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Rich Pedroncelli/The Associated Press

An Ontario court has again agreed to extend an order suspending legal proceedings against three major tobacco companies, although the judge has not yet said for how long.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Thomas McEwen said in court today he will renew the stay but will release the end date on Thursday, and his reasons for the ruling at a later date.

A stay of proceedings was first granted to the companies in March to allow them to negotiate a settlement with their creditors, after the same firms lost an appeal in a multibillion-dollar class-action lawsuit in Quebec.

The stay was upheld the following month after some of the companies’ creditors challenged it, and was renewed in June for a period ending this Friday.

The companies — JTI-Macdonald Corp., Rothmans, Benson & Hedges and Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. — are now seeking an extension until March, but lawyers representing the Quebec class-action members argue the deadline should be Jan. 15.

The stay aims to preserve the status quo while the companies take part in mediation with all those who have claims against them, including the class-action members and several provincial governments.

It was initially put in place shortly after the Quebec court of appeal upheld a landmark decision that ordered the companies to give smokers in two class-action lawsuits more than $15 billion in compensation.

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