Monday, 6 April 2015

Update on provincial lawsuits from BAT's annual report

The most accessible information about Canadian provincial government lawsuits against the tobacco industry is made public as a result of the companies' obligations to keep their shareholders up to date on issues that might affect the value of the shares.

Not yet is there any similar information channel provided by these governments. It's a funny old world!

And so it was that I read with interest the updates on Canadian litigation that were described in the notes to the financial statements in the 2014 Annual Report from British American Tobacco, which was issued mid March. (You will find this information on pages 194-196).

Here's what I learned with respect to the provincial lawsuits:
  • There are "standstill" agreements in place in lawsuits involving Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, Manitoba. Under these agreements, BAT will have filed its statements of defence in the Saskatchewan and PEI cases by the end of February, and in the Nova Scotia case by July 2015. The agreements also provide for document production to begin in January 2017 (Manitoba), September 2017 (Saskatchewan, PEI and Nova Scotia). 
  • The federal government is still arguing with BAT about costs related to its defence of the third party claims that were dismissed by the Supreme Court in 2011. (It is asking for $5 million from Imperial Tobacco and a further $5 million jointly from the other defendants).
  • A dollar figure has now been put on New Brunswick's claim - at $19 billion. The other provinces to have stated an amount are Ontario ($50 billion), Quebec ($60 billion) and Alberta ($10 billion)
  • Hearings on preliminary motions were held in January (Alberta) and scheduled for March (Newfoundland).
  • New Brunswick's case appears to be the furthest ahead -- and the only one in which document production has been completed and oral discoveries are underway. Even there, no trial date has been set. 
Despite this seemingly slow progress, in a separate presentation to "debt investors" last month, BAT described Canada as the "most active" jurisdiction for litigation.

But as for the Blais-Létourneau case?  BAT said little about the trial, except to remind its investors that "Judgment is anticipated in 2015 and is appealable."