Canada: Gas Price Fixers Convicted After Trial

Last Updated: June 3 2013
Article by W. Michael G. Osborne

A Quebec Superior Court judge recently convicted three individuals of conspiring to fix gas prices in two Quebec cities, Sherbrooke and Magog, (R. v. Gosselin 2013 QCCS 717).

To date 33 individuals and seven companies have been convicted fixing gas prices in Quebec and eastern Ontario. Over $3 million in fines have been imposed, and six individuals have been sentenced to a total of 54 months imprisonment to be served in the community.

Two of the three accused, Michel Lagrandeur and Linda Proulx, own gas stations in Sherbrooke and Magog. The third, Yves Gosselin, is a supervisor with Irving.  All three admitted that others conspired to fix gas prices, but claimed they were not involved in the conspiracy.

What the Crown had to prove

Section 45 of the Competition Act as it stood at the time of the Quebec retail gasoline conspiracy required the Crown to prove:

  1. A conspiracy, agreement, arrangement, or combination
  2. To restrain or limit competition unduly

The provision expressly permitted the court to infer the existence of a conspiracy from circumstantial evidence, without evidence of direct communication between the parties, but nevertheless required that the conspiracy be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The provision also required proof of somewhat complicated mens rea (intention) elements:

  1. Subjective mens rea: the accused must have intended to enter into the conspiracy.
  2. Objective mens rea: the Crown must show that on an objective view of the evidence adduced the accused intended to lessen competition unduly. This is typically satisfied by showing that a reasonable business person would know that the effect of the agreement would be to lessen competition unduly.

Dial P for price fixing

Couche-Tard, a chain of convenience stores and gas stations, maintained a price centre that was, Justice François Toth found, at the centre of a conspiracy to fix prices for gasoline in Sherbrooke and Magog in 2005-2006. Competitors would call Couche-Tard to learn of planned price increases. The information was relayed through telephone trees. Wiretaps revealed that the conspirators knew they were breaking the law.

The conspirators maintained discipline, verified compliance with price increases, and took steps to bring those who were slow to follow prices into line. "All of these measures had as their goal to make price increases coordinated, uniform, and rapid", the judge found. (¶152)

The conspiracy achieved its aims, reducing price volatility and raising prices in Sherbrooke and Magog as compared with reference markets.

The Crown relied extensively on wiretap evidence to prove that Messrs Gosselin and Lagrandeur, and Ms Proulx, were parties to the conspiracy.

For example, Pierre Bourassa, a Les Prétroles Globales sales agent, phoned the Couche-Tard price centre at 7:09 on February 22, 2006, and learned of a price increase to 96.4¢ planned for closing time. He phoned Magog gas station owner Micheline Cabana twelve minutes later to tell her about the price increase. Thirteen minutes later, Ms. Cabana telephoned Ms. Proulx with the news. She responded "Ben ça marche, OK? OK".

Ms. Proulx's cash register receipts, which were seized in the search, reveal that she raised her price to 96.4¢ early the next morning.

The prosecution relied on a number of similar series of telephone call chains followed by price increases.

Mr. Bourassa pleaded guilty to price fixing charges in 2008 and was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment to be served in the community. He testified for the Crown. Ms. Cabana pleaded guilty in 2011 and was fined $20,000.

Mere transmission of information defence rejected

Ms. Proulx's defence lawyers pointed to complaints by the conspirators about Ms. Proulx's failure always to follow price increases. But these complaints were only from 2005; there were none in 2006. The prosecution suggested that while Ms. Proulx had been recalcitrant in 2005, she played ball in 2006 after being pressured by the cartel members.

Ms. Proulx testified in her own defence. She said that her gas station mainly serves drivers on the freeway and tourists, and that she did not compete with other Magog gas stations. She claimed she set prices based on her own observations, which she made every morning and evening on the way to and from work and when running errands. Ms. Proulx claimed to have forgotten the telephone conversations intercepted by the Bureau.

