The 100th anniversary festivities for Imperial Tobacco turned sour yesterday. The company cancelled its public event, the government disassociated itself from the event, and it was ultimately a demonstration by anti-tobacco groups that marked the centenary.
On Thursday, the St. Henri-based enterprise announced in a press release that Marguerite Blais, Minister for Seniors and Member of the National Assembly for Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne would attend the next day to take part in the unveiling of an ice sculpture to mark the 100 years of the company. None of that took place.
First, Mme. Blais cancelled her participation, then the weather conditions forced cancellation of the unveiling of the sculpture. (It was 2 degrees Celsius and raining yesterday afternoon in Montreal.)
According to Imperial Tobacco, a scheduling conflict forced Mme. Blais to cancel. However, at the minister's office, Le Devoir was told it was a question of principle and good judgment that dictated the decision.
Even if she could have attended, Mme. Blais would not have taken part in the ceremony, her press attaché, Christiane Chaillé, explained. "Mme. Blais supports all the government's positions with respect to tobacco control," said Mme. Chaillé.
It appears it was the riding office of Mme. Blais that accepted the invitation without informing the cabinet office. The latter gave assurances that it would never have agreed to having the Minister for Seniors take part in a celebration organized by a leading tobacco products company.
The Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control (CQCT) figures that the minister would have been playing with fire in showing up for the event. "It would have been a completely contradictory message," argued Louis Gauvin, spokesman for the group.
The coalition organized a demonstration yesterday in front of the head office of Imperial Tobacco, accompanied by Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. "We find it revolting that a tobacco company celebrates its anniversary with balloons and cheers," said M. Gauvin.
"For us, the only real contribution by Imperial Tobacco is the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Canada in the last 100 years, the illness, the suffering, the deceit, the hiding of information. They've done everything in their power to maintain the privilege of marketing an essentially deadly product. There's nothing to celebrate here."
Imperial Tobacco has been located in the South-West of Montreal since its beginnings. The headquarters have been located next to the factory site for the past five years. In a press release sent out yesterday, the company justified its decision to celebrate its centenary in public due its respect for "the most rigorous norms of social responsibility" and the role it has played over the years in "the evolution of the artistic, cultural and sporting heritage, fashion and community services."
Since 2000, the company has belonged to British American Tobacco (BAT).
Original article en francais: Enterrement de premiére classe pour le 100e anniversaire d'Imperial Tobacco