International tugboat turf war brewing in Ontario

Tugboat companies are waging a turf war on the Canada-U.S. border in southwestern Ontario.

Canadian Coastal Services claims U.S. tugboats illegally doing business in Canadian water

Canadian tug boat operator Glenn Swinton claims U.S. tug boats are illegally working in Canadian waters. 1:26

Tugboat companies are waging a turf war on the Canada-U.S. border in southwestern Ontario.

Canadian Coastal Services is a Canadian tugboat company in Amherstburg, Ont., south of Windsor. It tows boats stranded or disabled on the Canadian sides of the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie to safety in Canada.

Company owner Glenn Swinton claims U.S. competitors are breaking the law when they do the same by entering Canadian waters and towing boats to Canadian ports.

Swinton says Canadian legislation is clear: it's illegal for a foreign company to tow a boat found in Canadian waters to a Canadian port.

Swinton says U.S. companies working in Canadian waters are costing him upwards of $80,000 each year.

Swinton has raised the issue with Transport Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency. He alleges neither agency is doing anything to resolve the issue.

Both government agencies referred CBC News to the Coasting Trade Act and the United States Wreckers Act.

I expect that Canadian laws work for me, not the U.S. side.- Glenn Swinton, tugboat operator

The Coasting Trade Act states: "Any Canadian vessel is entitled to transport goods and passengers between points within Canada. That includes any commercial activity across our waters."

According to the United States Wreckers Act: "U.S. boats can enter Canada if they're salvaging a wreckage or bringing a vessel in distress back into the U.S."

"It's a Canadian law. It's an international border. I think there's a lot more to protecting that border than collecting HST and duty," Swinton said. "It's time that somebody looks at it and says, 'it's a violation.'

"I'm a Canadian. I expect that Canadian laws work for me, not the U.S. side."

Friendly competition

Some U.S. operators told CBC News they have entered Canadian waters and towed boats to Canadian marinas. They also said they have done nothing wrong, calling it friendly competition. None would agree to an interview.

CBSA told CBC News it was "unable to accommodate an interview," but emailed a statement.

"The CBSA can confirm it has received a complaint and is working to address it. For questions about the coasting trade act, please contact Transport Canada," the statement read.

Transport Canada also emailed CBC News a statement.

"Without details specific to events alluded to, it would not be appropriate for the department to comment any further," the agency said.

Swinton also contacted NDP Windsor West NDP Brian Masse, the party's border critic. He's written to Transport Minister Lisa Raitt for clarification of the two acts.

"We did a little bit of work on it too because it's an unusual situation. We did some of our own research," Masse said.

Masse said Ottawa should dedicate resources to the issue if U.S. boats are conducting business illegally in Canadian water.


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