Lawyers peeved at late switch on Competition Act

But the most alarming proposal: A carte blanche authority by the Competition Bureau to examine an industry and interrogate businesses, even in the absence of evidence that would suggest abusive behaviour.

The Globe and Mail
November 2, 2005

Lawyers peeved at late switch on Competition Act

Legal experts who specialize in unlevel playing fields (aka competition lawyers) are crying foul over Ottawa's ninth-inning revision of a proposed law to clamp down on anti-competitive behaviour.

Out of, ahem, left field last week, the government introduced two significant tweaks to Bill C-19, a proposal to amend the Competition Act. Competition pros say the changes were never even hinted at in more than three years of consultation with the bar and industry as the bill was being drafted.

One of the controversial last-minute revisions involves raising the maximum penalty to $25-million from $10-million for pacts between rivals that are likely to lessen competition. But the most alarming proposal: A carte blanche authority by the Competition Bureau to examine an industry and interrogate businesses, even in the absence of evidence that would suggest abusive behaviour.

"These inquiries are hugely expensive for companies," says Brian Facey, a competition partner at Blake Cassels & Graydon. "It takes management's time. It takes huge legl fees."

Subrata Bhattacharjee, a competition partner with Heenan Blaikie, says last week's sudden revisions were clearly intended to mollify the public in the wake of recent energy price hikes, a peculiar move given that the Competition Bureau has repeatedly examined pricing in the gasoline industry without finding evidence to launch legal proceedings.

The upside: The market inquiry provision, if approved, will almost certainly translate into a spurt of new work for competition lawyers.

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