Mayor John Tory headed off a push by pro-taxi councillors for an injunction against Uber after raucous debate that saw expletive-shouting protesters ejected from the chamber at City Hall.
The simmering issue of how best to regulate cars for hire in Toronto flared up again Wednesday, with some councillors arguing that Uber needs to be shut down as soon as possible and others saying it would be irresponsible to go to court without a strong sense that an injunction would be granted.
Dozens of people connected to the taxi industry were in the audience and some erupted with rage when they perceived one councillor saying they were failing to match Uber's customer service. Obscenities flew, including personal crudities directed at specific politicians. Council went into a short recess as at least six police officers helped City Hall security escort the protesters from the chamber.
Toronto Taxi Alliance spokesman Sam Moini said later he couldn't speak to specific comments made by protesters, but he argued that people have to understand the pressures cabbies are facing.
"When you're in the fight of your life, when you're in the fight of your family's life, you're heated, you're upset, things are going to come out," he said.
"You can't blame the gentlemen here that are emotional, because nobody – with all due respect to everybody – you don't know what they're going through. You're not at their kitchen table at home; you don't know what's happening in their home."
The appearance of Uber and UberX has roiled the city's taxi industry. Uber, in which licensed cabbies use the company's app to connect with customers, recently secured a taxi brokerage licence. UberX, in which members of the public use their private vehicles to transport passengers, remains outside the city's regulations.
The city is working to craft new regulations that would encompass both traditional taxis and Uber's business model, but these will not be ready until April at the earliest. In the meantime, cabbies say their livelihood has been slashed.
Wednesday's debate concerned a motion that called for staff "to seek an injunction against Uber," based on new regulations passed since a previous injunction attempt.
The debate took much of the day and included a lengthy closed-door session at which the city's legal team gave advice to council. The legal analysis appeared to leave many councillors concerned about the prospect of a second failure in court, should another injunction be pursued.
Council eventually agreed to direct staff to pursue an injunction "under the appropriate circumstances," a power that staff already had. This watering down of the motion came through an amendment, introduced by Mr. Tory and passed by council, that left room for those on various sides of the issue to find solace.
"We are sending a clear message to Uber: We're quite prepared and we are directing our staff to launch an injunction at the right time," Councillor Janet Davis said. "We're saying, collectively, we want our staff to undertake an injunction when the prospects of success are good."
Sajid Mughal, president of the iTaxiworkers Association, said he doesn't trust the mayor and believes he is delaying. But he was "relieved" by council's action nonetheless.
"This motion gives more tooth, more authority to the council, and to the staff as well, to do their due diligent work and go after Uber," he said. "We are proud of this council. Each and every councillor spoke for hard-working cab drivers."
The mayor made it clear to reporters, though, that he would back any eventual injunction only if a number of circumstances come to pass.
"If we pass regulations … and Uber chooses to thumb their nose at those regulations, I can assure you I will be among those – again subject to the advice of advisers, our solicitors and others on our success – of saying that I think we should be, you know, going forward to try and seek an injunction very quickly at that time," Mr. Tory said.