Canadian Government announces higher thresholds for Foreign Investment Review and more transparency for National Security Reviews

 Michael Laskey and Gideon Kwinter

In its 2016 Fall Economic Statement, the Government of Canada announced forthcoming changes to the review of foreign investments under the Investment Canada Act. Namely, the government intends to significantly increase the financial threshold above which foreign investments are subject to pre-closing “net benefit” review under the ICA, and provide additional guidance regarding the conduct of national security review.

Net Benefit Review Threshold

The ICA applies to every acquisition of control of a Canadian business by a non-Canadian investor. Transactions exceeding certain financial thresholds are subject to pre-closing “net benefit” review; these transactions cannot be completed until the responsible Minister or Ministers determine that the transaction will be of “net benefit” to Canada. Currently, for direct acquisitions of non-cultural Canadian businesses, transactions are typically subject to pre-closing review where the enterprise value of the acquired Canadian business exceeds C$600 million. Until recently, this threshold had been scheduled to increase to C$800 million in April 2017, and then to C$1 billion in April 2019 (and indexed annually to GDP growth beginning in January 2021).

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Bill C-25 broadens the Competition Act affiliation rules

William Wu - 

On September 28, 2016, the federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development introduced Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Canada Cooperatives Act, the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act, and the Competition Act. Bill C-25 proposes to introduce a number of important changes to the Canadian corporate governance regime for federally-incorporated businesses and organizations. In relation to the Competition Act, Bill C-25 proposes to broaden the affiliation rules, which could potentially impact a wide range of competition law issues.

The proposed amendments to the affiliation rules in Bill C-25 are substantially the same as those previously included in the proposed Price Transparency Act (Bill C-49) in December 2014. The primary objective of Bill C-49 at the time was to address the perceived problem of unjustified cross-border price gap between identical or similar products in Canada and the United States, which was the focus of significant commentary and criticism from competition law practitioners, economists and academics. The proposed amendments to the affiliation rules were just an incidental part of the bill. Bill C-49 died on the order paper, along with it its proposed amendments to the affiliation rules (which themselves were not controversial). The current Bill C-25 revives substantially the same amendments to the affiliation rules as those included in Bill C-49. 

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Competition Bureau questions: Why don't we see more health care advertising?

William Wu and Vanessa Leung - 

Due to regulations by provincial governments and self-regulating professional bodies, Canadian health care professionals face significant restrictions on how they are permitted to advertise their services in the marketplace. For example, price advertising, where professionals advertise the prices they will charge for particular services, is often limited; comparison advertising, where a professional compares his or her services and skills to those of another professional, is generally prohibited.

On October 4, 2016, the Competition Bureau published a report assessing the effect of advertising restrictions on the health care marketplace. The report suggests that advertising restrictions, while well-intentioned, may result in unnecessarily high prices for consumers, and calls on regulatory bodies to begin collecting data to conduct further empirical studies on the effect of advertising restrictions.

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Template consent agreement for better transparency and predictability in merger remedy

Vanessa Leung and William Wu - 

On September 29, 2016, the Competition Bureau released a template for merger consent agreements.

As part of its enforcement mandate, the Bureau reviews certain proposed transactions to determine whether they will likely result in a substantial lessening or prevention of competition in a market. If the Bureau determines that the proposed transaction is likely to result in substantial anti-competitive effects, the Commissioner of Competition has the option to challenge the proposed transaction before the Competition Tribunal or negotiate appropriate remedial measures with the merging parties to address the proposed transaction’s likely anti-competitive effects. Such negotiated remedial measures are typically implemented by way of a consent agreement. Once registered with the Tribunal, the consent agreement has the force and effect of a court order. The Bureau, as well as merging parties, generally prefers to pursue negotiated consent agreements rather than formal litigation before the Tribunal, as Tribunal litigation is more costly, time-consuming and uncertain for both the Bureau and the merging parties.

