Complaint against procurement process declared valid after Coast Guard approved a switch out of apparently more experienced ship masters, shortly after towing contract was awarded.

BELLA BELLA, BRITISH COLUMBIA (May 9, 2023) – Heiltsuk Horizon is welcoming a Federal Court of Appeal ruling that allows a judicial review of a complaint the company filed against the federal procurement process to acquire two emergency towing vessels meant to protect BC’s coast against marine oil spills and other maritime accidents, as part of Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan.

In their complaint before the Canadian International Trade Tribunal (CITT), Heiltsuk Horizon contended the Department of Public Works and Government Services, acting on behalf of the Canadian Coast Guard, improperly allowed the winning bidder to substitute all four of the ship masters originally proposed in its winning bid, with new, less experienced masters, contrary to the criteria of the Request for Proposals. The Tribunal’s decision that the complaint was not valid has now been set aside by the Federal Court of Appeal, and an application for judicial review allowed. The plaintiffs were also awarded costs.

A copy of the court’s ruling is available here:

On the heels of the Nathan E. Stewart oil spill in Heiltsuk territory, Heiltsuk leadership attended the 2016 announcement of the $1.5 billion Ocean’s Protections Plan (OPP), which included funding for two emergency towing vessels – one stationed on each of the north and south coasts to respond to marine incidents. The Heiltsuk had hoped for a successful bid for the towing contract to ensure the highest quality emergency response possible and to benefit their community. Ultimately, Canada failed to live up to its commitment to engage Indigenous participation in the OPP, as it was revealed that the RFP for the Emergency Towing Contract only factored Indigenous content into its scoring system at 1%.

“We welcome the court’s ruling that our complaint and concern about the substitution of less experienced ship masters operating emergency towing vessels on BC’s coast is valid,” said Marilyn Slett, elected Chief of the Heiltsuk First Nation, which is a majority owner of Heiltsuk Horizon. “As bidders in the procurement process, our primary concern has always been to ensure the highest quality emergency towing response in Heiltsuk territorial waters and along the entire West Coast, whether that be based on ship master experience, safety requirements, or the towing capacity of the vessels themselves.”

Heiltsuk Horizon had proposed unique vessels to meet the stringent towing power (bollard pull) requirement in the RFP. It was also previously determined by the CITT that two of the company’s other complaints were valid due to oversights by Public Works and Coast Guard in their evaluation of the RFP submissions. In their ruling on those complaints, the CITT stated that Heiltsuk Horizon may have in fact provided a bid with the only vessels capable of meeting the emergency towing power requirement.

“We are hopeful that the court’s ruling can help achieve a meaningful settlement in what has been an ongoing legal saga over a procurement process that failed to live up to the promise of Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan,” said, Steve Widmeyer, CEO of Horizon Maritime Services Limited. “Like all Canadians, we want to ensure that our country’s West Coast is properly resourced, so that we can quickly  prevent and respond to, marine incidents and emergencies.”

The Heiltsuk Nation, currently engaged in ongoing reconciliation work with Canada, teamed up with Horizon Maritime to form Heiltsuk Horizon, following the devastating Nathan E. Stewart oil spill in its territory in October 2016.

“The Heiltsuk are a seafaring community. We are the first responders when things happen on the coast, and we are the first to suffer the impacts,” said Heiltsuk Hereditary Chief Harvey Humchitt. “We have a vision for coastal protection in our territories and we want to see it done right. It is time for Haitcistut – time for Canada to turn things around and make things right on this critical issue.”

About Heiltsuk Horizon:

Heiltsuk Horizon Maritime Services Limited is a partnership that brings together the millennia-old stewardship and seafaring heritage of the Heiltsuk Nation with the offshore and marine industry expertise of Horizon Maritime. This partnership came together to supply government with two world-class emergency towing vessels and to build regional incident prevention and emergency response capacity through the Indigenous Marine Response Centre, (IMRC). Both partners are committed to pursuing additional opportunities to protect our coastal marine environment as we look to build a sustainable future together.

Watch our IMRC video:

Photos & B-roll:

Contact Information:

Marilyn Slett
Chief Councillor
Heiltsuk Nation

Andrew Frank
Heiltsuk Tribal Council Communications

Carly Pickett
Horizon Maritime Communications & Marketing
[email protected]

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