As It Happens

Shooting of two Ontario tow truck drivers brings fears of escalating turf wars

The tow truck industry in Southern Ontario has been mired in violence for the past 18 months.

Mark Graves, towing company owner and industry leader, says better regulation is needed

The shooting of two tow truck drivers in Thornhill, Ont., on Feb. 16, could be part of a tow truck turf war, police say. (The Canadian Press)
Listen6:51

Transcript

A masked assailant shot two tow truck drivers in a mall parking lot near Toronto on Feb. 16, in what police say could be the latest incident in a disturbing turf war. 

Mark Graves, president of the Provincial Towing Association of Ontario and towing company owner, says violence in the industry has risen to "extreme levels" and continues to escalate, with drivers being threatened and abused by competitors.  

"It's very scary out there for tow operators and the general public with everything that's going on right now," Mark Graves told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"We have had drivers and company owners that have called us and said that they're not working on provincial highways doing accident calls and things because they're afraid of altercations," he said. 

"I know some people that have had people actually go to their house and threaten their families." 

Police are still investigating whether the Feb. 16 shooting is related to turf wars. One victim is in stable condition, while the other remains in critical condition.  

But for the past 18 months, the tow truck industry in Southern Ontario has been mired in conflict. At least two men with ties to the industry have been shot and killed, and according to Graves, more than 30 tow trucks have been set on fire.

"It's throughout the Toronto and Hamilton area  … The problem is escalating and it's getting further out," said Graves. 

This North York, Ont., tow truck was one of five that were burned in the GTA on December 23, 2019. (Jeremy Cohn/CBC)

Graves believes the combination of less business and a saturated tow truck market is contributing to the rise in recent violence. A relatively mild Ontario winter has meant fewer collisions, and a loss of business. 

"The [tow truck] business model of chasing does not give you customers that you work with on a daily basis. There's a good chance you'll never see the person again once you've dealt with their vehicle."

Graves called for better regulation in what he sees as a saturated tow truck industry, with too many operators on the road. 

There's a lack of regulation within the industry ... I could literally hand you a set of keys right now for a tow truck and you could go ... It's a free for all.

"There's a lack of regulation within the industry ... I could literally hand you a set of keys right now for a tow truck and you could go ... It's a free for all."

The Globe and Mail has reported that kickbacks from body shops and rehab clinics are also an open secret in the industry. 

"I think it's a combination of everything that is helping to move this escalation of harm to people to extreme levels," said Graves.  

"We're very concerned that more people are going to get killed, and hopefully there's no innocent bystanders."

Only 17 of Ontario's 444 municipalities have two truck bylaws and regulations, according to the Canadian Automobile Association. (Angelina King/CBC)

Graves said he is working with other industry professionals and the Ontario government on a provincial licensing mandate that will help curb the rise in violence. 

"There's a lot of new people coming in that are doing things different than how the old businesses were run. With no regulation you don't always attract the best quality of operator and company owner," he said. 

"And the industry itself is dangerous, just in the fact that we're working in high traffic — and a lot of the motoring public isn't aware of what we do on the side of the road. Adding this internal conflict just adds to the chaos that much more."


This interview was produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Post written by Sarah Claydon. 
 

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