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Protests during NBA all-star weekend won’t help taxi drivers’ cause: Tory

Taxi drivers protest against Uber during a demonstration at Bay and Queen Streets in Toronto on Dec. 9.

Mark Blinch/The Globe and Mail

As taxi drivers raise the threat of protests disrupting the NBA All-Star Game, Toronto Mayor John Tory warned that they would only be hurting their own cause.

With the showcase basketball game slated for Sunday, one in a series of related events, the city is hoping for a tourism and economic boost.

But a taxi drivers' protest over the operation of ride-sharing service UberX would cast a pall while the eyes of the international media are here.

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Paul Sekhon, head of the United Taxi Workers Association of the GTA, said that the protest would be similar to the blockade that closed Queen Street in December, only bigger and in multiple locations around the core.

And there's only two ways to stop it happening, he added. "Shut down UberX, ASAP," the driver, plate-owner and manager at City Taxi said on Monday.

"Or Mayor Tory can step down."

Many in the industry are furious at the way UberX is undermining their livelihood. The relatively new transportation offering matches passengers with regular citizens driving their own vehicles. UberX is not currently covered under the city's bylaws, which are being updated to take in both this sort of company and the traditional taxi industry.

Another industry representative said a final decision on whether to protest would not be made until later this week.

Sajid Mughal, president of the iTaxiWorkers Association, said that the choice would be made at least in part based on how seriously the city is seen to be tackling their concerns about Uber.

"We, as a cab industry, have been alienated by everyone, mostly [the] mayor," Mr. Mughal said.

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"Obviously, we do care about our public. They are our bread and butter, and this will be the last thing we want to do, and if we do that, that means that we are up to a level where we cannot afford" not to.

At a media event on Monday promoting the NBA All-Star Game, Mr. Tory shrugged off the way some in the taxi industry have focused their ire on him directly.

And he said the planned protest would not bring a positive outcome for the taxi industry.

"While I recognize the fact that the taxi drivers want to send a message, and I am sympathetic to the plight that they face, first of all, it won't speed up the process of changing the law by one minute," he said. "But secondly, we can't have the city kind of closed down in that kind of a manner, and the law-enforcement officials will have to take whatever steps they deem to be appropriate, if that sort of thing is engaged in again."

Toronto Police are working this week to fine-tune their possible responses, confirmed spokesman Mark Pugash, who said he could not speak to the specific actions that they might take.

"No two situations are the same," he said. "Our primary responsibility is protecting public safety."

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In a statement, Beck operations manager Kristine Hubbard said the company "does not believe inconveniencing Torontonians or visitors to our city is the appropriate course of action … especially during an important weekend like this one."

Uber spokeswoman Susie Heath said the company would advise their drivers that "there will likely be an increase in demand over the All-Star Weekend."

Her statement went on to say that "we believe that Torontonians deserve choice and that there is room for all of us to serve our city. We are focused on keeping Toronto moving."

Events related to the NBA All-Star Game are scheduled through the week. The benefit to the city's economy is expected to be in the range of $100-million. Tourism Toronto declined to comment on the effect a possible taxi protest could have.

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