Ms. Proulx's gas station does compete with other Magog gas stations, Toth J. found. Ms. Proulx's argument confused markets and customers, he held.  Even though Ms. Proulx's customers may be different from customers in downtown Magog, she was in the same (geographic) market. The judge pointed to Ms. Proulx's own evidence that she relied on price surveys of gas stations in downtown Magog.

Toth J. also rejected Ms. Proulx's explanation that she set prices on her own. The three telephone conversations were clear: Ms. Cabana told Ms. Proulx about a price increase, and Ms. Proulx assented in an unequivocal way, without hesitation or objection: "OK? OK; Ben ça marche, OK. Merci". This was not a simple transmission of information, as the defence argued. There was an agreement between Ms. Cabana and Ms. Proulx for a concerted rise in prices in Magog on at least four occasions, Toth J. concluded.

Turning to the subjective mens rea (intention) requirement, Toth J. held that Ms. Proulx knew the nature of the conspiracy, its scope, and its implementation through a concerted price rise in Magog. She intended to participate, did participate, and did implement the conspiracy.

The objective mens rea element was also satisfied, Toth J. ruled, since it is logical to presume that a businesswoman who knows her business as Ms. Proulx did would know that the price fixing agreement would lessen competition unduly.

The evidence against Lagrandeur and Gosselin was similar.

In testifying, Lagrandeur claimed that his gasoline sales were only marginally profitable. Toth J. did not believe this, as Lagrandeur had three employees dedicated to gasoline sales, and gross revenues of $10,000 a month. Telephone intercepts clearly indicated an agreement to fix prices, that Lagrandeur "clearly manifested his desire to participate in price fixing with his competitor", and that on the objective evidence, he intended to lessen competition unduly.

Gosselin also testified. He offered various explanations for his telephone calls to Couche-Tard's price centre, including for instancethat he was speaking only with "Couche-Tard Irving" (Couche-Tard operated stations under a number of banners, including Irving), and was only verifying prices. Toth J. dismissed these as obvious fabrications.

As with Ms. Proulx, the telephone intercepts proved that Mr. Lagrandeur and Mr. Gosselin were participants in the conspiracy, and intentionally so. They both also had the requisite objective intention to lessen competition unduly.

"Ok" means agreement

This case is a textbook example of how participation in a conspiracy can be proven from telephone calls that might, taken on their own, be equivocal.

Ms. Proulx said "Ok" after learning of price increases. When is "Ok" an acknowledgment of information received, and when does it amount to an agreement to participate in a price fixing conspiracy? The answer appears to be: when the rest of the circumstances, particularly steps taken to implement price increases, are consistent with participation in a conspiracy.

This should serve as a warning to Canadian business owners and managers. Unlike the defendants in Gosselin, most Canadian businesses avoid blatant price fixing. But what about information exchanges? Strictly speaking, it is not unlawful to exchange even competitively sensitive information with a competitor in Canada, but it is risky: information exchanges, particularly advance notice of a price increase, can be evidence of participation in a conspiracy, particularly when allied with behaviour consistent with an agreement to fix prices.

(It should be noted that some jurisdictions, such as the European Union, do prohibit the exchange of competitively sensitive information between competitors.)


In August 2012, Tardif J. stayed price charges against Couche-Tard after the Director of Public Prosecutions resiled from a plea agreement (see article). This decision is under appeal.

The decision in Gosselin perhaps sheds some light on why the DPP refused to approve a plea agreement that would have immunized Couche-Tard from prosecution: the judge in Gosselin found that Couche-Tard's price centre was at the centre of the gas price fixing conspiracy.

Sentence and appeal

The accused have not yet been sentenced, but they have already launched an appeal of their conviction.

The Crown has asked for fines of $20,000 from Mr. Gosselin and $15,000 from Ms. Proulx, and the Crown and defence have made a joint submission of a fine of $15,000 from Mr. Lagrandeur.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

W. Michael G. Osborne
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions