Competition Bureau Weighs In on US Pricing in Canadian Stores
By Hervé St-Louis February 19, 2009 - 21:38
The Competition Bureau of Canada spoke with
Book Bin about the issue of US pricing in Canadian comic book stores. They have
carefully studied the case before accepting to discuss with us, so they can
best inform Canadians.
To start with, subsections 74.01(2) and 74.01(3) of the
Competition Act of Canada are usually applicable to case of false price
advertising. For example, if a store claims that there is a 20% discount on an
item, it must be able to prove this. Thus, no false discounts or sales can
About American pricing, there are no particular
provisions under the Competition Act of Canada making the usage of US pricing
illegal, but at the same time, there are no provisions making it legal either.
This is a grey area that would have to be tested in court if the Competition
Bureau were to pursue such as case. The Competition Bureau will only pursue this
case, if Canadians complain about it and depending on the availability of
manpower. The query made by
The Comic Book Bin to the Competition Bureau was
not a complaint from a customer, but a media inquiry. Hence, it is recorded by
the Competition Bureau and they are now well aware of the issue of US pricing
in some Canadian comic book stores as of now, although they will adopt a wait
and see attitude based on the public’s response.
A comparison was made by
The Comic Book Bin about the
reaction of Canadians, if say, large retailers like Walmart Canada or Loblaws
were to put US prices on the goods within their stores. The representative from
the Competition Bureau agreed that this would certainly lead to countrywide
public outcry. I am of the opinion, that if a large Canadian retailer tried to
pull such a stunt, the Industry Minister of Canada would intervene directly and
swiftly to force the stores to change policy.
But in the comic book industry, a banana industry, it
seems, the public is apathetic and henceforth so are consumer protection
watchdogs and governments. The issue of US pricing is not something, as most
readers can guess, that has been an issue in Canada for goods purchased within
To be fair, not all Canadian comic book stores use US pricing.
Some visited recently take great care to announce the price in Canadian
dollars, even when using Diamond Comics’ POS system. However, some use practices
the nice folks from the Competition Bureau had no choice but to agree were
illegal. For example, some stores add the exchange rate difference on a bill as
a tax – an exchange rate tax. Now, there is no such tax in Canada, and of
course, the labelling of a charge as a tax is the exclusive privilege of
governments. However, in this case, it’s not up to the Competition Bureau to
take action, but Revenue Canada.
About the issue of US pricing, just because the
Competition Bureau has no direct statutes that deal with this issue, and
because no business has been tried under such accusation, thus creating
jurisprudence, it doesn’t mean that it is legal. For example, consumer
protection laws are a competency of Canadian provinces. It’s quite possible
that most provinces have specific rules against the use of US prices in their
jurisdictions or could interpret their existing laws as covering such consumer abuses.
In fact, all of this issue is a matter of
interpretation and the courts. As the media outlet that instigated this story,
the staff of
The Comic Book Bin is ill-placed to lodge complaints. I won’t
lodge any, as my job is to investigate stories, report to readers, not being
the principal instigator of news. I won’t lodge a complaint, but I will surely
continue to follow developments in this story.