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On April 13, 2012, the Competition Bureau announced that it had obtained six more guilty pleas in connection with its ongoing Quebec gasoline price-fixing investigation (five individuals and one company), with additional fines of $155,000.  According to the Bureau, 27 individuals and 7 companies have pleaded guilty to date in this case with total fines of over $3 million.

This investigation is the largest criminal investigation in the Bureau’s history and has been active for about four years (charges were first laid in June 2008).

Under section 45 of the Competition Act, three types of agreements between competitors are “per se” illegal (i.e., with no adverse competitive impacts required to be proven): (i) price-fixing agreements (agreements to fix, maintain, increase or control the price for the supply of a product or service), (ii) market allocation/division agreements (agreements to allocate sales, territories, customers or markets for the production or supply of a product), (iii) output/supply restriction agreements (agreements to fix, maintain, control, prevent, lessen or eliminate the production or supply of a product).

Other types of agreements between competitors are potentially subject to review under a second and separate non-criminal reviewable matters agreement provision (section 90.1).

The Competition Bureau also has formal Immunity and Leniency Programs under which applicants may receive full immunity from prosecution (or reductions in penalties) for cooperating with an investigation, and which the Bureau increasingly relies on to detect cartels.

Under the Bureau’s Immunity Program, a party or company implicated in criminal conduct under the Act may offer to cooperate with the Bureau in its investigation and request immunity (i.e., full immunity from prosecution for criminal offences under the Act).  Under the Bureau’s Leniency Program, parties that have contravened criminal provisions of the Act that are not entitled to full immunity (e.g., are not “first in”) may nevertheless be eligible for leniency in sentencing.  Importantly, the Bureau’s Immunity Program is a “race” in that only the first eligible applicant is entitled to full immunity.  As such, evaluating whether the Bureau’s Immunity and Leniency Programs are available is an important and time-sensitive step for parties to potentially reduce liability.

For the Bureau’s news release see:

Six Guilty Pleas for Fixing Gas Prices in Victoriaville

For more about Canada’s conspiracy laws see:

Conspiracy (Cartels)

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