Amid threats that Toronto taxi drivers will cause disruptions during this weekend's NBA All-Star Game, Toronto Mayor John Tory said Monday that police will have to take "whatever steps they deem appropriate" in response.
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The mayor made the comments one day after the formation of United Taxi Workers Association. The new umbrella group of Ontario-wide taxi industry organizations was formed in response to the presence of the ride-hailing service UberX, which traditional cabbies say is hurting their business while operating illegally.
"We're all struggling and dying out there because illegals are killing us," United Taxi representative Paul Sekhon told CBC News.
Sekhon said traditional cabbies plan to cause disruptions downtown with the spotlight on the city and international media here to cover the All-Star Game.
"There's going to a be big protest outside and everybody is going to see why we're protesting because we're hurt," said Sekhon. "We have no choice because we have nothing else to lose."
Traditional Toronto taxis are heavily regulated but Uber — and in particular its ride-hailing app UberX — connects paying passengers with private cars that provide a taxi-like service for a fee. Cabbies have complained they can't compete with Uber, which they say is operating illegally while they're forced to play by the rules.
The city's licensing and standards department is working to re-write rules that will encompass Uber and create a level playing field for all cab operators.
Tory said he has sympathy for the plight of traditional cabbies but said taxis can't be allowed to block streets as they did during a protest in December.
"We can't have the city closed down in that manner and the law enforcement officials will have to take whatever steps they deem appropriate if that sort of thing is engaged in again," said Tory.
He said protest actions won't speed up "by one minute" the process of rewriting the existing bylaws.
Sekhon wouldn't comment when asked for specifics about the protest actions cabbies are planning, but did say the actions would be similar to Dec. 9, when cab drivers blocked some streets and slowed traffic downtown.
Sekhon said cabbies will focus their actions on the city's downtown core. The All-Star Game isn't the only target. Sekhon said taxi drivers may also demonstrate outside the Canadian International Auto Show, a nine-day event that begins Friday at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre that often draws more than 300,000 attendees.
Last week, council voted against seeking a court injunction to stop UberX from operating, opting instead to wait until new rules are in place. At the time, city staff said they are actively ticketing drivers who operate as a taxi service without the a proper city-issued licence.
Tory; if we see another taxi strike police will have to take "Whatever steps they deem appropriate"— @StrashinCBC