Monday, 8 April 2013

Day 134: Yes. Yes. Yes. No. Yes. Yes. No. Yes....

These last few weeks of the "plaintiffs' proof" in the joint trial of the Montreal class actions against multinational tobacco companies operating in Canada have a decided end-of-project feel to them.

I don't know whether the odds-and-sodds feel to the proceedings is natural at this stage of a trial, during which one side winds down and the other side prepares (at least in theory) to start making its case. The tobacco companies' motion to strike the case that will be heard at the end of the month may also be responsible for the fermata that seems to have been written above the trial schedule for March and April.

Certainly, there is no feel of urgency. Last Thursday was a half-day session, as was today.

This afternoon was spent with more finishing touches to the "plaintiffs' proof" and a review of whether a couple of dozen documents could qualify under the "2870" rule that can convert historic documents into trial evidence.

After issuing two written rulings (on January 10 and January 28) and making a couple of hundred decisions from the bench, one might have expected Justice Riordan to find the exercise relatively routine, but some of his comments today suggested that he did not always find it straightforward, or at least wanted to put that impression on the record.

"If the Court of Appeal can figure this out better than I can, then I will be glad to follow their judgement," he said wryly, referring to that court's scheduled hearing on June 10 to consider both whether the industry should have leave to appeal his first two rulings and also what the merits of that appeal would be.

In the meantime, the plaintiffs appear to have correctly assessed the documents he considers qualified for admission through this provision of the law, and most of those presented today were accepted.

Many of these documents had already been made public through this trial, including the industry's internal estimates of the market share of manufactured cigarettes owned by each company, (the 1437 series of exhibits). The Philip Morris documents that had been referred to by William Farone during his testimony last month. (Exhibits 1274, 1274a1456,  1461, 1462, 1465) were also publicly available on the Legacy web-site.

But there were others presented that are getting public exposure for the first time today.

Among these are documents showing how the industry cooperated/collaborated/conspired to respond to government actions to address tobacco use. Worth a review is an 11-page document recording the industry's initial planning after learning that the physician MP, Dr. Gaston Isabelle, was to head a House of Commons committee review of tobacco issues. (Exhibit 544A1-pp).

Exhibit 544A1
The "very confidential" minutes show the companies trying to wrap their heads around how this committee would actually be run -- noting that the health minister was losing credibility in Cabinet and expressing concern about the committee chair. "A good M.D. but a poor administrator" ... "his disinterest and lack of control a cause for grave concern."  A preliminary "very rough estimates" budget of $100,000 (in 1969) was allocated for the hearings.

The companies agreed there would be "no indication of any concessions" before the committee.

An organigramme of the communications structure jointly created by the companies to manage these parliamentary hearings was also approved as evidence (Exhibit 1498) - as was the evolution of the CTMC described in a memo a decade later (Exhibit 1499).

Other CTMC materials which became exhibits today include its plans to rebut the Royal Society's 1989 report on addiction (Exhibit 334), and to develop the Smokers' Freedom Society (Exhibit 343).

Safer cigarettes -- market driven, not health driven 

Exhibit 1462
The extent to which the companies saw the development of safer cigarettes as a response to the interests of smokers rather than a response to the health status of smokers was reflected in documents from two of the defendant companies. One was a 1966 Philip Morris study on the "market potential of a health cigarette" (Exhibit 1462) and the other a report from Imperial Tobacco's  commissioned research on smokers' reactions to concepts for a "safer cigarette" conducted 20 years later (Exhibit 987.25A-2m). 

Groupes Discussion

Over the weekend, the plaintiffs served notice of motion to amend the definition of the classes  ("les groupes") in both Blais and Létourneau class actions. Justice Riordan pushed open the door to this discussion with repeated questions and concerns about the definitions included in the ruling that launched these class actions (the 2005 Jasmin decision).

The discussion on the proposed amendments, which have not yet been made public, will take place on Wednesday or Thursday.

Tomorrow's big reveal

Another proposal that has not yet been made public - or indeed shared among the parties and judge - is the industry's proposal for its schedule of witnesses. The deadline given for this document by Justice Riordan was April 9th, and today he was told that it would not be ready until mid-morning. 

When pressed for an earlier release last week, ITL's counsel, Deborah Glendinning, pleaded that some last minute hang-ups made this impossible.  ("We've got an issue with one of our main witnesses. So our original plans have changed as of this morning." she said on Thursday.)

Tomorrow afternoon the suspense should be lifted.

Tuesday morning a representative from Statistics Canada will testify with respect to data collected by that agency, and more "2870" documents will be considered. In the afternoon, the industry's trial schedule will be discussed.