Cape Breton, Nova Scotia – The insurance industry, tow truck operators and police in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, are blaming each other in a fight surrounding a proposed bylaw–which would enforce regulations in the industry that operators say isn’t fair.
This proposed bylaw would include an annual fee, driver accreditation and a flat rate that could cost the consumer more, according to operators in the area.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada favours the bylaw, according to a letter they wrote to the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. The letter stated that the unregulated towing industry is a “feeding ground for the unscrupulous” that includes “kickbacks and secret payments” that inflate insurance costs.
Ronnie Smith, owner of R. Smith’s Towing, said the proposed municipal bylaw sets fees that are too low for towing vehicles from accident scenes and will put operators out of work.
Smith said that they’re comparing the towing industry in Cape Breton to that of Ontario, and that isn’t fair.
Ontario recently introduced regulations because of corruption, including fraud and deaths, in the towing industry in Toronto.
“There’s never, never been any payments or anything else in the CBRM that I know of,” he said.
However, Smith said, police at accident scenes have awarded towing jobs to companies that were not included in past tenders for work and that has led to problems.
“There’s things that go on and some police officers are aware of it, that they really shouldn’t be doing, but they do,” he said.
While operators believe that police are at fault, the police department thinks otherwise.
Cape Breton regional police requested the bylaw last year, saying it is needed immediately because of double billing, overcharging for towing and storage fees and extra administrative costs.
Staff Sgt. Joe Farrell told council in June 2020 that the bylaw was needed to avoid accident chasing and price gouging by tow operators.
In an interview, Staff Sgt. Bill Turner said inflated towing or storage fees could be a form of fraud, but police have not received any official complaints about that.
For example, he said, an insurance company called him once to ask about an accident scene where the tow company was charging for traffic control.
Turner said he checked and traffic control had been done by the police. In that case, the insurance company simply struck that fee off the bill. Had they made a formal complaint, police could have investigated and potentially laid charges.
Last week, tow truck operators took to the streets to protest these allegations and the proposed bylaw that was supposed to go to council that night.
The draft bylaw was also on the agenda for this week’s council meeting, but Mayor Amanda McDougall again pulled it off the table
Mayor Amanda McDougall said more consultation is needed to pass the bylaw that has the potential to drastically change the industry.
“Heard the horns. Saw the trucks. I understand that there’s a great deal of frustration so … if there’s an opportunity to I guess be that mediator and offer advice and then put in place a fair process in terms of a bylaw, that’s what we’re going to have to do,” she said.
But allegations of corruption are also a concern, McDougall said.
“There’s some pretty hefty allegations on both ends and if there needs to be a break, a pause, an opportunity to continue conversations and make sure all the facts are out there, that’s always a good way to go.”