Letter from the Commissioner to the Canadian Bar Association regarding impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic

GATINEAU, March 18, 2020 – Today, the Commissioner of Competition issued an open letter to executive members of the Canadian Bar Association’s Competition Law Section providing information on impacts to the Bureau’s enforcement processes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dear Members of the Executive of the CBA Competition Law Section,

I hope that you, your families, your friends and all your loved ones are healthy and safe during this difficult time.

Canadians and Canadian businesses are trying to navigate uncertain times as a result of the COVID-19 virus. At the Bureau, we too, are facing challenges as the situation evolves. I am writing to identify a few ways in which your interactions with the Bureau may be affected, as the impacts on our operations may be more pronounced in the days and weeks to come.

The health and safety of our employees, stakeholders and communities are of paramount importance. We have taken measures to ensure that our staff are working remotely, where possible, and that any communications between our staff are by phone or through other means that respect the social distancing recommendations of public health authorities.

I must stress that clear and open communication is critical during these challenging times.

You will notice that we are replacing hard copy letters with an e-mail from the signatory. This will be our practice going forward for Advance Ruling Certificates, No Action Letters, and Written Opinions, for example.

For merger transactions, it is increasingly difficult for Competition Bureau staff to make market contacts in a timely manner since many businesspeople are working remotely, and this may pose challenges for us in meeting our service standards. It may also have implications for complex matters where market contacts may assist our staff in narrowing issues within the first 30 days of a merger review. Parties could also experience challenges in preparing and delivering productions and information to the Bureau during this period. As such, we encourage merging parties to contact case teams and management in the Mergers Directorate as early as possible on complex matters and throughout the conduct of a review.

We will prioritize matters to maximize our resources and meet our service standards where possible. Where it will not be possible to meet our service standards, our staff will make efforts to communicate realistic timelines based upon the prevailing conditions at that time. We will also strive to provide Written Opinions within our established service standards while acknowledging this may not always be possible.

Furthermore, investigations that may involve face-to-face interviews with Immunity/Leniency applicant witnesses, the operationalization of solicitor-client protocols, meetings with complainants, and plea or other settlement negotiations may suffer some delays. We will nonetheless continue to advance matters to the best of our abilities, given the circumstances.

As you can imagine, the Bureau may also need to prioritize urgent marketplace issues that require immediate action to protect Canadians. Such instances may have implications on our ability to address other ongoing matters.

Rest assured that the Bureau remains dedicated to doing its utmost to serve the public interest and to advance matters in a professional and responsible fashion.

We are carefully monitoring this situation and will provide further guidance, if required, on our operations and timelines as it evolves.

Yours truly,

Matthew Boswell
Commissioner of Competition