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Police, city need ‘creative solutions’ to offset refusals by tow companies to help in protest zone


Even towing companies that competed to be priority suppliers for the City of Ottawa are declining to help during the state of emergency, the city says.

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It could be impossible for the Ottawa Police Service and the City of Ottawa to find towing companies to help move big rigs involved in the protest occupation.

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Word of the city needing heavy tow services has been spreading through Ontario towing companies, but they aren’t interested in sending staff into what politicians have characterized as a “siege” and “insurrection” that’s choking the city’s core.

City officials have been calling around to towing companies and other Ontario municipalities, looking for any heavy tow trucks that could be sent to Ottawa.

Even towing companies that competed to be priority suppliers for the City of Ottawa are declining to help during the state of emergency, the city says.

The city has five standing offer lists tailored for specific reasons. The list used by bylaw services to tow illegally parked cars has two providers: Ottawa Metro Towing and Recovery and Gervais Motors. The Ottawa police-specific standing offer list has Ottawa Metro Towing and Recovery and Metro Towing and Recovery.

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Dave Parent, fleet manager at Ottawa Metro Towing and Recovery, said: “We will not be towing any lawful protestors from the downtown core as long as they remain peaceful.”

Someone identifying himself as an operations manager who picked up the phone at Gervais on Tuesday morning said, “We don’t have any comments at this time.”

On Monday night, city manager Steve Kanellakos said staff had contacted companies on the standing offers list to provide heavy tow truck work and all had refused.

“Right now we’re reviewing their contracts, their standing offer, and reviewing what actions we can take to deal with this unprecedented situation,” Kanellakos said.

“The consensus seems to be that most of them don’t want to do the work because, especially the heavy tow truck work, because they rely on the heavy truck industry for their livelihood and they don’t want to damage that part of their business. That’s the position they’re taking, at least to us,” Kanellakos said.

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Kanellakos said the city was also talking with the provincial and federal governments about the problem of towing companies refusing work during the ongoing protests. He said it had been identified as a Canada-wide problem.

The cold shoulder from towing companies might not come as a surprise, considering the volatile environment they’re being asked to enter.

Joey Gagne, the Abrams Towing president whose company provides towing services related to snow removal for the City of Ottawa, said companies knew about Ottawa’s request and simply didn’t want the trouble. He has received emails from across Canada pressuring him both to send trucks and to stay away.

“Why would I want to take my reputation and risk my employees’ safety to go down there and get into a fight with a bunch of people that are already protesting and angry?” Gagne said. “It’s not my job. I don’t get hired to put myself at risk.”

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Gagne, who’s also a board member of the Canadian Towing Association, said his company had two heavy tow trucks in the Ottawa area. It’s a busy time of year for general towing services and those trucks wouldn’t available for protest-related work anyway, Gagne said.

Tow companies’ apprehension about sending trucks to downtown Ottawa isn’t just about the safety of staff in the moment. Gagne said they would also be concerned about harassment, vandalism and other safety issues after leaving the site, away from police protection.

As for the availability of city hall-owned heavy tow trucks, Deputy Police Chief Steve Bell said the police force didn’t provide numbers when it came to enforcement activity.

OC Transpo has two heavy tow trucks, but the transit agency’s largest union says members won’t agree to work involving protest vehicles.

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“OC Transpo reached out to me and having my members do that type of work and I said no,” said Clint Crabtree, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279. “I have concerns about safety for my members.”

Crabtree said his decision was “a no-brainer.”

“If the City of Ottawa wants to use those vehicles, they are City of Ottawa vehicles, they can have other employees or other people use those tow trucks, but it will not be members,” Crabtree said. “I don’t want to put them in harm’s way.”

Police are toying with the idea of turning Wellington Street into a makeshift pound for rigs as they face problems securing towing services.

During the special council meeting on Monday, Coun. Eli El-Chantiry asked Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly if the police force had looked into the possibility of seizing trucks now or in the future. Sloly said his staff had examined it.

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“We talked about using the footprint, particularly in Wellington, as a pound itself so we don’t have to worry about towing those vehicles away. They just remain in place while we take care of people in and around that vehicle,” Sloly said.

jwilling@postmedia.com

twitter.com/JonathanWilling

READ MORE COVERAGE OF THE ANTI-VACCINE MANDATE PROTEST: 

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