Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut February 18, 2013 - 11:55 am

Nunavut admits Kitikmeot medevac contract bidders not required to have aircraft, staff

Losing bidder alleges “delays in medical treatment and the death of patients”

René Laserich, operations manager at Adlair Aviation Ltd., the Cambridge Bay airline his bush pilot father started, stands in October, 2012 in front of one of the company's two hangars at the Cambridge Bay airport. (FILE PHOTO)
René Laserich, operations manager at Adlair Aviation Ltd., the Cambridge Bay airline his bush pilot father started, stands in October, 2012 in front of one of the company's two hangars at the Cambridge Bay airport. (FILE PHOTO)

Firms bidding on a $30-million medevac contract for the Kitikmeot region in 2011 were not required to have an office, hangar, staff, equipment or Transport Canada aviation licences at the time when bids closed, the Government of Nunavut admitted in a court document this past Feb. 7.

That, and other information, is contained in a statement of defence the GN filed in response to a lawsuit Adlair Aviation Ltd. of Cambridge Bay, a losing bidder, launched this past December.

In its lawsuit, Adlair alleges that by awarding the work to the winning bidder, Aqsaqniq Airways Ltd., the GN caused “critical delays in their air ambulance service leading to delays in medical treatment and the death of patients.”

In February of 2012, Nunatsiaq News reported that Betty Atighioyak, 32, of Cambridge Bay, died in Edmonton on Dec. 8, 2011 following a medevac flight from Cambridge Bay.

Her husband, Leonard Epilon, alleged at the time that she suffered from a lengthy delay in the arrangement of her medevac flight, and that Aqsaqniq did not have a Learjet positioned in Cambridge Bay at the time, as required by their contract.

The GN denied that allegation in a letter to Epilon, saying the flight only took four hours and 33 minutes to reach Edmonton after departing Cambridge Bay.

But in the legislative assembly, Health Minister Keith Peterson said in February 2012 that the Learjet is required by the medevac contract “and at some point will be repositioned in Cambridge Bay.”

And, in its statement of defence, the GN denies their handling of the contract award has endangered the lives of Nunavut residents.

Adlair, which has done air ambulance emergency medevac work since the 1970s, in late 2011 lost a contract it had held since 2002, giving rise to a long, loud controversy over GN procurement policies.

The winning bidder, a firm called Aqsaqniq Airways Ltd., won the work after responding to a request for proposals the GN issued in February of 2011.

Aqsaqniq, with an address in Taloyoak, describes itself as a “majority Inuit-owned partnership” that involves a Yellowknife firm called Air Tindi, a subsidiary of a big aviation company based in London, Ont. called Discovery Air.

Aqsaqniq is listed on Nunavut Tunngavik’s Inuit firm registry, with Naomi Eetoolook of Taloyoak named as its contact. The GN’s Nunavummi Nangminiqaqtunik Ikajuuti list of Nunavut companies lists Dennis Lyall of Taloyoak as Aqsaqniq’s contact.

Another firm called “Medic North Nunavut,” owned by Kitikmeot Corp. and a southern firm called Medic North Emergency Services,” was a “co-contractor” in the winning bid.

But in its statement of claim, Adlair alleged Aqsaqniq is a Inuit-owned joint-venture “only on paper.”

“The Inuit content claimed by Aqsaqniq Aviation (2004) Inc. had no office, hangar, staff, equipment, aircraft or infrastructure in place at Cambridge Bay when the contract was awarded, nor did Aqsaqniq Aviation (2004) Inc. own any aircraft, supplies, equipment, nor employ any mechanics, medics, nurses or other related staff,” Adlair’s lawsuit states.

Adlair also alleges that Aqsaqniq’s individual shareholders and directors have no aviation experience and that none of them are pilots or aircraft engineers.

The GN admits those allegations, but they deny an allegation that they granted a $5 million bid adjustment to Aqsaqniq under its NNI policy.

The NNI, short for the “Nunavummi Nangminiqaqtunik Ikajuuti,” allows the government, under a arithmetical formula, to overpay successful contractors if they follow certain Inuit or Nunavut ownership and employment rules.

But although Aqsaqniq successfully met the NNI’s criteria, Adlair still alleges they won the contract improperly.

That’s because Aqsaqniq still appears unable to get the aircraft and infrastructure that was required by the GN’s request for proposals, Adlair said.

“As of December 2012, Aqsaqniq Aviation (2004) Inc. has not installed the base, facilities, staff, aircraft and equipment at Cambridge Bay that were required to meet the terms of the Request for Proposals RFP 2011-21,” Adlair alleged.

And they allege that Aqsaqniq serves merely as a “broker” for sub-contractors who are “based in southern Ontario with all operations directed outside Nunavut.”

In its lawsuit, Adlair seeks more than $20 million in general and punitive damages and asks the Nunavut court to order that GN terminate its contract with Aqsaqniq and reassess the 2011 contract proposals.

In its defence, the GN said that Adlair did not complete the NNI form that was attached to its request for proposals.

For that reason, the GN could not legally grant Adlair any bid adjustment on the basis of the NNI.

“As explicitly stated, if the NNI Form was not completed, no NNI bid adjustments would be granted,” the GN said in its statement of defence.

The GN also pointed out that the RFP stated that the GN “was not required to accept the proposal that provided the lowest cost or price, or any proposal at all.”

And the GN also said it’s not legally responsible for a decision made by the NNI Contracting Appeals Board to deny an appeal of the award that Adlair made in the fall of 2011.

Adlair’s contract was extended until Nov. 30, 2011. After that, Aqsaqniq’s contract took effect.

Only 11 days before the expiry of the contract, Adlair’s general manager, Paul Laserich, died in Yellowknife of natural causes.

None of the allegations contained in either the statement of claim or the statement of defence have been proven in court.

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