Ontario announces overhaul for towing industry rocked by organized crime, violence and corruption

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,” Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney said in a press conference on Tuesday.“Ontario’s towing industry is a vital service on our roads and highways every day, and these actions will help to improve safety for all drivers,” Mulroney said.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 on 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 announcement was met with criticism by Ontario’s opposition. “It’s not a new problem,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, accusing the Tories of “dragging their feet” on this issue.“The government seemed reticent to take it seriously. They’ve been taking their sweet time,” told the Star.The moves announced on Tuesday flow from a provincial task force on towing that was established last year.Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique also announced on Tuesday that the OPP and municipal police services will form a joint forces policing team to probe criminal activity in the towing industry.Four different 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 provincial government 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 Vice President, 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 statementThe provincial towing task force was set up last June amidst reports of violence and corruption in the provincial towing industry. It included representatives from the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of the Solicitor General, the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, the Ministry of Finance, the Ontario Provincial Police and municipal police.Many of the police charges involve accusations of advancing bogus insurance claims for false or staged collisions.The OPP revamped its command structure in three GTA detachments last month in the wake of the ongoing tow truck scandal.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

Ontario announces overhaul for towing industry rocked by organized crime, violence and corruption

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,” Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney said in a press conference on Tuesday.

“Ontario’s towing industry is a vital service on our roads and highways every day, and these actions will help to improve safety for all drivers,” Mulroney said.

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 on 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 announcement was met with criticism by Ontario’s opposition. “It’s not a new problem,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, accusing the Tories of “dragging their feet” on this issue.

“The government seemed reticent to take it seriously. They’ve been taking their sweet time,” told the Star.

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

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique also announced on Tuesday that the OPP and municipal police services will form a joint forces policing team to probe criminal activity in the towing industry.

Four different 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 provincial government 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 Vice President, 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

The provincial towing task force was set up last June amidst reports of violence and corruption in the provincial towing industry. It included representatives from the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of the Solicitor General, the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, the Ministry of Finance, the Ontario Provincial Police and municipal police.

Many of the police charges involve accusations of advancing bogus insurance claims for false or staged collisions.

The OPP revamped its command structure in three GTA detachments last month in the wake of the ongoing tow truck scandal.

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.

With files from Robert Benzie

Peter Edwards is a Toronto-based reporter primarily covering crime for the Star. Reach him via email: pedwards@thestar.ca

Source : Toronto Star More