I frequently receive inquires and calls relating to filing a competition, advertising, consumer protection or other regulatory complaint.
Companies, individuals or other types of organizations may want to file a complaint relating to a competitor, manufacturer or supplier, retailer or other market participant based on potentially anti-competitive or misleading/deceptive conduct in the marketplace.
A complaint may be based on direct harm in the marketplace (for example, competitor conduct that is causing damages) or simply from a concern that a company’s or individual’s activities are violating federal, provincial or local laws.
In this respect, there are, depending on the type of matter, a range of enforcement agencies where regulatory complaints may be filed. These include the Competition Bureau, provincial consumer protection agencies, fraud enforcers (for example, the RCMP, police or Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre), Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications, CRTC (for example, for telemarketing complaints) or the Spam Reporting Centre. See below for some relevant complaint-related links.
Depending on the type of matter, it may be appropriate to file a complaint with another federal or provincial regulatory agency, industry association or self-regulatory body.
Of course, filing a competition law or other regulatory agency complaint may only be one part of an overall legal strategy, which may include efforts to negotiate a resolution with adverse parties, complaints to non-legislative bodies (for example, industry bodies or self-regulating bodies), advocacy or litigation.
COMPETITION BUREAU COMPLAINTS
The agency I receive the most inquiries about is the Competition Bureau. Competition Bureau complaints may be filed by phone, online or by submitting a written brief to the Bureau setting out the complaint and details about the alleged anti-competitive conduct.
In general, many Competition Bureau complaints will be processed through an initial intake officer. The Bureau receives thousands (and in some years tens of thousands) of complaints a year so does not and cannot act on every complaint.
As such, it is generally important to carefully prepare a complaint before filing, including arguments as to why conduct allegedly violates the Competition Act (that is, substantive legal arguments) and the likely anti-competitive effects.
The Competition Bureau is also divided into several different criminal and civil related branches, which means that it can be important to evaluate which branch should receive the complaint. In some cases, it may also be important to either speak to the Bureau before filing the complaint or arrange a meeting with Bureau officers to discuss the complaint and provide additional industry, factual or other background.
Based on the volume of complaints the Bureau receives, as well as the importance of setting out substantive and market effects arguments, it can often be important to engage counsel to assist with the preparation and filing of a complaint to maximize the chances that the Bureau will commence enforcement steps.
Upon receiving a complaint, the Competition Bureau may decide not to act on the complaint, commence an informal investigation or initiate a formal inquiry. Commencing an inquiry (an internal Bureau administrative step) gives the Bureau access to certain investigative powers under the Competition Act.
In general, the Competition Bureau conducts inquiries in private, with complainants and targets of an investigation having limited rights to information during the investigative process.
Complainants can, however, provide significant industry information and background about competitive effects to the Competition Bureau. In this respect, complaints should be tailored to provide the maximum informational and market impact information to the Bureau.
Once the Bureau conducts an investigation it may discontinue the investigation, seek to negotiate a settlement with the target(s) of an investigation or commence formal legal proceedings (for example, refer the matter for prosecution or make an application to the federal Competition Tribunal for an order).
LINKS & RESOURCES
Competition Bureau (complaints), Consumer Protection Ontario (consumer protection complaints), RCMP (fraud), Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services, CRTC (telemarketing complaints) and Spam Reporting Centre.
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