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Did a PowerPoint presentation spark the bread price-fixing scheme?

Newly-released court documents suggest slideshow laid out plans to increase prices industry wide

The Competition Bureau of Canada contends that the bread price-fixing conspiracy began with a former employee of Canada Bread and a PowerPoint presentation at an industry gathering.

The new allegations were revealed late last week in portions of court documents, which had previously been subject to a publication ban. The identity of the former Canada Bread employee is still being protected during the court proceedings, but Justice Lynn Ratushny of Ontario Superior Court, ruled that several paragraphs under the heading “Genesis of the Alleged Conspiracy, Agreement or Arrangement — Direct Communications,” could be made public.

The document is a sworn affidavit from the Competition Bureau related to a request for search warrants during its investigation.

According to the Financial Post, the affidavit by the Competition Bureau’s Simon Bessette laid out specific claims made by an unnamed source.

None of the claims or allegations has been proven in court.

That source told Bessette that Person X prepared the presentation on how “bread was undervalued” and discussed a plan to go to retailers “to get their buy-in for a price increase with the goal of orchestrating alignment through the retail community.”

According to CBC, Person X told the source “this industry is crazy," that other industries raise their prices every year, and “There's no reason the bakery business shouldn't do the same."

The source told Bessette that he thought Person X left the meeting with “a feeling and a sense that I was anxious and willing on behalf of Weston Bakeries to comply with an increase,” according to the Post story.

In December, Loblaw and George Weston admitted they sparked the bread price-fixing investigation when they approached the Competition Bureau after becoming aware of an allegedly industry-wide arrangement to co-ordinate some bread prices.

Loblaw declined to comment on the new details and Grupo Bimbo, parent company of Canada Bread directed Canadian Grocer to a January statement. That statement said the alleged conspiracy began before Grupo Bimbo bought Canada Bread from Maple Leaf Foods in 2014. “Specifically, informants at George Weston Ltd. and Loblaw Companies Ltd. have admitted to inappropriate conduct and have made allegations that certain former Canada Bread executives were also involved in the conduct. They claim that this conduct dates back to 2001 while Canada Bread was under previous ownership,” reads the Grupo Bimbo statement.

The lawyer for Person X, Scott Fenton, released a statement maintaining the innocence of his client. Fenton said the allegations were based on one person’s recollections of a single conversation more than a decade ago.

“There is no evidence whatsoever against our client. In fact, the testimony of the source who received immunity in return for implicating others, is highly suspect,” he said.

“At the highest, the source claims to have had a ‘feeling’ that Weston should raise prices—not that there was an offer or agreement to do anything, and certainly not to fix prices of bread,” he said. “This is a shoddy warrant built on false allegations, assumptions, inferences and innuendo that would rightly inadmissible in any court.”

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