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

(Photo Submitted by the Gord Bamford Foundation)
Lacombe’s Gord Bamford to perform a virtual concert for a good cause

The concert aims to raise awareness for Operation Santa Clause

Alberta Health Services' central zone jumped from 162 active COVID-19 cases to 178 on Friday. Five additional deaths were reported provincewide, bringing the toll to 323. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
622 new COVID-19 cases set another daily high Friday

Province confirmed 622 additional cases Friday

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council approves second attempt for downtown cannabis retail shop

Firestone Cannabis submitted a new application after their first was denied in August

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

Three young Sylvan Lake residents are asking for lights to be added to the walking trail system to make them safer and less scary at night. Photo by @workinonmyfitness72
Young Sylvan Lake residents ask for lights to be added to walking trails

Three young Sylvan Lake residents appeared before Council recently to present their ask

Over the years, Janice Blackie-Goodine’s home in Summerland has featured elaborate Halloween displays and decorations each October. (File photo)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about Halloween?

Oct. 31 is a night of frights. How much do you know about Halloween customs and traditions?

(Photo submitted)
Rimbey resident avid author despite Parkinson’s

Wins more accolades for her writing

(Photo Submitted by the Gord Bamford Foundation)
Lacombe’s Gord Bamford to perform a virtual concert for a good cause

The concert aims to raise awareness for Operation Santa Clause

City of Wetaskiwin Mayor presenting the AUMA Above & Beyond Award to John Maude and Susan Quinn. Ren Goode/ City of Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin County residents win the AUMA Above & Beyond Award

John Maude and Susan Quinn are being recognized for their role in Wetaskiwin’s sustainability.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)
95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the province plans to bring in a new way of licensing and monitoring child-care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Record-keeping, traditionally done on paper, would be allowed digitally

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Most Read