Government looks to address tow truck criminality
The government is launching a task force aimed at ending the corruption and violence that's plagued Ontario's towing industry for years.
Premier Doug Ford said he's "deeply concerned" by how bad things have gotten in the industry, but stressed that it's a "small group of bad apples" causing the problems. “That ends now," he said.
The industry has been linked to multiple firebombings, fist fights, vehicles driven off the road, and even two killings as a war between towing operators rages across the Greater Toronto Area.
Ford thanked police for their recent work cracking down on towing corruption, shouting out Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders for his force's recent arrest of 11 people — including one TPS officer — and York Regional Police for their Project Platinum, which saw 20 arrests. The task force will work closely with the Ontario Provincial Police, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said.
The task force, which has already met twice, will be led by the ministries of transportation and the solicitor general, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said.
The more aggressive tactics mark a shift from the Progressive Conservative government's position in February, when the Globe and Mail published an investigation into reports of the industry's rampant corruption. Mulroney declined an interview with the paper at the time, and a ministry of government and consumer services spokesperson said they would not consider a provincial licensing system. The industry is currently regulated by individual municipalities.
Now, a provincial licensing system is on the table. “We are looking at all options," Mulroney said.
“This is a dangerous turf war, and it is being waged in many communities across Ontario," Jones said.
Mulroney added that the government will likely do away with the "first-on-scene" protocol, which means the first driver to arrive gets the job. Experts told the Globe this rewards dangerous driving as operators race to crashes.
The task force will aim to provide recommendations by the end of July, Mulroney said. After that, the government will consult with industry, municipalities and law enforcement in August, then hopefully implement them in the fall, she said.
The Windsor-Essex spike
As COVID-19 cases in Windsor-Essex continue to rise while the rest of the province trends in the opposite direction, Ford said the government will take action against "fly-by-nighters" — recruitment companies that aren't following rules — though he didn't say what that action would be.
He also thanked farmers and workers for getting tested — something that wasn't happening before. “Everyone’s cooperating," he said.
Though a single farm was responsible for about 175 positive results, Ford said the problem likely doesn't stop there.
“I don’t think it’s contained to one farm, to be very frank,” he said, adding that his heart "breaks" for farmers and workers affected by the virus.
Health Minister Christine Elliott stressed that under the new plan to allow COVID-positive but asymptomatic farm workers to return to work, the government will be providing nurses and translators to make sure only people who are actually symptom-free are working.
Meanwhile, one migrant advocacy group is calling for the province's agricultural industry to be shut down until workers can be guaranteed a sterile workplace.
Plain as day: - "This is racism," said @j4mw organizer Chris Ramsaroop. "This fiasco has to end." For decades growers did it their way - their monopoly on power over lives must endhttps://t.co/ZsXxjNrDNb @PercyHatfield @LGretzky @Irek_K @TheWECHU @theJagmeetSingh
— Paul Chislett (@paul_chislett) June 29, 2020
Overall trends in Ontario remain "very positive," Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said on Monday. But she noted an outbreak in Kingston stemming from a nail salon as a reminder to be cautious even though businesses are reopening.
Ford promises to be hands-off on city police budgets
As Toronto city council debates a motion to cut 10 per cent from its police budget, Ford said that despite his strong opposition to the move, he wouldn't step in to stop it if it passes.
“We don’t believe in overruling any municipality," said Ford, a former Toronto councillor who, as premier, cut city council in half during an election.
Overdose deaths spike
Elliott sidestepped a question about whether the province would consider implementing stronger measures to protect against overdose deaths, such as British Columbia's "safe supply" program, if fatalities continue to rise.
The government has "always been serious" about tackling the crisis, and is "very concerned" about the rising deaths, she said. She admitted there's more work to be done on issues like supervised consumption sites and treatment centres, but didn't say whether any action was forthcoming.
Frontline overdose prevention workers have called on the government to lift its cap on supervised consumption sites and decriminalize drugs to reduce the harms associated with addiction.