Calgary Sun - - NEWS - JIM BRONSKILL The Cana­dian Press

OT­TAWA — Bri­tish Columbia does not have to give a to­bacco com­pany ac­cess to de­tailed pro­vin­cial health data­bases to help it mount a de­fence in a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar damages trial, the Supreme Court of Canada says in a rul­ing that will have a coun­try­wide rip­ple ef­fect.

In a unan­i­mous de­ci­sion Fri­day, the high court said the prov­ince can­not legally al­low Philip Mor­ris In­ter­na­tional to see raw data from the in­for­ma­tion banks.

The rul­ing is the lat­est de­vel­op­ment in a 17-yearold ef­fort by B.C. to re­coup smok­ing-re­lated health­care ex­pen­di­tures from to­bacco com­pa­nies.

It helps clar­ify a key le­gal point of na­tional in­ter­est, as all 10 prov­inces have filed suits seek­ing a to­tal of more than $120 bil­lion in damages from to­bacco firms. “The most im­por­tant thing now is for prov­inces to ag­gres­sively bring their cases to trial,” said Rob Cun­ning­ham, a lawyer for the Cana­dian Cancer So­ci­ety.

B.C. had ar­gued that per­mit­ting whole­sale ac­cess to in­di­vid­ual-level health files — even with per­sonal iden­ti­fiers re­moved — could un­duly com­pro­mise pri­vacy.

In its de­ci­sion, B.C.’s ap­peal court said there was no se­ri­ous threat to per­sonal pri­vacy in al­low­ing ac­cess to the anonymized data. The Supreme Court of Canada dis­agreed, point­ing to pri­vacy safe­guards in spe­cial B.C. leg­is­la­tion that paved the way for court ac­tion against to­bacco firms.

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