Parliament proposes bill to tackle geographic price discrimination

Megan MacDonald and Erica Lindberg

On December 9, 2014, the Government of Canada introduced legislation aimed at addressing geographic price discrimination, specifically in the form of the much-discussed “U.S.-Canada price gap”. If passed, Bill C-49, titled the Price Transparency Act, will amend Canada’s Competition Act (the Act) to give the Commissioner of Competition the power to make inquiries into complaints that the selling price of a product or class of products (or of a similar product or class of similar products) is, or was, higher in Canada than in the United States.

What You Should Know about Bill C-49

  • Scope of the Proposed Investigative Power: When making an inquiry into potentially discriminatory pricing practices, the Commissioner will be empowered to make ex parte applications to obtain court orders compelling a person to (a) attend and be examined under oath or affirmation; (b) produce specified records, copies of records, or any other thing; or (c) deliver a written return showing in detail the information specified in the order. The amendments to the Act will permit such orders to be made even where the person who is the subject of an order is located outside Canada. 
Continue Reading...

Supreme Court of Canada declines Toronto Real Estate Board appeal

Marisa Muchnik -

The Supreme Court of Canada recently dismissed the application by the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) for leave to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s judgment overruling a decision of the Competition Tribunal that had dismissed the challenge of the Commissioner of Competition (the Commissioner) to certain restrictions by TREB on the manner in which its member real estate agents can disseminate information from TREB’s multiple listing service. The Commissioner’s application will therefore proceed to a hearing on the merits before the Competition Tribunal.

Background

The proceedings date back to May 2011, when the Commissioner brought an abuse of dominance application under subsection 79(1) of the Competition Act (Canada) (the Act) against TREB, an incorporated trade association. TREB is the largest real estate board in Canada with approximately 39,000 members. TREB is said to control a multiple listing service, which contains data about sale prices, historical house prices, and the amount of time a property has been on the market. The Commissioner alleged that TREB had abused its dominance by denying its members the ability to introduce new web-based real estate brokerage services by limiting the use members are allowed to make of the listings and related data.

Continue Reading...

CRTC clarifies that anti-spam law won't apply to self-installation of computer programs - most of the time

David Elder -

CRTC staff has issued important guidance on its interpretation of section 8 of Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), noting that the law would not apply to most installations initiated by users, including the downloading of mobile apps from popular digital distribution platforms like The App Store, Google Play and BlackBerry World.

While much attention has been paid to the core anti-spam provisions of CASL, which came into force on July 1, less attention has been paid to date with respect to section 8, which governs the installation of computer programs in the course of commercial activity.  However, as the January 1, 2015 coming into force date nears for that provision, many businesses have been struggling to understand their legal obligations and take the necessary steps to comply.

Continue Reading...

Competition Bureau sets out preliminary views on patent agreement settlement enforcement

D. Jeffrey Brown and Justine Johnston -

On September 23, 2014, John Pecman, the Commissioner of Competition, delivered the keynote address at the George Mason University Pharma Conference. The Commissioner spoke about how the Competition Bureau (the Bureau) approaches the interface between competition law and intellectual property (IP), and the Bureau’s enforcement work in Canada’s pharmaceutical industry, including its treatment of reverse-payment patent settlements or pay-for-delay agreements under the Competition Act (the Act).

The Commissioner’s speech coincided with the Bureau’s release of a white paper entitled Patent Litigation Settlement Agreements: A Canadian Perspective. The white paper provides information on Canada’s pharmaceutical industry and regulatory regime, identifies the provisions of the Act that may apply to reverse-payment settlements, and explains the Bureau’s preliminary views on how the Act could apply to reverse-payment settlements. Both the Commissioner’s speech and the white paper make it clear that the Bureau will consult with stakeholders during a forthcoming second stage of public consultations for revising the Intellectual Property Enforcement Guidelines (the IPEGs) to develop appropriate enforcement guidelines.

Continue Reading...

The Canada-China FIPA: Energizing Canadian oil & gas investment in China

Susan Hutton and Erin Dand -

On Friday, September 14, Ottawa announced the ratification of the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (the Canada- China FIPA). The Canada-China FIPA, which comes into force on October 1, 2014, is the newest addition to Canada’s growing list of foreign investment protection agreements (FIPAs).

A FIPA is not a full-blown free trade agreement, but rather a bilateral agreement between two signatory states intended to protect and promote foreign investment through legally-binding rights and obligations to protect foreign investors. Specifically, a FIPA grants foreign investors from each signatory state the right to claim damages against the host state when the guarantees contained in the FIPA are contravened. These claims are heard by international arbitration tribunals, which have the power to grant legally binding awards against host states, and whose decisions are not reviewable by domestic courts.

Continue Reading...

