Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Day 79: Another lawyer in the court

See note on accessing documents at the end of this post.

No one was shelling out Halloween candies in Montreal's Palais de Justice, but nonetheless treats were in store today for those following developments at the trial of the Quebec tobacco class action suits.

Yesterday, Justice Riordan had elicited an explanation from a former executive with Rothmans, Benson and Hedges (Mr. John Broen) that the Canadian companies complied with the position of the multinational companies on sensitive issue, but "were never actually told what to say."

The documents introduced through today's witness, Mr. Guy-Paul Massicotte, shed light on how that worked. They describe the policy and public relations network that was developed by the multinational industry to generate a common industry position on key issues and to keep everyone on the same page. That network relied on each country having a point-person to act as a conduit of information.

For the three years he worked at RJR-Macdonald (from 1977 to 1980), Mr. Massicotte was that person.

Mr. Massicotte - a witness not like the others

Although he does not look it, Guy-Paul Massicotte at 72 was likely the oldest of the 22 lawyers in the courtroom today. He is now a 'retired' lawyer, but continues to do work for the steel manufacturer, IVACO, where he became corporate counsel after he left RJR-Macdonald in 1980.

The polite tone among plaintiff lawyer André Lespérance, witness Guy-Paul Massicotte and JTI-defense lawyer Francois Grondin and the fact that, unusually, all the lawyers were speaking in their mother tongue may have contributed to the efficiency with which documents were put into evidence.

Mr. Massicotte was invited to comment on many of these documents, at which times he seemed sympathetic to the tobacco industry. He certainly did not distance himself from his work at RJR-Macdonald and the CTMC over 30 years ago. He echoed the view of many witnesses at this trial that the tobacco business was a 'legal business' operating with government approval. He still uses the word  "we" when referring to the tobacco industry. He came across as a sincere and credible witness, albeit not one with a fine memory for details 30 years old.

The ICOSI landscape

ICOSI has only been a minor detail in the trial to date, and usually it has taken several weeks and witnesses to so clearly present a storyline of what happened within the industry. To have the new story of ICOSI so compactly told today was a pleasure to watch.  (An alternative telling can be found in the article "Tobacco industry issues management organizations: Creating a global corporate network to undermine public health")

Mr. Massicotte began working for RJR-Macdonald just at the time that ICOSI was in development.

Even before he began with the company, he was identified as the man who would take care of Canada for the new global network. "Guy-Paul Massicotte, newly hired legal counsel for Macdonald Tobacco Inc., will assume responsibility for smoking and health when he comes on board early this fall." (Exhibit 580). His responsibility among others was "To establish an early warning system on scientific, legislative, political and similar matters relating to smoking and health." (Exhibit 580B).

It was not long before Mr. Massicotte was providing information up the line on the position of the Canadian companies, and on the process within the Canadian industry to sense early warnings. (Exhibit 580A  580C  958,  964). He also funnelled information from ICOSI and the Tobacco Institute down into Canadia, using it for example in his attempts to pre-empt tobacco regulations in Quebec. (Exhibit 964964A, 964B, 964C965)

Although this project is still not very high on the Government list of priorities, we feel that it is imperative that we act quickly so as to attempt to remove the most harmful proposals at an early stage before the Government becomes committed to a final policy proposal. As you know, I will be going to Quebec City tomorrow with a representative of Imperial Tobacco to present our own material, (including the ICOSI position paper on public smoking which has been translated into French) for their use and reflection prior to issuing a revised paper. 

While at RJR-Macdonald, Mr. Massicotte participated in the development of CTMC strategies to block legislation (Exhibit 966  966A). He tracked the successes and failures of the industry in blocking smoking restrictions against the interventions that had been made. (Exhibit 967967A967B)

Social Acceptability

One of the recurrent issues in the documents presented to Mr. Massicotte was the issue of social acceptability of smoking. 

In 1980, Mr. Massicotte had written that "social acceptability of smoking" was "of utmost importance to the industry.”  (Exhibit 966A - not yet available) Only when pressed by Justice Riordan to state whether there was a relationship between social acceptability and total sales did he concede "I guess you could say so." 

Social acceptability was not merely about smoking bans (Mr. Massicotte was most likely to volunteer those as an example of acceptability issues). ICOSI also saw it linked to warnings, advertising and influencing social and political climate. "We should influence as far as proper medical and official opinion against incautious imposition of constraints and unnecessary restrictions on smoking. To do this it may be necessary to talk to medical authorities and government agencies." (Exhibit 968B)

RJReynolds Industries (the ultimate parent company of RJR-Macdonald) was very concerned about social acceptability, and its vice president, Denis Durden, chaired the ICOSI committee on the topic. (Exhibit 968D968I968M). This group assessed the pressures on smokers in different countries, finding Canada friendlier to tobacco than Sweden, the UK or the USA. (Exhibit 968C).

The SAWP called for far reaching countermeasures, and recommending branching out from focusing only on governments to trying to influence society more generally. "The Working Party has found only a few campaigns that are systematically designed to influence the general public, opinion leaders and senior bureaucrats who exert such great influence on contemporary social acceptability issues."  (Exhibit 968C)

Documents tabled today show that Mr. Massicotte received materials on social acceptability that were for his "appropriate distribution" in Canada.  He also received training and exchanged information at meetings in the United States and Switzerland. (Exhibit 968G968H968J968K968968A968L968E968F)

Mr. Massicotte is expected to finish his testimony tomorrow. The trial will not sit next week during its regularly scheduled break.

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.