Stay of legal proceedings for tobacco companies extended to mid-March

TORONTO — An order suspending legal proceedings against three major tobacco companies has been extended until mid-March.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Thomas McEwen agreed to again renew the stay on Wednesday but said he would wait until the next day to set an end date, and release his reasons later.

The order was first granted in March after the companies — JTI-Macdonald Corp., Rothmans, Benson & Hedges and Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. — lost an appeal in a multibillion-dollar class-action lawsuit in Quebec.

The stay is meant to maintain the status quo as the companies negotiate a global settlement with their creditors, including the class-action members and several provincial governments seeking to recover smoking-related health-care costs.

The companies told the court they needed a five-month extension so they can continue to operate while they work towards a settlement.

Lawyers representing the Quebec claimants, however, said the stay should only stretch to mid-January so the companies will be motivated to present a proposal.

Mark Meland said Wednesday the companies are no closer to making a settlement offer than they were in March, and it’s not enough to simply take part in mediation.

The companies obtained the stay as part of the creditor protection process after Quebec’s highest court upheld a landmark ruling that ordered them to pay billions in compensation to smokers in two class-action lawsuits.

McEwen also ruled Thursday a motion by the Canadian Cancer Society, which sought to participate in the court case and mediation despite not being one of the companies’ creditors.

The judge said the organization could take part in the court case but not in the mediation. His reasons for that decision will also be released at a later date.

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