As It Happens·Q&A

Tow truckers' safety and bottom line at risk if forced to clear Ottawa blockade, says industry rep

One of the measures the Emergencies Act is supposed to help enforce is the towing of the big rigs that make up protester blockades. But the Provincial Towing Association of Ontario's Mark Graves says this move could jeopardize the towing industry's future employment opportunities and safety.

Tow trucking industry doesn't want to get involved 'for numerous reasons,' says Mark Graves

Police tow a truck on Feb. 13, 2022 after a court injunction gave police the power to clear the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont. Private towing companies are hesitant to help clear the protester trucks, citing safety concerns. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Story Transcript

The federal government could be putting tow truckers' safety and future employment at risk by forcing them to remove the big rigs currently entrenched in downtown Ottawa, says an industry representative.

In response to ongoing protests in several parts of the country, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday invoked the Emergencies Act, a law that temporarily grants the Canadian government sweeping powers to manage a crisis.

Tow truck operators have been hesitant to haul vehicles out of protest areas, citing concerns for personal safety, the safety of their equipment and their bottom line. According to Mark Graves, president of the Provincial Towing Association of Ontario, these concerns are still not being addressed by the emergency measures. 

One of the measures included in the act is the ability to compel companies to provide essential services "related to removal, towing and storage of any vehicle."

According to police estimates on Tuesday, around 300 protest vehicles remain in the city.

Graves spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about what it would take to get the protester trucks out of Ottawa. Here is part of their conversation. 

The federal government says that tow truck drivers are obliged to clear these trucks in downtown Ottawa if they're asked to do so. How do you react to that? 

Well, we've reached out to legal counsel and asked what our legalities are regarding this, and we've been provided nothing in writing. So we can't really respond until we know what they're truly asking us to do — or forcing us to do — until they give us a mandate. 

All right. But what are you hearing from drivers? 

Drivers and companies alike don't necessarily want to be involved in this for numerous reasons. The industry as a whole has taken a stand of staying neutral, not picking any sides. There's a lot of factors involved in making a decision to do this type of work that could have a negative impact on business down the road. 

Very rarely, if ever, have we ever seen the towing industry stand together and say, 'You know, we're not getting involved.'- Mark Graves, president of the Provincial Towing Association of Ontario

What kind of negative impact? 

These companies that are there, are the very companies that call us for work. Under a government mandate, we don't know how it affects the Ministry of Labour laws and [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] rules for safe working environments for the employees. We don't know what type of protections are going to be put in place. [The federal government] even went as far as saying they may just take the tow trucks. Well, what about insurance? What about damages? 

We heard the federal Justice Minister David Lametti on the show last night, he said, as you point out, that the government can commandeer the tow trucks and get on with the job. So what would happen if the government just takes the trucks?

How do they run it? Are they insured or do they have drivers? Do they know how to operate them? You know, it's not like driving a car. Where are they going to come up with the drivers to do that? 

A tow truck is seen in this photo. Ontario towing association president says the industry has been trying to maintain a neutral position during the Canada-wide blockades by anti-vaccine mandate protesters. (Angelina King/CBC)

What might happen to drivers if they actually went into Ottawa and started towing those vehicles out? 

I mean, I hate to speculate. I really don't know. 

But it's serious, you think. 

It's serious enough that virtually every company for the first time, towing-wise, is all on the same page. You know, very rarely, if ever, have we ever seen the towing industry stand together and say, "You know, we're not getting involved." But there's a reason. 

There are some dozens, maybe hundreds of trucks involved in this here and elsewhere — thousands of people involved in the protests. But there are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands just in Ottawa who want to see this end. Aren't those customers as well? I mean, aren't you sort of in between two groups just as easily to be, I guess, blacklisted by a larger public, if the companies were not to help at this moment? 

Well, the larger public doesn't deal with million-dollar tow trucks and expensive pieces of equipment. The larger public is dealing with cars and what we call four-wheelers in a relatively localized area. The heavy truck towing business is very different from what you're describing. 

And the thing is, we're being neutral here. You know, the government has military force. They have tow trucks. Why are they compelling private industry to do something they have? Why isn't the military coming in and cleaning this up? 

And as you point out, the military does have the tow vehicles, but the government says it will not use military vehicles to move the rigs. And so what would it actually take to physically clear those trucks in downtown Ottawa if no one drives them? 

It's a Herculean task that is only made bigger by resistance. It takes a significant amount of time to safely tow a tractor trailer off of a road where people are brought down that want to be towed. These people know their trucks, they have the ability to make these trucks virtually untowable. 

So the only way it's going to get cleared out is that people get in the driver's seat and drive them out. 

Well, it's certainly the best choice.

Written by Olsy Sorokina. Interview with Mark Graves produced by Sarah Jackson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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