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Toronto police ‘laser-focused’ on tow truck industry violence, chief says | CBC News



Toronto police ‘laser-focused’ on tow truck industry violence, chief says | CBC News

Toronto’s police chief is pledging to address tow truck-related gun violence following more than half-a-dozen gunfire incidents which took place within a 48-hour period over the weekend in the city’s east end that investigators believe are related to conflicts within that industry.

“We’re very laser-focused on those particular conflicts while we police our city,” Chief Myron Demkiw said at an unrelated event Tuesday.

“It’s something we are looking at as a whole of service priority for us — to do everything we can to not only stem the gun violence that’s going on as a result of challenges in that industry, but also to bring those responsible to justice,” he said.

Officers responded to eight weapon-discharge incidents between Saturday at 2 a.m. and Sunday at 7:45 p.m. in 41 Division and 42 Division in Scarborough.

Police say the same suspect vehicle, a stolen dark-coloured Honda CRV, drove to eight separate locations where a suspect fired gunshots out the rear passenger window at businesses, homes and vehicles. No injuries were reported.

Toronto police launches task force

Last week, the Toronto Police Service launched a task force specifically tasked with addressing a rise in gun violence related to the tow truck industry. Officers said the force has seen seen a recent increase in criminal activity linked to a small segment of the industry.

“We’ve had a number of shootings that are of concern. We’ve had a number of arsons as well,” Demkiw said. 

“So we’re looking at every available opportunity … to disrupt those activities and bring those responsible to into custody and and held accountable justice.”

Police say there have been 24 tow truck-related shootings in Toronto since the start of the year, noting most conflicts have historically been over turf wars and rivalries.

Toronto police are appealing to the public for help finding suspects after responding to eight weapon-discharge incidents that are tow-truck related on Saturday and Sunday. Investigators say the suspects fled the scene in a stolen dark, newer model, four-door Honda CRV. (Toronto Police Service handout)

The Ontario government passed legislation in 2021 to assume responsibility for overseeing the towing industry from municipalities, after groups raised concerns about weak patchwork regulation, and police investigations alleged organized crime had infiltrated parts of the industry.

New regulations came into force Monday requiring tow truck drivers and vehicle storage operators to get a provincial certificate to operate.

Tow truck company operators have needed to be certified with the province since January, when the 2021 law came into force.

The province says among the new protections, tow truck drivers are required to provide customers with information about their maximum fees and take a customer’s vehicle to their desired location using the most direct route.

Expert says province should regulate billing

The former head of a task force that advised the province on how it should oversee the industry argues the root cause of violence in the towing industry is the ability of criminals to make “exorbitant” amounts of money by overcharging customers.

John Henderson, the former co-ordinator of the Fair Towing Task Force of Ontario, said while recently-passed provincial regulations do things like prevent people with criminal backgrounds from owning a towing company, they don’t control billing.

“We have not eliminated the ability for criminals to make money in the towing business despite all the regulations that have been applied,” Henderson said.

“If there’s money there, criminal elements are going to be involved.”

WATCH | Demkiw speaks about gun violence in the tow truck industry: 

Toronto police chief ‘laser focused’ on addressing violence in tow truck industry

Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw told CBC’s Ali Chiasson Tuesday tow-truck-related gun violence is a priority for the service. Investigators responded to eight gunfire incidents in the city’s east end within a 48-hour period over the weekend.

The solution, Henderson argued, is to implement a way to track interactions between tow truck companies and customers, including when a tow request came in, when the driver arrived, and what equipment was used. 

“It makes it much easier for the insurance companies to pay a fair bill than … if they don’t have this information or they get false information from the criminal element,” Henderson said.

“You can’t over bill if everything’s documented.”

A spokesperson for Transportation Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria said the increase in violence and criminal activity in Ontario’s tow truck industry over the last few years is “unacceptable.”

“Minister Sarkaria recently announced that our government is increasing safety, supporting customers and improving standards across the towing industry,” Dakota Brasier wrote in an email statement.

“Our government has taken decisive action to protect drivers,” Brasier said, adding Ontario is now the first province in Canada to require tow truck drivers and vehicle storage operators to have a certificate to operate.

The statement said the transportation ministry will continue to work with leaders across the industry to help protect drivers against fraudulent towing companies.

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