Archived — Competition Bureau Uncovers Gasoline Cartel in Quebec
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Price-fixing Charges and Guilty Pleas Announced in Four Local Markets
Montreal, June 12, 2008 — The Competition Bureau announced that criminal charges have been laid today against 13 individuals and 11 companies accused of fixing the price of gasoline at the pump in Victoriaville, Thetford Mines, Magog and Sherbrooke.
Of the accused, three companies and an individual pleaded guilty today in the Quebec Superior Court in Victoriaville for their part in criminal conspiracies to fix the price of gasoline in one or more of these communities.
The Court has imposed fines totalling just over $2 million against the companies which pleaded guilty. The companies are: Les Pétroles Therrien Inc, operating under the Petro-T banner, and Distributions Pétrolières Therrien Inc. ($179,000), and Ultramar Ltée. ($1,850,000). One individual, Jacques Ouellet, an employee of Ultramar Ltée, also pleaded guilty and was fined $50,000.
The parties who pleaded today agreed to cooperate with the investigation and prosecution. Details of the charges and pleas, including the names of the parties involved, are provided in the attached Backgrounder, which is also available on the Bureau's Web site.
The Competition Bureau's investigation into potential price-fixing in the retail gasoline market continues in other markets in Canada.
“Today's announcement sends a clear message that the Competition Bureau will take action against price-fixers when it uncovers evidence that they have broken the law,” said Sheridan Scott, Commissioner of Competition. “Price-fixing deprives consumers of the benefits of competition, such as a lower price.”
Today's criminal charges and guilty pleas are the result of an extensive Bureau investigation that found evidence that gas retailers or their representatives in the markets phoned each other and agreed on the price they would charge customers for gasoline. The evidence suggests that the overwhelming majority of gasoline retailers in these markets participated in the cartel.
Price-fixing conspiracies are by nature difficult to detect and prove. Suspicions and evidence of identical prices are not enough to prove an offence. Securing a cartel conviction under Canadian law requires the Bureau to uncover evidence that proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that there is an agreement between competitors to fix prices, and that the agreement is likely to have a significant impact on competition.
The Competition Bureau used several investigative tools in this case, including wiretaps and searches, as well as its Immunity Program. Under this Program, the first party to disclose to the Competition Bureau an offence not yet detected or to provide evidence leading to the filing of charges may receive immunity from the Director of Public Prosecution of Canada as long as the party co-operates with the Bureau.
In addition, parties that approach the Bureau early in its investigation of criminal activities may be able to benefit from leniency, where parties may receive reduced penalties in return for their cooperation with investigations.
The following documents are available on the Competition Bureau Web site:
- Gas Prices: Answers to frequently asked questions and information about Bureau activities concerning gasoline and other petroleum products.
- Criminal Investigations - Basic Process: A short outline of how the Competition Bureau investigates marketplace activity which may be subject to criminal sanctions under the Competition Act.
The Competition Bureau is an independent agency that contributes to the prosperity of Canadians by protecting and promoting competitive markets and enabling informed consumer choice.
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