On January 11, 2012, Canada’s Competition Bureau published revised Merger Review Process Guidelines, updating the Bureau’s approach to the administration of the merger review process under the Competition Act in light of experience gained since the implementation of the two-stage U.S.-style notification process in 2009.
In particular, the Guidelines discuss: (i) the statutory waiting periods which apply to mergers that exceed certain thresholds set out in the Act; (ii) the two-stage notification process including the use of Supplementary Information Requests (SIRs), similar to the “second request” process in the United States; (iii) the use of timing agreements as an alternative means of obtaining information about a transaction and (iv) provide the Bureau’s view of how parties should conduct their searches for documents and information when responding to a SIR, in the form of sample search instructions.
All transactions involving an operating business in Canada which exceed certain thresholds are subject to mandatory pre-merger notification under the Act, and the parties are not permitted to close the transaction until the expiry or early termination of a 30-day waiting period following pre-notification. That waiting period can be extended, however, if the Commissioner of Competition requires additional information to complete her review of the likely competitive impact of the transaction and issues a SIR. Where a SIR is issued within the first 30 days following notification, the waiting period does not expire until 30 days following compliance with the SIR.
The most significant changes in the revised Guidelines include:
- Hostile Transactions: A new section of the Guidelines deals with the merger review process in the context of hostile transactions. This new section is largely repetitive of the Bureau’s second enforcement guideline regarding hostile transactions and notes that, in the context of a hostile transaction, a target is not able to affect (e.g., delay) the commencement of the relevant waiting periods by delaying its pre-notification filing or its response to a SIR. The section also notes that, to ensure that it receives SIR responses from targets on a timely basis, the Bureau will typically issue a SIR in combination with a timing agreement (to certify compliance on or before a specified date) and/or a court order obtained pursuant to section 11 of the Act, which compels the target to provide information to the Bureau.
- Pre- and Post- Issuance Dialogue: The revised Guidelines provide more detail about the dialogue between the Bureau and the parties before and after the issuance of a SIR. In particular, pre-issuance dialogue can serve to narrow the scope of a SIR and identify technological barriers to production, while post-issuance dialogue can help to prioritize information to be supplied and specify the custodians and search terms to be used in collecting data. The Bureau typically expects parties to use best efforts to respond to a SIR in a timely manner and on a rolling basis.
- Updated Search Periods: The revised Guidelines provide that, when a SIR is issued, the default search period for hard copy and electronic records will generally be the year-to-date period immediately preceding the date of issuance of the SIR and the previous two full calendar years. For data requests, the time period will generally be limited to the year-to-date immediately preceding the SIR issuance and the previous three full calendar years. However, these default search periods may vary depending on the facts of a particular case.
- Requirement to Refresh: The revised Guidelines note that the Bureau will require parties to produce “refreshed” information where the period between the date of issuance of a SIR and the date of certification of a complete response exceeds (typically) 90 days. In such cases, the Bureau will require responsive records to be current to within 30 days of the certification of a party’s response.
- Timing Agreements: A revised section on “timing agreements” provides more detail about the situations in which the Bureau will consider using a timing agreement as an alternative means of obtaining additional information about a proposed transaction, as opposed to issuing a SIR. The revised section also notes that, in the context of a hostile transaction, the Bureau may request that a bidder provide a timing commitment (not to certify compliance before a specified date) to ensure that the Bureau has sufficient time to obtain and analyze information from all parties.
- Sample SIR Instructions: The revised Guidelines contain sample SIR instructions, which set out the logistical procedures that parties must follow in complying with the SIR. The instructions include the relevant search periods, the means by which documents must be provided, and an acceptable manner in which to certify that a party has fully complied with a SIR.