Pilot project aims to regulate Ontario's tow truck industry that's rocked by violence

·3 min read

TORONTO — Restricting towing zones on some highways and licensing tow truck drivers are some of the measures Ontario will be introducing later this year in its efforts to crack down on an industry rocked by allegations of violent turf wars.

Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney announced a pilot project on Tuesday that she said would cut down on dangerous practices like so-called "accident chasing," where multiple tow trucks race to be the first to a crash site to get business.

Under the new rules, some of the 400 series highways will have restricted towing zones, which means only a single company can operate within that zone.

Mulroney said the "tow zones" are the first step towards introducing broader regulation in the sector, which could later include licensing tow truck drivers.

"Ending the accident-chasing regime means people can take comfort in knowing that a reputable tow operator will get there to help them get to a safe place," she said.

"It will ensure that tow operators who arrive on the scene in the tow zones will be equipped to handle any situation and get the scene cleared quickly and safely."

Mulroney said the two-year project will also establish standard prices for customers and target times for response and to clear a crash site.

The towing industry has been rocked by allegations of violent turf wars between organized criminal groups within the sector.

Last summer, Premier Doug Ford announced Ontario was forming a task force to examine both enforcement and safety in response to an increase in violence and crime associated with the towing sector.

Solicitor Genera Sylvia Jones said the zones will be accompanied by the establishment of a new joint task force to investigate criminal activity within the tow businesses involving the Ontario Provincial Police and municipal police services.

"Tow truck drivers are a vital part of keeping Ontario moving," she said. "But they are operating in an industry that lacks oversight structure, and where too many criminals are making their own rules."

Police in the Greater Toronto Area have alleged that competition for control of the towing market has led to murders, attempted murders, assaults, arsons and property damage.

In recent months, four OPP officers have been charged after a two-year long probe into alleged crimes in the tow truck industry.

OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique said Tuesday that the force has conducted three "complex, major" investigations into the sector over the last year alone, and more resources would be dedicated to those probes.

"You have a commitment from the police leaders that are part of this joint force operation that any indications of corruption will be dealt with with the same level of seriousness that you have seen over the last 12 months," he said. "We are committed to rooting it out, and we'll accept nothing less."

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath accused the government of dragging its feet when it comes to responding to the escalating violence in the towing industry.

"People's livelihoods, and their lives, have been lost," she said. "They've been taking their sweet time. ... when it's about saving people's lives and cleaning up an industry."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021.

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press