A group of tow truck drivers will gather on Monday outside the Huntmar Drive police station, as well as city hall and another police detachment, for a protest. Here’s some background about what the protest is all about.
WHAT ARE THE TOW TRUCK OPERATORS PROTESTING?
When police respond to a crash and decide to investigate, they have designated companies that they can call to provide a “secure tow” to an impound while the investigation proceeds. What drivers are protesting on Monday is the overuse of that system for crashes that are not investigated, said Nadeem Chamaa, owner and operator of Ottawa Towing and Recovery and organizer of Monday’s protest.
“They’re abusing the contract and (now they’re) stating every time they’re called to a scene… they’re calling the contract tow,” he said.
“That’s monopolizing the industry… we want to be able to earn our business.”
Two companies hold contracts for secure towing in two zones: Ottawa Metro Towing and Recovery the east zone and Metro Towing and Recovery the west.
Gervais Motors in January filed a bid-rigging lawsuit against the city, police and the two companies alleging Ottawa Metro Towing and Recovery incorporated a second company in order to secure the police contract. The claims have not been proven in court.
“What we’re trying to protest is, seeing as how Gervais is suing (the city) and the Ottawa Police, the private companies got together and said now’s the time to shine a spotlight (on the problem),” said Chamaa.
Chamaa, who is a self-described “chaser”, said he makes his business by sitting at the side of roads and waiting for a crash to happen. When he finds one, he drives there to try and secure a client.
While he acknowledges chasers are deeply unpopular in both the public eye and within the industry, he said he is not trying to break the rules and is not taking advantage of motorists.
“Chasers are never popular,” he said. “The tow trucker is always going to make money off the accident”
He said police have spread misinformation about chasers by saying they overcharge or hold vehicles ransom, but chalked cases of that up to “bad apples.” He said he follows applicable provincial and municipal rules, such as not parking within 100 metres of a collision and making clear his prices before towing.
ARE ALL TOWING COMPANIES PROTESTING ON MONDAY?
No. Eva Sharkey, of Sharkey’s Towing, said chasers make other towing companies look bad because of their practices.
“I don’t think they should be doing what they’re doing,” she said. “They don’t follow the rules, as far as I know.”
The Ontario towing industry used to be unregulated, but in 2014 Queen’s Park amended the Consumer Protection Act to force companies to be more transparent over their rates, as well as disclose where they will tow a vehicle, whether they will receive any kickbacks for bringing it to a particular body shop and to provide an itemized invoice with a total cost.
While Chamaa complains of a police monopoly, Sharkey said his account doesn’t ring true on her end.
“That’s not really true, I’ve been called by police, by customers, to come to accidents,” she said. “The people who are involved in the accident are allowed to call whoever they want to call, unless there’s a criminal charge.”
She did agree that some police officers push to call Metro towing, she said that was because they don’t want to deal with the independent chasers. In effect, she said the drivers will protest on Monday a problem they created.
“Officers are so fed up with all these independent towers showing up. They want to clear it up, they don’t want the headache.”
WHAT DO THE POLICE SAY?
We tried to contact Ottawa Police for a comment on this story but no one was available on the weekend. One constable recently shared some tips on Twitter on how to avoid unscrupulous tow truck operators.
Always make sure they get your permission and tell them where you want your vehicle towed. Ask 4 rate schedule & if they are getting kick backs from the repair shop. ASK QUESTIONS! @ONconsumer @OttawaPolice #knowyourtow pic.twitter.com/dQprjTA82e
— Constable Singh (@ConstableSingh) March 3, 2018
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