The Ontario government has vowed to crack down on violence within the province’s towing industry, as a turf war between Toronto-area tow truck drivers shows no sign of abating.
“We’re coming for you, and we’re going to catch you. The party’s over,” Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference in Scarborough Tuesday morning, where he was asked about his government’s plans to address the escalating feuding, which in the last year has left more than 30 trucks burned and at least two men with ties to the industry dead.
Though he said he has had discussions with the Minister of Transportation as well as the Solicitor-General, the Premier declined to offer any details about his government’s plans or whether they will include provincial licensing or management of the towing business, as has long been called for by industry stakeholders.
“My main goal right now is to stop the violence,” Mr. Ford said.
Last week alone, two drivers were shot at in their trucks: one on March 2 in a Richmond Hill grocery store parking lot, and one on March 4 near Hwy 401 and Leslie Street in Toronto.
Also on March 4, both of Toronto’s collision reporting centres – which are owned privately but staffed in part by police – were set on fire. Two days later, four tow trucks were torched across York Region in the span of an hour, one of them outside the same home where two separate trucks had been similarly set on fire a year earlier.
The turf war is believed to be tied to a lucrative segment of the industry known as collision towing or “accident chasing," where kickbacks to drivers from businesses such as body shops and rehab clinics are an open secret.
Industry stakeholders argue that it is impossible to address the violence without looking at the lack of regulations that have allowed this criminal element to penetrate the towing business in the first place.
“Any industry that has no barrier to entry and no regulations opens the door to the possibility of crime and corruption,” Mark Graves, president of the Provincial Towing Association of Ontario, said Tuesday.
Currently, towing is regulated in Ontario at a municipal level, though just 17 of Ontario’s 444 municipalities have any such system, according to CAA – leaving a patchwork of contradictory rules, and no standardized requirements for training, certification or equipment.
Mr. Graves has been in talks with the province and said he is confident that the government will take action as early as this month, though his question is which ministry will lead that project.
Joey Gagne, president of Abrams Towing, a 200-truck operation based in Southern Ontario, stresses that any successful reform must include changes to the “chasing” segment of the industry, and the first-on-scene policies that reward trucks for racing each other to jobs.
“If you come up with a better system, you are more likely to resolve some of the issues that have allowed or encouraged this behaviour. If [a tow-truck driver] could not go to an accident scene unless they are called...then these guys would have to find something else to do," Mr. Gagne, who is also president of the Canadian Towing Association, said.
Mr. Gagne expressed frustration at the blight that this violence has been for the broader industry – a sentiment the Premier echoed Tuesday.
“You know, I love these guys,” Mr. Ford said. “They’re really hard-working people. [But] there’s a small group that’s causing trouble out there, lighting tow trucks on fire, smashing facilities’ windows. It’s unacceptable," he said.
"If you continue doing it, we’re coming for you. We’re going to catch you and you’re going to jail. Simple as that.”
The Solicitor-General’s office and the Minister of Transportation’s office both declined to comment Tuesday, referring all questions to the Premier’s office. In a follow-up e-mail Tuesday afternoon, a spokesperson for Mr. Ford said only that they “are looking at all possible options to address the ongoing violence in the towing industry and will have more to say on this in the near future.”
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