Towing companies 'taking advantage' of tornado victims, Gatineau man says

A Gatineau man who lost his home to a tornado 10 days ago briefly lost his SUV, too, and he's placing the blame on an Ottawa towing company that he says took the vehicle without his knowledge or permission.

Richard Dumont tracked missing SUV down to Ottawa field

Richard Dumont stands in the place where his SUV was parked when the tornado struck. He says the vehicle was later towed to Ottawa without his knowledge or permission. (Sandra Abma/CBC)

A Gatineau man who lost his home to a tornado 10 days ago briefly lost his SUV, too, and he's placing the blame on an Ottawa towing company that he says took the vehicle without his knowledge or permission.

Richard Dumont's Gatineau apartment was rendered uninhabitable when a tornado tore through the Mont-Bleu neighbourhood on Sept. 21. When the storm finally passed, Dumont looked out the window to see his brand new Kia Sorento buried beneath fallen branches, a broken hydro pole and pieces of roof from neighbouring buildings. 

Dumont has been told he'll be out of his apartment for three months.

When Dumont returned to the scene the following Monday, he rebuffed several offers from tow truck drivers to take his SUV away, telling them he would wait until he heard from his insurance company. But when he went back the next day, the Kia was gone.

Richard Dumont's Kia Sorento lies under a pile of debris after a tornado tore through Gatineau's Mont-Bleu neighbourhood on Sept. 21. (Richard Dumont)

After scouring the neighbourhood, Dumont contacted police and began cold-calling a list of towing companies in the region. When he finally reached Onroute Towing & Recovery, based on Leitrim Road, he was told his vehicle had been towed to a field in Ottawa about 35 kilometres from his home. 

It's people taking advantage of the disaster, taking advantage of people in distress.- Richard Dumont

Dumont was livid.

"They're coming onto private property without a work order, without authorization," he said. "Hydro didn't ask, the cops didn't ask for it to be pulled [away]."

Joey Gagne, president of the Provincial Towing Association (Ontario), said only a vehicle's owner, the owner of the property where it's parked, or police can authorize a tow.

According to Gagne's Quebec counterpart, Réjean Breton, Ontario towing companies hauled away about 100 vehicles from the Mont-Bleu sector following the tornado, all without the owners' consent.

Tornado victim forced to track down car towed without his permission

5 years ago
Duration 0:40
After Richard Dumont was evacuated from his home in Gatineau's Mont-Bleu neighbourhood, his car was towed without his knowledge or permission. He says the towing company also billed his insurance.

Gatineau police said although it is illegal to take a vehicle without permission, it's not a criminal act unless the intent is to steal it.

"When we talk about theft, be it a car, a bike or whatever, what our police will try to determine is the intention behind the gesture. Everything rests on it," said police spokesperson Isabelle Vachon.

Billed insurer $1,800

Through text messages, Dumont arranged for the towing company to deliver his vehicle to a body shop in Gatineau, but later learned his insurance company had been billed $1,800 for the service — more than twice the going rate.

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), the Quebec auto insurance contract stipulates the insurer must reimburse its client for towing expenses. 

Following the tornadoes that tore through the region, the IBC warned of scams involving tow truck operators who falsely told affected homeowners their insurance company had sent them to tow away their damaged vehicles. Ottawa police at that time had received no complaints about such activity.

Dumont discovered his SUV in a field in Ottawa, about 35 kilometres from his home. Onroute Towing & Recovery charged Dumont's insurer $1,800 to tow the vehicle to a body shop in Gatineau. (Richard Dumont)

Although he's not out of pocket, Dumont is still incensed about the time and worry he wasted searching for his vehicle.

"It's people taking advantage of the disaster, taking advantage of people in distress," Dumont fumed.

  In a telephone interview with Radio-Canada, a person who identified himself as the owner of Onroute Towing & 
  Recovery, but would not give his name, claimed a neighbour of Dumont's had given the company permission to tow the vehicle.

The phone number the company supplied for that neighbour did not work.