Rogers-Shaw Trial vs Competition Bureau Lacks Transparency, Say Observers

Public Competition Tribunal hearings between Rogers-Shaw and the Competition Bureau over the former’s proposed $26 billion merger haven’t been very transparent so far, even though the Tribunal promised an “open court process” — reports The Globe and Mail.

According to observers and interested parties, the first week of hearings between the two sides was full of hours-long confidential sessions away from the public eye.

The Competition Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body that presides over matters of civil competition, usually conducts its trials “in camera,” meaning away from the public.

However, Rogers’s high-profile acquisition of Canada’s fourth largest telecom operator has garnered as much public interest as it has objections from the Competition Bureau. The deal and, by extension, the trial have a lot of eyes on them due to the potential impact on competition in Canada’s already-oligopolistic telecom industry and wireless prices.

Hearings on the Rogers-Shaw merger are being held virtually. When conducted in person in Ottawa, Tribunal proceedings are scarcely accessible to the general public.

The hearings kicked off on Monday as the Competition Bureau reiterated that the proposed sale of Shaw-owned Freedom Mobile to Quebecor’s Vidéotron is not enough to alleviate its antitrust concerns regarding the Rogers-Shaw merger.

On the second day of hearings, the Bureau said it received thousands of public comments opposing the union.

However, many observers have described the hearings thus far as opaque and are seeking more transparency. During the first week of hearings, lawyers from both sides requested confidential sessions with the Tribunal judge.

“For those of us who are following along – even those of us who are deep in the weeds – it’s been very hard to follow, and it’s been surprising to hear them referring to a number of public witness statements that hadn’t been posted on the tribunal’s webpage,” said Ben Klass, a telecom researcher and Ph.D. candidate at Carleton University.

What’s more, key evidence such as witness statements and the schedule of witnesses, which are typically supposed to be openly available information, are being withheld from the public.

When public observers watch a cross-examination but they “only know half the story” because witness statements were not posted online in advance, it “makes a mockery of having a public hearing,” said Jennifer Quaid, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law.