02/05/2015 03:22 EST | Updated 04/07/2015 05:59 EDT

Gas cartel class action suit lawyers clash with Competition Bureau

Lawyers targeting gas retailers in a multimillion dollar class-action lawsuit are facing resistance in trying to obtain evidence from the Competition Bureau.    

Since 2008, the Bureau has charged  39 people and 15 companies with criminal price-fixing in the Eastern Townships, Victoriaville and Thetford Mines.

Thirty people and seven companies have pleaded guilty.

Today in a Quebec City court, lawyers behind the class-action suit filed a motion to speak with the Competition Bureau’s principal investigator in the case and have access to evidence that led to the convictions.

Federal government lawyer Marie-Ève Sirois-Vaillancourt said it would take “more than 40 years” and "cost between $5-6 million" for civil servants to sift through all the documents in order to be sure they contain no personal or sensitive information before handing them over.

"We are asking the government to take on research that will be relevant," said Sirois-Vaillancourt. "The government has other things to do.

She is arguing that no one has the right to “go digging around” the Competition Bureau offices and that it’s not the job of civil servants to supply evidence for a class-action lawsuit.

The Competition Bureau has obtained more than 220,000 wiretap conversations during its investigation.

It will be up to the judge to decide whether or not to allow the plaintiffs access to the information they are requesting. 

Plaintiffs in the two concurrent lawsuits allege 1.2 million customers might have paid too much for gas because they allege the price-fixing was taking place in another 26 cities and regions where the Competition Bureau never laid any charges.