and 480B, not yet available). As with other complaints (Exhibit 482, not yet availble), the CTMC was powerless, it appears, to make sure the code was enforced.

Q. Am I right to say that the CTMC was powerless with respect to the voluntary code? 
A. It was adopted a long time ago and it dealt with complaints of one manufacturer to another.

Q. You were receiving complaints from public and were passing them around, but had no authority over them?
A. That would be the appropriate word under the circumstances.

RJR/JTI Macdonald
1985 ad for
Tempo cigarettes 
Mr. Trudel wanted to know what would happen if all the members were violating the same rule, and there was no reason for any one company to complain against another? The question was considered too hypothetical, so he asked directly. Did everyone advertise to kids under 18? Mr. LaRivière answered emphatically. They did not!

As the front-line communicator for the CTMC in 1985, when complaints were piling up about RJR's ads for Tempo cigarettes, Mr. LaRivière's firm answer seemed more than a little defensive.

A warm body

To this observer, the hoops that must be run to have documents accepted as evidence seem on occasion to have perverse effects. One of those effects is that a witness must be on hand for some documents to become part of the trial record and evidence. Fortunately for history, Mr. LaRivière is still alive and well enough to come to the trial, which allowed a couple of dozen records of CTMC meetings to be made public.  These were entered as Exhibit 479, 479A, 479B, 479C, etc. An ordered list will be posted on this blog when the set is released.

"Incomplete" answers

When the court resumed after the lunch time break, Mr. LaRivière looked even more ill-at-ease.

Mr. Trudel asked him for the second time about measures he had taken to prepare for the testimony. In the morning he said he had read the documents that had been sent to him but that nothing [else] came to mind. 

This afternoon the question was more direct - did you meet with anyone? - and the answer was different.  I met [last night] with some of the lawyers who explained to me the format of the hearings.  Any conversations by telephone prior to that? Yes. When? A long pause before Mr. LaRivière answered Yesterday afternoon. They told me that some new documents would be introduced today, but they did not tell me what.

An hour or so later, Mr. Trudel returned to the issue of conversations with the industry's lawyers, asking whether the witness had spoken to Ms. Glendinning during the afternoon break.

Witness contact with defense lawyers has only infrequently been spoken of during this trial, and three references during one day suggested that something was up. Another sign of something out of the ordinary was the prolonged huddle of industry lawyers in the corridor during the afternoon break.

Whatever it was seemed to have broken the cease fire that had recently settled over the court. The hackles of plaintiff and defence lawyers were up. Sharp words were spoken and words were spoken sharply. For the first time, Justice Riordan asked the (typically very polite and measured) Mr. Trudel to calm down: Slow down. Roll back a bit and then go forward.

At the end of the day, Simon Potter (representing RBH but apparently speaking for the defence coalition) waited until Mr. LaRivière had left the room before asking guidance on how to return to question put to the witness for which the answer could be more complete.  We don’t want to sit on our knowledge but we want to do it without interfering with what goes on. 

The mystery may be resolved when the industry lawyers have an opportunity to put questions to Mr. LaRivière, which is expected to happen tomorrow.

To access trial documents linked to this site:

The documents are on the web-site maintained by the Plaintiff's lawyers. To access them, it is necessary to gain entry to the web-site. Fortunately, this is easy to do.

Step 1: Click on:

Step 2: Click on the blue bar on the splash-page "Acces direct a l'information/direct access to information" You will then be taken to the document data base.

Step 3: Return to this blog - and click on any links.