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High court to hear appeal of B.C. law slapping health care costs on opioid companies

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear an appeal from four pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors or retailers trying to halt a proposed class-action lawsuit by the British Columbia government.

Sanis Health, Sandoz Canada and McKeeson Canada, plus pharmacy retailer Shoppers Drug Mart, want the high court to examine two B.C. court decisions that confirmed the province’s right to pass legislation recovering opioid-related health care costs from companies making or handling opioid drugs.

B.C. enacted the Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act in 2018, and Section 11 allows the province to file a class-action lawsuit against opioid providers itself or 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 overstepped provincial authority and violated the constitution.

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.

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.

The Canadian Press