Class action authorized against alleged nationwide cartel that fixed bread prices

Class action lawsuit authorized against a group of food retailers and bread producers

Karim Renno says his recently authorized class action lawsuit against major food retailers and producers accused of fixing the price of bread across Canada is special, because a key player has already admitted to it.

Price-fixing is notoriously difficult to prove in court, the lawyer said in an interview Friday, but in this case, Loblaw Companies and Canada’s Competition Bureau have done a lot of the work.

“What’s extraordinary here is not just the investigation by the Competition Bureau,” Renno said, but we also have affidavits and the evidence. We have specific information from (Loblaw), who said ‘this is how it worked.’ “

On Thursday, Quebec Superior Court Justice Pierre Gagnon authorized a class action lawsuit against a group of food retailers and bread producers, for allegedly having colluded together to fix the price of bread across Canada since 2001.

The lawsuit involves any person, association or partnership residing in Quebec, who bought packaged bread from the defendants, between Jan. 1, 2001 and Dec. 19, 2019 — the date the suit was authorized in court.

Loblaw and its parent company, George Weston Ltd., as well as Metro Inc., Empire Company Ltd. subsidiary Sobeys Inc., Walmart, Giant Tiger Stores Ltd. and Canada Bread Company Ltd., are listed as defendants.

Marie-Claude Bacon, spokeswoman for Metro, said in an email, the company “does not believe that it, or any of its employees, have contravened the Competition Act.

“The authorization judgment is a purely procedural step that does not decide the merits of the case. The company intends to contest this class action on the substantive since it believes it is unfounded.”

Giant Tiger said it has no reason to believe the company or any employees violated the Competition Act.

“We have and will continue to co-operate fully with the Competition Bureau and look forward to seeing the results of the complete investigation,” said Alison Scarlett, director of brand communications in an email.

Jason Patuano, director of communications for Sobeys, said the company sees “no evidence” of any Sobeys involvement. ”We reiterate, yet again, that we have seen absolutely no indication that Sobeys contravened competition law,” he wrote in an email.

Attempts to reach the other defendants for comment were unsuccessful.

The lawsuit, and the green light given to it earlier in the week, were widely expected because Loblaw had come forward in 2015 to the Competition Bureau and admitted to taking part in the scheme. The company also named its alleged accomplices, who are listed as defendants in the case, Renno said.

In 2017, George Weston Ltd. and Loblaw released a statement saying: “The arrangement involved the co-ordination of retail and wholesale prices of certain packaged bread products over a period extending from late 2001 to March 2015. Under the arrangement, the participants regularly increased prices on a co-ordinated basis.”

According to federal law, companies that admit wrongdoing and co-operate with the Competition Bureau are granted immunity from criminal charges or penalties — but they are still liable in civil court.

Renno said evidence from the Competition Bureau’s investigation includes email exchanges and testimony from some of the defendants that demonstrate a co-ordinated plan to raise the price of bread by seven to 10 cents a year.

“We see this in the emails,” Renno said. “We also read how some of (the defendants) complained about another one who wasn’t respecting the deal. They said: ‘I saw the flyer of this store, what’s the story here? How are they not respecting what we agreed to?’ “

The Canadian Press has not been able to verify or review the Competition Bureau’s evidence. Marcus Callaghan, spokesman the bureau, said in an email it is “investigating alleged anti-competitive agreements between competitors — including Canada Bread, Weston Bakeries, Loblaw, Walmart, Sobeys, Metro, and Giant Tiger — to fix the wholesale and retail price of fresh commercial bread in Canada.

“The investigation is ongoing. There is no conclusion of wrongdoing at this time, and no charges have been laid.”

Renno said the alleged price-fixing scheme occurred across the country but his lawsuit is only open to Quebec residents, companies or associations. He said he believes the damages are in the billions of dollars.

Loblaw and George Weston have stated that they discovered the wrongdoing in 2015 and that the employees responsible are no longer employed by them.

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

First returning spirit bike ride held at sight of former residential school near Williams Lake

The first annual event by Williams Lake First Nation was held Sept. 30

Organic farmer David Laing running for BC Greens in Cariboo-Chilcotin

It’s the first foray into party politics for Laing, 36.

Missing mushroom picker in northern B.C. found dead

Witset elder found deceased in Price Creek area more than two weeks after he vanished

RCMP seeking help locating missing teen

Doyle said she was last seen wearing a grey hoodie, black T-shirt, black pants and a black backpack

Williams Lake RCMP investigating theft of Nissan truck

It was stolen sometime overnight Sept. 29, 2020

B.C. starts October with 82 more positive COVID-19 tests

10,899 tests a record for a single day, Bonnie Henry says

BC Greens focus on long-term care reform in first platform promise

Greens have promised to move away from the for-profit care home model

‘It’s a nightmare’: Northern B.C. family desperate after living in hotel for a year

Renae Podgorney says because of a lack of rentals, she’s now applying to rent a one-bedroom unit

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Costs climb to more than $100K for BC SPCA to care for animals in B.C. farm seizure

Eight puppies, of the 97 animals seized have now died from parvovirus enteritis

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. VOTES 2020: Wilkinson to stop 24-hour camping in city parks

Ban on ‘unsafe roadside panhandling’ to be enforced

Be prepared and drive safely, say BC RCMP as winter draws closer

Police provide list of ways to stay safe while driving in winter conditions

Lessons from a pandemic: How to design a nursing home that’s safe and love-filled

A look at how one care home is battling the pandemic with the social needs of the elderly in their care

Most Read