MONTREAL - Imperial Tobacco's general counsel was involved in destroying research documents written by the cigarette industry on the health risks of their products, Quebec Superior Court heard Monday.
Testifying at the $27-billion class-action trial against the industry, retired counsel Roger Ackman, 73, said he also hired Montreal lawyer Simon Potter "to help him."
Potter is defending Rothmans Benson & Hedges in the class action, one of three companies being sued. Strangely, he is also to testify about his role in destroying documents.
His name also appears in a 2006 United States Federal Court judgment that found American cigarette companies guilty of fraud. The judge in the case noted that lawyers, Potter among them, played a key role in deceiving the public by putting in place, then carrying out, a policy of destroying documents.
Ackman, who went all the way to the Quebec Court of Appeal to get out of testifying at this trial, but lost, dodged several questions Monday and when he did answer, favoured Imperial Tobacco, said Superior Court Justice Brian Riordan, who is presiding over the proceedings.
Ackman, who left the company in 1999 after about 29 years on the job, said an agreement existed between Imperial Tobacco and its major shareholder, British American Tobacco, "to destroy documents on condition we were given access to the documents."
Gordon Kugler, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, asked Ackman how he would know what documents were available if theirs were destroyed.
"I don't know, it was a long time ago," Ackman replied.
"Why were lawyers involved in the destruction of research documents?" Kugler asked.
"I don't have an answer for that," Ackman said. "That was the way it was done."
Ackman, who was a member of the company's management committee, said he never read any of the research documents. They stemmed from studies conducted in the industry's own laboratories that showed smoking was addictive and caused cancer and other diseases. The research was kept secret from the public.
The trial, which began last month and is expected to last at least two years, involves about 2 million Quebec smokers and is the largest claim in Canadian history. The plaintiffs allege the cigarette industry made and sold a product it knew was dangerous.
They also allege the companies stirred up a scientific controversy about the effects of tobacco products while playing up the alleged benefits associated with their use, built a common front against revealing the risks and hazards related to the consumption of tobacco products, and specifically targeted youth to buy tobacco products.
The companies - Rothmans Benson & Hedges, JTI Mc-Donald and Imperial - deny the allegations.