Toronto Star

Ontario acts to overhaul tow truck industry

More stringent regulation­s a move to put lid on violence and corruption in industry

- PETER EDWARDS STAFF REPORTER

The Ontario government has announced widespread changes to the towing industry in an attempt to stamp out violence and corruption and improve safety for motorists.

“The ongoing violence in the towing industry is unacceptab­le, which is why our government is taking action to make the towing industry safer through strengthen­ed oversight and standards,” Transporta­tion Minister Caroline Mulroney said in a press conference on Tuesday.

The move aims to eliminate often violent battles for towing work by granting monopolies within four geographic zones in particular­ly busy areas of the GTA. That step was hailed by the CAA, which represents more than two million motorists in Ontario and another 1.3 million in Quebec.

A similar system to the Ontario government’s proposal was successful­ly implemente­d in Montreal in the early 2000s, Teresa Di Felice, assistant vicepresid­ent of government relations for the CAA said in an interview.

Di Felice said she doesn’t see a problem finding honest and efficient companies to handle the contracts.

“I think there’s a lot of good companies in Ontario,” Di Felice said.

“There’s obviously going to be a significan­t vetting process.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath accused the government of “dragging their feet” on the issue.

“It’s not a new problem,” Horwath said. “The government seemed reticent to take it seriously. They’ve been taking their sweet time.”

The announceme­nt comes less than a week after two veteran Ontario Provincial Police officers were charged criminally regarding corruption in the local tow truck industry.

That makes a half-dozen GTA police officers who have been criminally charged this year with corruption regarding the towing industry, including one charged with “obtaining sexual service for considerat­ion.”

There have also been at least four homicides, multiple shootings, scores of tow trucks set on fire and fire-bombings in the GTA towing industry over the past two years.

The changes announced Tuesday include a pilot that will establish four designated zones along provincial highways in the GTA where a single towing firm has a monopoly, and others cannot chase fares.

Moves are also underway for legislatio­n to set standards for licensing of tow truck drivers and introducti­on of equipment standards and storage facility standards for vehicles that have been towed.

The moves announced on Tuesday flow from a provincial task force on towing that was establishe­d last year.

Four organized groups have been found in the local tow truck industry, Supt. Mike Slack of York Regional Police said last spring after investigat­ors looking into the towing industry seized a machine-gun, 16 handguns, 13 shotguns, nine rifles, a sawed-off shotgun, thousands of rounds of ammunition, brass knuckles, stun guns and a silencer.

The proposed changes are aimed at cleaning up violence and corruption, Jones said.

“This operation will root out criminals and ensure that decisive actions can take place to address incidents of violence in the towing industry,” Jones said.

The moves are aimed at increasing motorist safety and convenienc­e and should allow crash and spill zones to be cleared more quickly than at present.

The province also announced a new technical advisory group made up of representa­tives from towing companies, consumer advisory groups, automobile insurance companies, municipali­ties, and police.

“We are thrilled to see the results of the provincial towing task force, including the introducti­on of a tow zone pilot that will provide faster and safer towing services to truck drivers travelling on some of Ontario’s busiest highways,” said Geoffrey Wood, Senior vicepresid­ent, Ontario Trucking Associatio­n, in a prepared statement.

“With the introducti­on of this tow zone pilot, truck drivers in the Greater Toronto Area will see benefits such as faster service and standard rates for towing services,” Wood said.

The announceme­nt was also praised by Mark Graves, president of the Provincial Towing Associatio­n of Ontario.

“Today’s announceme­nt is a positive step towards consistent oversight and improved safety for Ontario’s tow truck drivers who work hard every day to provide profession­al service to drivers on roads and highways across the province,” Graves said in a prepared statement

Last year, a Vaughan legal firm that worked for insurance companies in their legal battles against tow truck firms was forced to shut down after it was twice torched and a gunman shot through its windows in daytime.

Under the current system, a crooked driver can net $2,000 tax-free on a single day while police officers can make much more through illegal kickbacks from physiother­apy clinics, body shops, car rentals and storage facilities, industry insiders have told the Star.

Police continue to investigat­e the murder of Scarboroug­h tow-truck driver Lawrence Taylor Gannon, 28, who was shot in the driveway of his home on Ivy Green Crescent, near Brimorton Drive and Orton Park Road, at about 10:30 p.m. on Sunday April 29, 2019.

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