Canada Major announcement expected as police work to quell violence in towing industry

15:15  26 may  2020
15:15  26 may  2020 Source:   cbc.ca

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a man riding on the back of a truck: This North York tow truck was one of five that were burned in the GTA on Dec. 23, 2019. © Jeremy Cohn/CBC This North York tow truck was one of five that were burned in the GTA on Dec. 23, 2019.

Police are set to make a major announcement Tuesday morning concerning a months-long investigation aimed at curbing the violence that's been plaguing the towing industry.

CBC News has learned that several GTA municipal police services have been working hand-in-hand with Ontario Provincial Police to determine who is behind the ongoing turf war in the towing industry, and what is fuelling it.

Later this morning, police will reveal details of their most recent probe.

"It's a true wild west show out there," said John Henderson of the Provincial Towing Association of Ontario.

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"It's gotten to the point where there could be as much as 60 per cent of the towing industry in the GTA [that] is run by the criminal element."

For the past three years, rogue towing companies have been using intimidation and violence to carve out territory, police say.

Four drivers have been killed in connection with the turf war, police say.

Earlier this month, a 23-year-old man was found fatally shot in his tow truck. Two teens have been charged with first-degree murder in connection with that homicide, although police say they don't believe the killing was connected to the conflict.  

At least 30 tow trucks have been burned, and there have been dozens of cases of extortion and robbery.

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Two weeks ago, two more tow trucks were torched in Durham Region.

Henderson said unscrupulous towing companies even hire "blockers" — at hundreds of dollars a trip — to impede rival tow trucks from reaching accident scenes.

Supt. Steve Watts, head of the Toronto police organized crime enforcement unit, says the investigation into illegal activity by rogue towing companies is continuing. © Provided by cbc.ca Supt. Steve Watts, head of the Toronto police organized crime enforcement unit, says the investigation into illegal activity by rogue towing companies is continuing.

He said the violence has spread to the point that the office of a lawyer representing one towing company was set on fire recently. 

Part of the problem, Henderson said, is the lack of provincial oversight. At the moment, GTA towing companies are governed largely by a patchwork of municipal bylaws.

"I could actually pass you the keys to a small [tow truck] and say, 'Go pick up a vehicle on the 401,'" he said.

Henderson sits on a provincial task force — made up of government officials, police, the Canadian Automobile Association and towing companies — aimed at bringing province-wide standards, licensing and training to the industry.

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One of the solutions the task force has been looking into over the past year or so is an app that would automatically award a tow call to the closest provincially-licensed operator. If that driver doesn't respond within 30 seconds, the call is given to the next closest truck.

Henderson said the task force's findings will be used to help craft provincial legislation that would bring the industry into line.

"If we're able to get in proper licensing and regulation, you won't have six unlicensed tow trucks show up at the scene of an accident," he said.

Toronto police wouldn't agree to an interview. But in a statement to CBC Toronto, Supt. Steve Watts of the organized crime enforcement unit said investigations aimed at quelling the violence are bearing fruit.

He said seven drivers were charged and 23 firearms were seized in another probe last year dubbed Project Kraken.

"The Service is determined to disrupt these groups with a co-ordinated, intelligence-led and partnership response, covering everything from threatening behaviour to firearms, as well as insurance frauds," the statement reads.

"We have seen results and continue to."

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