08/21/2011 04:26 EDT | Updated 10/21/2011 05:12 EDT

Cigarette makers will try to get Ontario lawsuit dismissed:anti-smoking group


TORONTO - Tobacco companies targeted in a $50-billion lawsuit by the Ontario government are expected to argue they're outside the province's jurisdiction.

The director of the anti-smoking group Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco, said Premier Dalton McGuinty's office told him a motion is set to be introduced in Superior Court on Monday.

Michael Perley said he was told the 14 companies named in the suit will argue the province has no jurisdiction to sue them because they're controlled by foreign firms.

"This is an absolutely standard tactic they employ to try and allege that the case should not be within Ontario's or probably any other Canadian jurisdiction," Perley said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"In essence I guess what they're saying is, 'We're not really Canadian companies... so you, province of Ontario, don't have any right to come after us.'"

Three cigarette makers named in the suit — Imperial Tobacco Canada, JTI-Macdonald, and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges — have offices in Canada, but are controlled by foreign parent companies.

The tobacco companies did not immediately respond to emails.

In a statement released when the lawsuit was first announced Imperial called the move a "cash grab" and said it was "hypocrisy of the highest order" for the government to collect cigarette taxes and also sue tobacco makers.

Ontario is taking legal action under the Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act.

The province says the law, passed in 2009, allows it sue tobacco companies for alleged wrongdoing and lets it recover health care costs linked to smoking-related diseases.

The lawsuit in September of that year. Attorney General Chris Bentley told reporters at the time that the $50-billion figure covers how much the province has spent since 1955 on smokers who get sick.

In a 2005 ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a challenge by Imperial against a recovery-cost lawsuit launched by the government of British Columbia under a similar law in that province.

Garfield Mahood, founding executive director of the Non-Smokers' Rights Association said the jurisdiction motion "is a sign of desperation" on the part of the tobacco makers.

"(They've) already been to the Supreme Court of Canada over this issue. It is a delaying tactic," he said.

Last month the court denied an attempt by Big Tobacco companies to get the federal government named as a third-party defendant in the B.C. lawsuit.

Governments in Ontario, B.C., New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador have filed cost-recovery lawsuits against tobacco makers.