BC Public Health Bill So Big Grocers Can Be Sued for Selling Processed Foods, Critics Fear

A large group of British Columbia businesses and other industry leaders are raising concerns about a recently introduced provincial bill that would allow governments to take legal action against companies that manufacture, promote or sell goods and services that cause or contribute to diseases and illnesses.

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A large group of British Columbia business and industry leaders are raising concerns about a recently introduced provincial bill that would allow governments to take legal action against companies that manufacture, promote or sell goods and services that cause or contribute to disease and illness. .

The legislation is so broad and vague, they say, that they worry grocers could be sued and held liable for selling processed foods, red meat and sweets.

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“What do they expect us (grocers) to do?” said Gary Sands, senior vice-president of public policy and advocacy for the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers.

“Are we supposed to install some kind of scanner that monitors sodium, cholesterol or calories as people eat? Are we supposed to say, ‘Oh, you’re buying candy or red meat’? The list goes on.”

In mid-March, the British Columbia government introduced the Public Health Recovery and Accountability Act, describing it as “going after bad actors to recover the costs of public health harm their products cause to people.”

Prime Minister David Eby named social media giants, tobacco companies, pharmaceutical companies and “other large faceless corporations.”

The legislation proposes to give the government the ability to reclaim public costs, such as hospital treatments and doctor’s appointments, as well as take preventive measures to address the risk of illness, disease or injury. It says companies, their directors and officers could be held liable.

The announcement provoked a quick reaction from lawyers at important firms, including McCarthy Tetrault, Fasken, Lawson Lundell, BLG, and Blake Cassels.

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They warned that the bill as drafted could apply to a much broader range of goods and services. The province already has specific legislation targeting tobacco and opioid drug companies.

Two dozen business groups, including national organizations, expressed concerns about the bill and the lack of discussion about it in an open letter to Eby and Attorney General Niki Sharma.

“The intention to safeguard the physical and mental health and well-being of British Columbians is laudable and an objective we support,” they wrote. “We are writing to emphasize that the parameters of Bill 12 must be clear and appropriately delineated so as not to inadvertently expose a broader spectrum of businesses to legal risks.”

Greg Wilson, director of government relations in British Columbia for the Retail Council of Canada, said most companies are not aware of the legislation and that industry leaders are trying to understand it themselves.

“We have really relied on the help of lawyers who analyze the situation to try to understand what it could affect in terms of liability. It talks about distribution and promotion, not just manufacturing of goods. …And it appeared as a surprise. “It’s not like this has been telegraphed for years.”

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He said there is concern there won’t be a proper discussion because the provincial government has a significant majority in the legislature.

Other signatories to the letter include the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, BC Craft Breweries, Able BC, BC Hotel Association, Canadian Alliance of Craft Distillers, BC Craft Distillers Guild, Liquor Store Advisory Society Federation of Independent Traders, Business Council of British Columbia, Canadian Beverage Association, British Columbia Restaurant and Food Service Association, Restaurants Canada, Forest Industries Council, British Columbia Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters .

“Let’s look at bakeries and food preparation in kitchens. Obviously you can’t give up on food safety, but this potentially goes beyond that,” said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the British Columbia Restaurant and Foodservice Association. “We are not criticizing the government, we just have to sit down and clear things up. “We don’t want to scare away businesses from BC.”

Postmedia contacted the attorney general’s office for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

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