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Tow-truck companies refuse to haul away large trucks gridlocking Ottawa

OTTAWA — All tow-truck companies on contract with the city have refused to haul away the big rigs that have gridlocked Ottawa's downtown for the second week in a row, the city's manager says.

OTTAWA — All tow-truck companies on contract with the city have refused to haul away the big rigs that have gridlocked Ottawa's downtown for the second week in a row, the city's manager says.

Steve Kanellakos said the consensus among many of the companies seems to be that they don't want to do the work because the heavy truck industry is such a large part of their livelihoods and they don't want to damage that part of their businesses.

The city has contracts with 10 companies, which are typically used to tow vehicles during parking bans so city plows can remove snow. Some of the contracts cover towing services for city vehicles, and others help recover lost and stolen vehicles for police.

"We've contacted them all and every one, they're all refusing as of today to provide heavy tow truck work," Kanellakos said Monday evening after a briefing to city council on the demonstration downtown. 

Pascal Loyer, CEO of one of the tow-truck companies contracted by the city, said his concern is for the safety of his employees and the future of his business.

If he were to start towing trucks away from downtown, he said "nobody is going to have my back."

The big rigs have been blocking city streets and honking horns day and night in Ottawa since Jan. 28 in protest of vaccine mandates.

Towing away a big rig without the co-operation of a driver is dangerous, difficult,andtime-consumingwork, he said, and the crowds downtown pose a degree of uncertainty.

If one of his employees got hurt, he could be charged under the labour code because of the unsafe work conditions, he said. 

Loyer said he wants to remain neutral in the conflict between the city and the protesters and would like to see a political solution that avoids putting private businesses like his and public servants at risk.

The city is reviewing the contracts to see what recourse it has in this unprecedented situation but the problem, he said, goes beyond Ottawa.

Ottawa's mayor has reached out to other large Ontario cities to see if they can help, and the city is calling companies across Eastern Ontario.  

The city has raised the issue with the provincial and federal governments but has found tow truck operators have been reticent to get involved with the protests across Canada. 

The lack of tow companies willing to get involved has also hampered the efforts of the RCMP to remove trucks and other vehicles from a protest blockade in southern Alberta.

The operators they've contacted worry about long-term damage to their businesses should they help police haul away protester vehicles, said Alberta RCMP Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki.

Sonya Savage, Alberta’s acting justice minister, says the province has other tools it could use if necessary, including filing for a civil injunction and seizing vehicles and forfeiting them to the Crown.

Kanellakos says the tow companies are still doing other work for the City of Ottawa, including towing regularly sized vehicles.

Steve Bell, Ottawa's deputy police chief, said Monday the issue has cropped up in all jurisdictions and has forced cities and police services to come up with some "creative solutions."

He opted not to share those solutions, citing "operation concerns" about showing their hand to the protesters they're attempting to shoo from the city's core.

"We're not going to let the tow truck operators and the ability to tow those vehicles out of there be an obstacle to ending what's occurring," he said Monday.

By Tuesday, Bell said that some vehicles have been seized and towed but the situation has become even more difficult: some trucks have removed their tires or split their brakes to make them completely immobile.

"The immobilizing of the vehicles in the occupation area is extremely concerning to us," he said at a briefing Tuesday. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2022.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press