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Catch and Release: Project Platinum towing corruption case falls through in Newmarket, Ont. court

Newmarket, Ontario — When reports of corruption within the GTA’s towing industry first hit mainstream headlines, local police services looked poised to get to the bottom of it, but as the aftermath of Project Platinum is sorted out in court this week, defence lawyers are baffled by the amount of charges that have been stayed.

Don Carter, a lawyer representing one of the individuals accused in Project Platinum, said Justice Laura Bird’s decision to stay the charges against him “came entirely out of the blue,” when the decision was made in Newmarket, Ont. court on Wednesday.

“I was certainly surprised,” he said. “It was a shocking turn of events. Over 40 charges related to guns and drugs were stayed against my client. It was a really major project; its been going on for two years with several groups being prosecuted…I can only imagine the kinds of resources put into this by police and the Crown.”

In total, more than 80 charges linked to Project Platinum were stayed.

Despite leading to little tangible justice for those victimized by bad-apple towing companies operating against industry standards, the York Regional Police maintains that Project Platinum left a positive impact.

“Successful prosecution is not the only measure by which we achieve our community safety goals,” Const. Laura Nicolle wrote in an email. “These efforts resulted in a substantial decrease in violence connected to the tow-truck industry and we were pleased to support the subsequent regulatory changes that were made to better protect motorists.”

Former York police superintendent Mike Slack claimed at the time that the project had been “very successful” and had “dismantled four distinct criminal organizations.”

“A significant amount of evidence has been uncovered that we are confident will lead to the successful prosecution of individuals in the supporting organization,” Slack said to reporters.

Carter says that within the last two weeks an undisclosed issue was communicated from Justice Bird to the Crown, and in reply, the Crown said the defence would not be able to answer the charges.

“I don’t know what the problem was because we never got to see it,” said Carter.

The collapse of the Project Platinum case falls in line with three other similar towing industry-related investigations launched by the York police that ultimately resulted in few successful prosecutions.

In the summer of 2019, Project Sindicato seized 27 allegedly Mafia-affiliated homes, as well as luxury cars like Ferraris and millions in cash. All charges laid against the accused were stayed.

In May 2020, York police laid more than 70 charges against 29 people for their involvement in an illegal mansion casino in Markham, leading to the seizure of $11 million in cash. The casino’s alleged ringleader signed a peace bond and their charges were dropped.

In late 2021, during the later stages of Project Zen, a man who sold a kilo of cocaine to an undercover police officer for $40,000 had his charges dropped. Upon searching his apartment, the man was found to be in possession of five more kilos of cocaine, $120,000 in cash and a loaded gun.

That case’s lead investigator was criticized at the time for giving “misleading and contradictory” testimony.

To date, York police have seized 11 tow trucks, more than 40 illegal firearms, drugs such as fentanyl, cocaine and crystal meth and more than $500,000 in cash, as part of Project Platinum.

“The expectation that every case is perfect is an unrealistic one,” said Const. Nicolle in a written statement. “We operate in an imperfect justice system. By their nature, these cases are complex and multifaceted. We always have, and always will, face challenges within the court system that may or may not be surmountable in any given case.”

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