Lawyers fret on Canada Competition Bureau register

Wed Feb 8, 2012 3:22pm EST
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By Pav Jordan and Jennifer Kwan

TORONTO (Reuters) - Plans by Canada's competition authorities to publish a monthly report on mergers violate basic confidentiality rules and will do little to make the review process more transparent, senior Canadian lawyers say.

The Competition Bureau said this week it would start publishing a register of concluded reviews in March, listing the parties and industries involved in each transaction, as well as the outcome of its reviews.

The register is the brainchild of Competition Bureau Commissioner Melanie Aitken, a tenacious former litigator who has set up an internal working group to make the bureau more transparent.

The Ottawa-based Competition Bureau reviews all mergers and acquisitions valued at more than $77 million and has reviewed more than 400 deals since April 2009.

Right now it's in the spotlight for a review of the $3.8 billion proposal by Canada's leading banks and pension funds to acquire the country's top exchange operator, TMX Group Inc, a deal that critics say will give the new entity a near-monopoly position.

But the competition section of the Canadian Bar Association (CBA), which represents some 37,000 members of the legal profession, says the register violates the spirit of Canada's competition law.

"We have a Competition Act that has confidentiality provisions that obliges inquiries to be conducted in private and we think those provisions should be respected," Donald Houston, chair of the national competition section of the CBA, told Reuters. Houston aired confidentiality concerns in a letter to the bureau last fall.

Houston and other lawyers say the register will do little to make the review process more transparent. But it will reveal details about deals, often involving private companies, that might otherwise remain non-public.   Continued...