Suncor Pleads Guilty to Price-Fixing in Ontario

Published in CSP Daily News

Agrees to pay $500,000 penalty for "isolated business communications"

OTTAWA -- The Canadian Competition Bureau has announced that Suncor Energy Products Inc. (Sunoco) has pleaded guilty to fixing the price of retail gasoline from May to November 2007 in Belleville, Ontario. The Ontario Superior Court sentenced Sunoco to pay a fine of $500,000.

In a statement, Suncor Energy Products said that it has consented to a fine for noncompliance under the Competition Act as a result of certain isolated business communications involving its Sunoco-branded gas stations in the Belleville, Ont., area in 2007.

For Sunoco, the fine concludes a Competition Bureau inquiry that alleged that certain pricing-related communications between Sunoco and Pioneer Petroleums LP in the context of their joint venture were not in compliance with the Competition Act. There were no improper communications between Sunoco and any other operator.

In 1993, Sunoco entered into a retail joint venture with Pioneer Petroleums Inc. with each company holding a 50% interest. The joint venture was operated by Pioneer. The details of the joint venture were reviewed and approved by the Competition Bureau at that time.

During its investigation, the Competition Bureau determined that on five occasions between May 30, 2007, and Nov. 14, 2007, a Sunoco representative and a counterpart at Pioneer exchanged information relating to the Belleville area that went beyond the exchange of information the bureau considered acceptable within the context of the joint venture.

Immediately upon being advised of the Competition Bureau's investigation, Sunoco ensured that no further pricing-related communications occurred with Pioneer. In addition, Sunoco engaged in further competition training beyond that already provided, to all relevant Sunoco personnel.

Throughout the Competition Bureau's investigation, Sunoco cooperated fully and, to put this matter behind it, agreed to pay a $500,000 penalty.

"We are committed to pursuing those who engage in anti-competitive behavior that harms Canadian businesses and consumers," said Melanie Aitken, commissioner of competition at the Competition Bureau. "Illegal agreements between competitors to fix prices deny consumers the benefits of competitive prices and choice."

On March 20, 2012, Pioneer Energy LP, Canadian Tire Corp. and Mr. Gas pleaded guilty to fixing the price of retail gasoline from May to November 2007 in Kingston and Brockville, Ontario, and were fined a total of $2 million (see Related Content below for previous CSP Daily Newscoverage).

Price-fixing conspiracies are difficult to detect and prove, the bureau said. 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.

The Competition Bureau, as an independent law enforcement agency, ensures that Canadian businesses and consumers prosper in a competitive and innovative marketplace.

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Calgary, Alberta-based Suncor Energy Inc. is a major Canadian integrated energy company. Its operations include oil sands development and upgrading, conventional and offshore oil and gas production, petroleum refining, and product marketing under the Petro-Canada brand.