Canada's competition bureau cracks down on false advertising, price fixing amid pandemic
TORONTO -- The commissioner of Canada’s Competition Bureau says the agency will be cracking down on anyone who tries to take advantage of consumers and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday, Commissioner of Competition Matthew Boswell announced the bureau will scrutinize any evidence that individuals or companies have violated Canada’s competition laws by deceptive marketing practices or colluding with competing businesses.
“As Canada responds to the COVID-19 coronavirus situation, I would like to assure Canadians that the Competition Bureau remains vigilant against potentially harmful anti-competitive conduct by those who may seek to take advantage of consumers and businesses during these extraordinary circumstances,” Boswell said in a press release.
According to the bureau, an example of deceptive marketing practices could be an individual or company making false or misleading claims about a product’s ability to prevent, treat, or cure the virus.
The government agency’s website states that under the criminal regime, these types of offences can result in fines of up to $200,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 14 years.
Under the civil regime, the bureau said these offences could lead to a court order for a person to cease the activity, publish a notice and/or pay an administrative monetary penalty.
For individuals, the monetary penalty may be up to $750,000 for a first occurrence. For a corporation, that penalty can be up to $10,000,000.
As for collusion by competing businesses, the law enforcement agency said this could include illegal agreements about what price to charge for products or services.
The penalties for collusion with competing businesses can include fines of up to $25 million and/or up to 14 years of imprisonment.
“We encourage anyone with information about potential collusion, false or misleading advertising or other forms of deceptive marketing to contact the Bureau,” Boswell said. “We will do everything in our power to crack down on these and any other anti-competitive activities in order to protect Canadians.
Last week, an Ontario-based holistic clinic was among seven North American companies warned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Federal Trade Commission about false claims they can treat COVID-19.
The FDA accused Vivify Holistic Clinic, which is based in Sarnia, Ont., of offering products on its website “intended to mitigate, prevent, treat, cure or diagnose COVID-19 in people.”
David Raes, the owner of Vivify, told The Canadian Press that his company “simply sells herbs with no claims on them.”
Globally, Interpol recently announced there have been 121 arrests related to seizures of counterfeit medical supplies and medication during the pandemic.
The international police organization said they discovered 2,000 online advertisements selling illicit medical devices, substandard hand sanitizers, unauthorized antiviral medication, and counterfeit face masks. The organization’s officers also seized 34,000 unlicensed and fake products worth an estimated total of US$14 million.
With files from The Canadian Press