An Ontario-based telecom company is continuing efforts to expose what it calls "bias" at the federal body that regulates cellphone rates.
Today (March 2), TekSavvy filed a statement to the federal public sector integrity commissioner, Joe Friday.
It concerned the conduct of Ian Scott, chair of the Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
"Ian Scott held ex parte meetings with litigants with open CRTC files, apparently unaccompanied, according to lobbying records," TekSavvy declared in an appendix to its request for an investigation.
"For example, Mr. Scott held at least 11 reported solo meetings with Bell, Rogers or Shaw during the course of the CRTC's open and active file concerning wholesale internet rates, a material regulatory proceeding affecting wholesale competition and, by consequence, retail Internet prices," TekSavvy noted.
Last year, the CRTC reversed an earlier 2019 decision that lowered wholesale rates charged by Canada's largest telecommunications companies to smaller firms.
That prompted TekSavvy to ask the cabinet to overturn the 2021 decision. In its request to cabinet, TekSavvy alleged that Scott "expressed a clear bias for one type of competition and market structure".
Canada has some of the highest mobile-data charges in the world.
In the more recent filing to the integrity commissioner, TekSavvy alleged that Scott "also apparently held various other ex parte solo meetings with Bell, Rogers, TELUS and Shaw while other important files relating to wholesale competition were open before the Commission".
In particular, TekSavvy cited a Toronto Star report in which the CEO of BCE Inc. (Bell Canada), Mirko Bibic, was photographed in a bar with Scott.
"Two beers and a file folder are visible on the table in front of Mr. Scott and Mr. Bibic," TekSavvy stated. "This private meeting took place approximately one week after Bell filed an application to the CRTC asking it to review and vary its decision regarding wholesale rates, which the CRTC later approved."
The time stamp on the photograph, which TekSavvy obtained, was 5:25 p.m. on December 19, 2019.
"The December Meeting was reported as a lobbying communication in a BCE Inc. communication report filed on December 20, 2019 (i.e., the day immediately following the meeting)," TekSavvy noted in its appendix. "The subject matter was reported by BCE Inc. as 'broadcasting'."
Scott later stated that no rule was broken and that he was simply having a beer with a friend, according to an affidavit filed by Peter Nowak.
According to TekSavvy, Scott "stated that the meeting initially had nothing to do with business but that he 'went for a beer with someone [he] [has] known for many years' ".
"The meeting was only acknowledged through usual official channels (via the 5:57pm email) once it was already underway," TekSavvy stated. "In the photograph of the December Meeting, Mr. Bibic appears to notice that he is being photographed; this appears to have prompted Mr. Scott to ask a member of his office staff to send an email confirming the meeting (notably without confirming its start time), containing the usual language advising the other party not to discuss any matter that is currently or imminently before the Commission.
"This after-hours email, sent only after the meeting had already begun and not by the usual staff member who sends emails of this type, appears to be a retroactive attempt at ensuring the meeting followed proper protocol."
TekSavvy alleged that Scott's decision to meet the Bell Canada CEO in the bar fell short of the CRTC's Code of Conduct and constitutes "wrongdoing" under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.
None of TekSavvy's allegations have been upheld by a tribunal or court.