Irving Oil Charged With Gas Price Fixing

Company expects to "vigorously" defend itself against charges

OTTAWA-- Criminal charges have been laid by the Competition Bureau against Irving Oil and Serge Parent, manager of Irving Oil for the province of Quebec, for fixing the price of retail gasoline in Victoriaville, Thetford Mines and Sherbrooke, Quebec.

As a result of the bureau's investigation, first made public in 2008, three charges have been laid against Irving Oil and three against Parent.

In a statement to CBC News, Carolyn Van der Veen, spokesperson for Irving Oil, wrote that the charges "are apparently based upon the activities of our former employees who have previously entered guilty pleas."

"Our company was not aware of these activities and, when our company became aware of them, we took immediate steps to address the situation, including disciplinary action. Our company believes that we should not be held responsible for the actions of employees who knowingly violated company policy," she added.

Van der Veen said the company expects to "vigorously" defend itself against these charges.

"These charges highlight our continued and steadfast commitment to combating domestic price-fixing cartels," said John Pecman, Interim Commissioner of Competition. "Canadians are ultimately on the losing end of secret agreements that cheat them out of their money."

By using a number of investigative tools, including wiretaps and searches, the bureau found evidence that in certain local Quebec markets gasoline retailers or their representatives, communicated with one another to agree on the price they would charge customers for gasoline.

A total of 39 individuals and 15 companies have now been charged with criminal price fixing in this case. To date, 27 individuals and seven companies have pleaded guilty with fines totaling more than $3 million. Of the 27 individuals who have pleaded guilty, six have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment totaling 54 months.

Price-fixing conspiracies are difficult to detect and prove, said the bureau. High or identical prices are not in and of themselves evidence of criminal activity. There must be evidence that competitors have made an illegal agreement to set those prices. When there are substantiated allegations of wrongdoing in the marketplace, the bureau will not hesitate to take action, it said.

Click here for additional information on past convictions and fines related to this cartel.

Irving Oil, Portsmouth, N.H., operates Canada's largest refinery and has nearly 900 gas stations and travel plazas in New England and Eastern Canada.