BUSINESS
02/01/2018 13:05 EST | Updated 02/01/2018 13:05 EST

Competition Bureau Criticized For Letting Loblaw 'Off The Hook' On Bread Price-Fixing

Immunity from prosecution in return for co-operation just lets violators "off the hook," Democracy Watch's co-founder says.

Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch says the bureau should improve its whistleblower program instead of relying on the immunity program.
Toronto Star via Getty Images
Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch says the bureau should improve its whistleblower program instead of relying on the immunity program.

CALGARY — The Competition Bureau's decision to grant immunity to parties allegedly involved in the national bread price-fixing scandal has sparked a heated debate over such programs.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of citizen and consumer advocacy group Democracy Watch, says giving bakery wholesaler George Weston and its grocery chain subsidiary, Loblaw Companies, immunity from prosecution in return for co-operation just lets violators "off the hook."

But forensic accounting expert Sandy Boucher of Grant Thornton counters that being able to offer immunity from prosecution is a vital tool in cracking conspiracy cases that would otherwise never be solved.

According to court documents released Wednesday, the bureau alleges that senior officers at Canada's two largest bakery wholesalers communicated to raise prices in lockstep, then met with five bread retailers who accepted the hikes on condition their competitors would follow suit.

Conacher says the bureau should improve its whistleblower program instead of relying on the immunity program, arguing it gives an offending company an escape route if it becomes aware that its violations are about to be exposed.

Boucher agrees its frustrating when an offender gets off "scot-free" but points out that the only way to get evidence of conspiracy is from someone who was in the room when the parties were conspiring.