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No more "unlimited" calling and Internet services: Comwave resolves misleading telecom service and price representations

William Wu and Vanessa Leung - 

On September 13, 2016, the Competition Bureau reached a consent agreement with Comwave Network Inc., which resolved the Bureau’s concerns over allegations of false or misleading advertising by Comwave in respect of representations made to public on its telecommunication services and prices.  The Bureau had three sets of concerns:

1. Comwave allegedly made representations to the public about the prices of the telecommunications services it provided, and then allegedly charged consumers additional fees that were only disclosed to consumers in fine print disclaimers and during its telephone sales intake process. The Bureau concluded that the disclaimers and the intake process were insufficient to alter the misleading general impression created by the prices advertised by Comwave, which were in fact not attainable due to the additional fees;

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CRTC gets frosted at Kellogg's over email violations

David Elder

In the fifth, and most recent, enforcement decision relating to compliance with Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation, the CRTC has announced that Kellogg Canada has voluntarily entered into an undertaking respecting alleged non-compliance, which includes payment of $60,000 in penalties.

The undertaking resulted from an alleged failure to obtain consent from recipients prior to sending commercial electronic messages.  The alleged violations apparently occurred over an 11-week in late 2014.

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Avis and Budget reach settlement in alleged misrepresentation of fees and discounts

Vanessa Leung and Ashley Piotrowski

On June 2, 2016, the Competition Bureau reached a consent agreement with Aviscar Inc. and Budgetcar Inc. / Budgetauto Inc., over allegations of false or misleading advertising for prices and discounts on car rentals and associated products.  A Bureau investigation concluded that certain prices and discounts initially advertised were not attainable because consumers were charged additional mandatory fees that were only disclosed later when making a reservation. Pursuant to the consent agreement, the parties will pay a $3 million administrative monetary penalty, as well as $250,000 towards the Bureau’s investigative costs.  The parties have also agreed to implement a compliance program.

Background

In March 2015, the Bureau filed an application against the Aviscar Inc. and Budgetcar Inc. / Budgetauto Inc., alleging that the parties had made false or misleading representations to the public to promote the use of their rental cars and associated products, and that the parties had supplied their rental cars and associated products at a higher price than was advertised to consumer. The representations were made across a broad range of media including print, website, mobile applications, television commercials and electronic messages.

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CRTC partners with global agencies to enforce spam and telemarketing rules

David Elder - 

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has announced that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with 10 domestic and global enforcement agencies to aid in the enforcement of spam and telemarketing laws.  However, while the announcement is certainly a step in the right direction, many of the countries that produce the most spam were not at the table.

The agreement is intended to promote cooperation between the various enforcement agencies, and includes commitments by each signatory to share information and intelligence regarding unsolicited communications, where permitted by the laws of its jurisdiction.  

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Competition Tribunal renders a decision in the Toronto Real Estate Board case

Ashley Piotrowski

After five years of back and forth at various levels of court, the Competition Tribunal has rendered a decision in the Toronto Real Estate Board case, partially granting the application brought by the Commissioner of Competition pursuant the abuse of dominance provision (section 79) of the Competition Act.    

As mentioned in our earlier blog posts, the Commissioner’s application involves a challenge by the Commissioner against TREB for allegedly abusing its dominance under section 79 of the Competition Act in relation to membership rules governing the use by members of certain of the board’s multiple listing service® (MLS®) listing data. In particular, the Commissioner alleged that TREB’s rules restricted the manner in which real estate brokers and salespersons may display and use certain MLS® data.

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Competition Bureau completes update of Intellectual Property Enforcement Guidelines

Jeff Brown and Margaret Kim - 

On March 31, 2016, the Competition Bureau (the Bureau) released the anticipated final version of its updated Intellectual Property Enforcement  Guidelines (2016 IPEGs), seven months after the public consultation of the Phase II draft revision (Draft Phase II IPEGs) concluded in August 2015. The 2016 IPEGs further clarify, and provide practical guidance on, the Bureau’s enforcement approach to several important issues at the interface between competition and intellectual property (IP) laws, namely (1) patent litigation settlements between brand and generic pharmaceutical companies, (2) product switching (also known as product hopping), (3) patent assertion entities (PAEs) and (4) collaborative standard setting and standard essential patents (SEPs). 

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Investment Canada Act: "privilege" has its limits in US Steel case

Susan M. Hutton and Michael Laskey

On January 26, 2016 the Ontario Court of Appeal held that the confidentiality and privilege protections in section 36 of the Investment Canada Act do not prevent courts from ordering companies to disclose the undertakings they are required to make to the Canadian government in order to obtain ICA approval for foreign acquisitions.

Pre-closing ICA approval is often required for direct foreign acquisitions of large Canadian companies. Foreign investors are typically required to make binding commitments (undertakings) to the Canadian government in order to obtain approval. While these undertakings are usually kept confidential, the Court of Appeal’s decision suggests that courts can order companies to disclose the undertakings in some circumstances (e.g., insolvency proceedings), even when the terms of the ICA may prevent government officials from doing so. Businesses should be mindful of this risk when negotiating and agreeing to undertakings.

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CRTC executes another raid in malware investigation

David Elder - 

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has announced the execution of another warrant under Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), this time at two locations in the Niagara region of Ontario.

This is only the second such warrant executed by the CRTC under the anti-spam law.  As in a recent previous announcement respecting the execution of a similar warrant, the warrant was issued as part of an ongoing investigation, and the party that was the subject of the warrant was not identified.

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Canadian Merger Control Thresholds for 2016: Competition Act and Investment Canada Act increases

Susan M. Hutton

Both the Competition Act and the Investment Canada Act thresholds for review of acquisitions involving Canadian businesses are expected to increase in 2016. The “size of target” threshold for Competition Act notification, if adjusted pursuant to the formula prescribed in the Act, will increase very slightly to C$87 million, although this increase has yet to be confirmed by the Minister and is subject to his discretion. The Canadian government has also announced that the threshold for review under the Investment Canada Act applicable to direct acquisitions by state-owned WTO investors will increase to C$375 million for transactions closing in the remainder of 2016, based on the book value of assets (other ICA thresholds remain unchanged).

Competition Act:

The Competition Bureau must generally be given advance notice of proposed transactions under the merger notification provisions of the Competition Act, when the “size of the target” exceeds the specified threshold, and when the combined Canadian assets or revenues “in, from or into” Canada of the parties together with their respective affiliates (the “size of parties” test) exceeds C$400 million. Transactions involving Canadian subsidiaries, as well as the direct acquisition of Canadian businesses or assets, and acquisitions of interests of as little as 20% (for public companies) or 35% (for private companies and interests in non-corporate business combinations) can trigger Competition Act merger notifications in Canada.

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Telus agrees to pay $7.34 million in customer rebates to resolve false and misleading advertising allegations

Jeff Brown and Margaret Kim - 

On December 30, 2015, the Competition Bureau announced that it had reached a consent agreement with Telus Communications Inc., one of Canada’s “Big Three” wireless carriers, over allegations of false or misleading advertisements for premium text messaging and rich content services, such as trivia, daily horoscopes, and ring tones. 

As part of the consent agreement, Telus will issue rebates in an aggregate amount up to $7.34 million to certain current and former wireless customers, who the Bureau alleged were unknowingly charged extra for the text message services. The Bureau noted that the amount for consumer rebates made available under the consent agreement is the most obtained by it under any consent agreement to date.  In March 2015,  Rogers Communications Inc. settled with the Bureau, agreeing to pay $5.42 million in refunds to customers for the same fees as part of the same investigation. Similar proceedings against Bell Canada and the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association are ongoing.

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CRTC battles forces of dorkness, takes action against notorious botnet

David Elder - 

In the second such announcement in less than a week, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has publicly announced an advanced investigative action -- this time against an unnamed organization suspected of involvement in the distribution the notorious and widely distributed Win32/Dorkbot malware.

The CRTC announced that, with the assistance of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), it had served its first-ever warrant under Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) to “take down” a command-and-control server located in Toronto, Ontario as part of what the Commission has characterized as a coordinated international effort.

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