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B.C. law that slaps health-care costs on opioid companies to be challenged in Supreme Court of Canada

The Supreme Court of Canada is seen, Wednesday, August 10, 2022 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld The Supreme Court of Canada is seen, Wednesday, August 10, 2022 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
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The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear an appeal from four pharmaceutical manufacturers, retailers or distributors trying to stop a proposed class-action lawsuit by the British Columbia government.

Sanis Health, Sandoz Canada and McKeeson Canada, plus Shoppers Drug Mart, want the high court to examine two lower-court decisions that confirmed B.C.'s right to pass legislation in 2018 that would allow recovery of opioid-related health-care costs from companies.

Section 11 of the Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act allows B.C. to file a class-action lawsuit against opioid providers on behalf of the federal government or any province or territory that paid to treat patients who took the drugs.

Since then, Sanis, Sandoz, McKeeson and Shoppers Drug Mart have lost cases in the B.C. Supreme Court and B.C. Court of Appeal as they argued Section 11 oversteps provincial authority and violated the constitution.

B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma said Thursday the province is prepared to meet the companies in the high court.

“I'm really proud of the victories we're had so far and we'll continue the challenge,” Sharma said at the legislature. “We are doing everything we can to recover from those companies that are responsible, and that will mean also meeting them in court at the Supreme Court level.”

The act is modelled on similar B.C. legislation that forced cigarette companies to pay a portion of tobacco-related health care costs, and in 2005, Canada's highest court ruled that law was constitutionally valid.

“I'm really proud of the work we're doing in B.C.,” said Sharma. “We're leading the country when it comes to recovering costs from companies that have done harm to our citizens. We think these companies need to be held accountable for their actions and we're doing good work in B.C. about that and we'll continue it.”

A date for the hearing of the appeal has not been set, and as is customary with leave applications, the Supreme Court of Canada does not give reasons for its decisions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2023.

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