Premier Doug Ford announced a new provincial task force that will oversee the trucking industry after numerous incidents of tow truck turf wars have been reported.
Ford said the new task force will work alongside local police departments, the industry and municipal partners to develop a regulatory, oversight model that will increase safety and enforcement, clarify protections for consumers, improve industry standards and consider tougher penalties for violators.
“There’s a small group of bad apples out there causing trouble, lighting trucks on fire, smashing windows and getting mixed up in organized crime. That ends now,” Ford said, referring to the recent criminal activity and violence reported within the towing industry.
“These turf wars are totally unacceptable. There’s no place for that kind of activity in our cities, in our province and along our highways.”
Ford made the announcement Monday afternoon alongside Health Minister Christine Elliott, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.
“We will hold them accountable. We will increase enforcement, strengthen consumer protection and improve industry standards,” Ford continued.
In May, York Regional Police revealed the results of Project Platinum, which saw police forces across the Greater Toronto Area and the Canada Revenue Agency identify several organized crime groups working within the towing industry who used violence and property damage to gain control and territory within the industry.
Police said insurance companies hired lawyers and pursued legal action against numerous towing companies. Investigators also allege that Carr Law firm in Vaughan, Ont., hired by the insurance companies, became the target of violence, threats and extortion.
In Project Platinum, officers charged 20 people and seized 11 tow trucks, dozens of guns, thousands of rounds of ammunition, drugs including fentanyl and cocaine among others, and more than $500,000.
Hundreds of charges were laid, including first-degree murder, attempted murder, participating in a criminal organization, fraud, extortion, robbery, arson, trafficking numerous drugs, and multiple firearm-related offences.
One investigation by the Toronto police resulted in charges against 11 people, including one of the force’s own officers.
“The party’s over for the bad actors who are engaged in violence and criminal activity in the towing industry. We’re going to keep working with our police partners to bring these criminals to justice,” Ford said. “Setting up this task force will help us bring together experts to develop ways to better protect drivers, operators and inspectors.”
“We know the system is in need of reform and we want to work together to find solutions,” Ford said.
Mulroney said the immediate focus of the task force will be making sure the “tow truck system is clear of criminality” and that the government will act based on their recommendations.
The task force includes representatives from the Ministry of Transportation, the Solicitor General, Government and Consumer Services, Municipal Affairs and Housing, Labour, Training and Skills Development, Finance, and the Ontario Provincial Police.
Mulroney said this task force has already met twice. She said the current timeline for providing recommendations is towards the end of July. Consultations with stakeholders, the towing industry, municipalities and law enforcement will take place sometime in August, Mulroney said, adding that changes in legislation or regulations, as required, will be made this Fall.
“When Ontarians are stranded on the side of the road, they need to know their calls will be answered by towing service providers who act safely, ethically and within the law,” Jones said.
“The task force will help us determine tougher standards for the industry as part of our government’s commitment to build safer communities,” she said.
The province said it is also reviewing ways to improve the system by clearing accidents more quickly to avoid congestion on highways and minimize lane reductions.
According to the government, there are about 1,600 tow truck companies registered in the Ministry of Transportation’s Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration (CVOR) program. The government said a valid CVOR certificate is required to operate a tow truck.
— With files from The Canadian Press.