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 Topics
Related Articles
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
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

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 or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq 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 of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

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