Foreign investment in the Canadian book industry

Shawn Neylan, John Leopold, Michel Gélinas and Michael Kilby recently co-authored the paper "Has the Canadian Government Turned the Page on its Book Policy? An Opportunity for Foreign Investors to Consider Investments in the Canadian Book Industry". The authors discuss the challenges Canadian book businesses have experienced attracting capital because they could not sell a controlling interest in their business to non-Canadians.  In recent years, there have been a number of developments which suggest that there is more openness by the Heritage Minister and the Department of Canadian Heritage to consider and allow controlling investments in the book industry by non-Canadian investors. Click here to read the full article.

Eastlink and Bruce Telecom abandon $26.5M merger amid Competition Bureau concerns

Megan MacDonald and Erica Lindberg -

On August 15, 2014, the Competition Bureau (the Bureau) announced that Bragg Communications Inc. (Eastlink) and Bruce Telecom had terminated an announced merger, which would have resulted in the acquisition of Bruce Telecom (the incumbent telecommunications provider for a large portion of Bruce County, Ontario) by Eastlink (a privately-held company that owns and operates cable systems across Canada), for a purchase price of C$26.5 million.

Eastlink’s decision to terminate followed a review by the Bureau’s Mergers Branch, pursuant to which the Bureau concluded that the acquisition would likely have resulted in a substantial lessening or prevention of competition in the towns of Port Elgin and Paisley, Ontario, where Eastlink and Bruce Telecom are the only current providers of wireline telecommunications services. Although the merger did not meet the thresholds for notification to the Bureau, it was brought to the Bureau’s attention as a result of several consumer complaints.

Continue Reading...

Investment Canada Act approval for oil sands investment by State-Owned Enterprise

Lawson Hunter and Michael Kilby -

In May 2014, the Minister of Industry issued a net benefit approval for PTTEP’s acquisition of control of the Thornbury, Hangingstone and South Leismer oil sands projects from Statoil Canada. PTTEP is a Thai state-owned enterprise for purposes of the Investment Canada Act.

By way of background, in December 2012 the Prime Minister and the Minister of Industry issued new and revised guidance in relation to State-Owned Enterprises. In relation to the oil sands, the relevant policy provides that acquisitions of oil sands businesses by SOEs will only be approved in exceptional circumstances.  The PTTEP acquisition is significant because it represents the first test of this policy.

Continue Reading...

Commissioner Pecman introduces realignment at the Bureau

Marisa Muchnik -

On May 21, 2014, Commissioner John Pecman announced a significant “realignment” process to the internal structure of the Bureau. The Bureau was historically divided into four enforcement branches: Criminal Matters, Civil Matters, Mergers and Fair Business Practices. The development will combine the Fair Business Practices Branch and the Criminal Matters Branch into a single branch, and also combine the Mergers Branch and the Civil Matters Branch.  All non-criminal cases, including mergers, non-criminal conduct and non-criminal competitor agreements will be handled by the civil branch, whereas criminal cases, including conspiracies, cartels, and bid-rigging, will be under the criminal branch.

Commissioner Pecman noted that the alignment will not decrease the size of the Bureau. However, the realignment will undoubtedly result in many other synergies, and promote greater collaboration within the branches. Pecman noted that the realignment is “about building a stronger, more flexible and more adaptive agency.”

Continue Reading...

What's old is new - dusting off the OSP rules

Jennifer Rad -

It has been almost a decade since the Competition Bureau sunk its teeth into the enforcement of ordinary price claims, pursuant to the Competition Act’s deceptive marketing practices provisions. But what is old may be new again as recent signals from the Competition Bureau point towards increased enforcement focus on these types of claims in the future. As such, Canadian businesses should ensure that their corporate compliance programs and pricing practices are in-line with the OSP rules of the Act and the Bureau’s Ordinary Price Claims Guidelines which the Tribunal relied on heavily when analyzing past cases.In particular, Subsections 74.01(2) and (3) of the Act set out specific requirements for the calculation of the ordinary selling or reference price on which savings claims are based, known as the “volume test” and the “time test”:

Volume Test In order to meet the volume test, the reference price must be one at which a substantial volume of product has been sold at that price (or a higher price), within the relevant geographic market, within a reasonable period before or after the savings claim is made.

Continue Reading...

Canadian Sentenced to 3 years in Prison for Foreign Bribery attempt

Susan M. Hutton -

On May 23, 2014, the Ontario Superior Court sentenced Mr. Nazir Karigar, an Ottawa-based business executive, to a three-year prison term for attempting to bribe foreign public officials. This judgment marks the first time an individual has been found guilty and convicted under Canada’s Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act (CFPOA). Enacted in 1998, the CFPOA criminalizes the offering of bribes or other advantages to foreign public officials, and is Canada’s equivalent to the United States’ Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The court held that Karigar, 67, conspired with employees and associates of Cryptometrics Canada in Ottawa in an effort to win a $100 million security contract with Air India. He arranged illicit payments for officials of Air India and an Indian Cabinet Minister. Karigar’s defense counsel submitted that Karigar’s age and his lack of prior criminal involvement, as well as Cryptometric’s ultimate failure to receive the contract, should be considered as mitigating factors in sentencing, and requested a conditional sentence. In his judgment, Judge Charles Hackland rejected the notion that Karigar should avoid jail, noting a list of aggravating factors, namely that:

Continue Reading...

Competition Bureau contemplating pre-notification regime for competitor collaborations

Michael Laskey -

The Competition Bureau is contemplating a new pre-notification regime, similar to the regime that currently exists for mergers, whereby businesses will be permitted (or, potentially, obliged) to seek advance clearance from the Bureau before entering into agreements with their competitors. Speaking on a panel at an American Bar Association conference on March 27, Commissioner of Competition John Pecman noted that the plan is in its “early days”, and that the Bureau has not decided whether a regime should be implemented (and if so, whether it should be voluntary or mandatory), but that it is something the Bureau is considering. Such a regime could apply to a variety of types of “normal-course” agreements, such as joint purchasing and selling agreements, buying groups, information sharing agreements, R&D agreements, joint production agreements, non-competition clauses and even joint venture agreements.

The motivation for such a regime may stem from the Competition Act’s dual-track approach to competitor collaborations. In Canada, two provisions of the Act govern agreements among competitors. A criminal provision, intended to capture “naked” price fixing (as well as output restrictions and market allocation), carries significant fines and jail terms. A second, civil provision captures only agreements which adversely affect competition, and carries no such penalties. Although these provisions are intended to serve different purposes, it is up to the Bureau to decide which route it wishes to take when investigating (or prosecuting) any particular agreement. The Bureau has released a guidance document which outlines the types of situations in which it will choose to use the criminal and civil provisions, but this guidance is not binding. So, a pre-clearance regime may give businesses additional certainty in knowing that their joint purchasing agreement or non-compete clause will not be challenged (at least, under the criminal provision).

Continue Reading...

Bureau approves Agrium asset sale to CHS

Marisa Muchnik -

On March 17, 2014, Canada’s Competition Bureau announced that it has approved the sale of certain assets of Agrium Inc. to U.S. farm cooperative CHS Inc.  Agrium was required to sell seven retail outlets and nine anhydrous ammonia businesses in Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as its anhydrous ammonia bullet tank in Medicine Hat, AB and the Viterra Inc. retail outlet in Craddock, AB, pursuant to a Consent Agreement entered into by Agrium on September 5, 2013. The sale to CHS is expected to close on April 1, 2014.

The divestiture was required in relation to Agrium’s acquisition of the majority of Viterra’s retail agri-products businesses from Glencore International plc. Viterra – successor to the former Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba Wheat Pool co-operatives, as well as the largest grain handler in South Australia and a significant food processor in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States - was initially sold to Glencore, but Glencore simultaneously announced side agreements to divest some Viterra assets variously to Agrium and Richardson International Ltd., and (later) to CF Industries. The Bureau cleared the acquisition of Viterra by Glencore in May 2012, and Richardon’s acquisition of some of Viterra’s Canadian grain handling assets in December 2012 (Stikeman Elliott LLP acted as counsel to Richardson).  

In September 2013, the Bureau issued a position statement outlining its review of Agrium’s retail agri-products businesses from Glencore International plc. The details of the Consent Agreement, and the review undertaken by the Bureau, were the subject of a previous post. 

Government agencies to coordinate in Alberta energy markets

Susan M. Hutton and Shannon Kack -

In an effort to coordinate their overlapping mandates, the two agencies charged with ensuring that Alberta power markets remain competitive have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) calling for continued and more defined cooperation between the agencies.

On March 3, 2014, the Competition Bureau announced that the Commissioner of Competition (head of Canada’s Competition Bureau) and the Market Surveillance Administrator of Alberta (MSA) have signed an MOU, implementing a framework for information sharing and enforcement cooperation and collaboration in matters of mutual interest among the agencies.

Continue Reading...

Canada's Anti-Spam Law: Will Your Business Be Ready?

On February 13th, the Communications Group hosted a breakfast seminar in the Toronto office entitled “Canada’s Anti-Spam Law: Will Your Business Be Ready?”.  David Elder briefed those in attendance on key requirements of Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL), the electronic messaging requirements of which will come into effect on July 1, 2014. Among those requirements, David spoke of the obligation to obtain prior consent in the delivery of commercial electronic messages (CEMs) and the prescribed form requirements for those messages, outlined a number of the key exemptions that may be available to some senders, and reviewed the timeline for implementation of various aspects of the new law.  David also reviewed some of the particular challenges that organizations are facing in implementing the new law and discussed the work that organizations must do to be able to continue to send marketing messages to established contact lists.   

Continue Reading...