Tow truck turf wars in Toronto causing a rise in violence linked to organized crime, as a 4th murder in two years has shone a light on the danger for drivers in a highly lucrative – and highly cut-throat – towing industry.
Just before sunset, a volley of gunshots rang out in the parking lot of a northern Toronto apartment complex. When police arrived, they found a black tow truck pinned between two other vehicles.
The driver, Hashim Kinani, 23, was slumped in the front seat, having been shot several times. Despite efforts by the emergency crew, he was pronounced dead at the scene.
The brazen murder followed a week of arson attacks which left the burned remains of tow trucks scattered throughout the city.
The Corona-virus lock down has quietened Canada’s largest city, but there has been little reprieve for an industry rife with violence and intimidation – and some tow-truck owners fear that organized crime has pushed the industry to a breaking point.
Two boys, aged 15 and 17, were charged on Thursday with first-degree and attempted murder, and Toronto police told the Guardian they do not believe Kinani’s murder was related to an ongoing turf war.
But he was the fourth Toronto tow-truck driver to be murdered in less than two years. Several others have been shot – or shot at – including one who was targeted just hours after Kinani’s death.
In a statement to the Guardian following Kinani’s murder, Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation said it was “deeply concerned” by the violence in the towing industry and was working to “deter this behavior”.
A recent investigation by the Globe and Mail found at least 30 arson attacks targeting tow-truck businesses, though that figure has now risen since the spike in violence over the last few months.
In March, a collision reporting center in northern Toronto was set on fire. Another was vandalized and an accelerate-doused object found amid the broken glass, say police.
That same month, two drivers were shot and numerous vehicles set ablaze, prompting anger and frustration from Ontario’s premier, Doug Ford.
Much of trouble stems from “accident chasing” – where truck operators race their rivals to be the first at the scene of a crash.
Some repair garages will pay tow truck drivers a “finder’s fee” for damaged vehicles, making “chasing” an incredibly lucrative field.
The lure of profits – and the relative lack of oversight – obviously has attracted organized crime in Canada.
We’ve got guys racing down the highway to be the first to arrive for a tow, threaten each other, bang into each other and even shoot each other. Things need to change,” said John Henderson of the Fair Towing Task Force, a lobby group advocating for industry reform.
Henderson and others have called for greater regulation and licensing, as well as the establishment of an oversight body, to rein in what they say is an increasingly saturated industry with few clear standards.
Trucks are just popping up every few days with new names and faces, and then they disappear just as fast? Their one motive is to eliminate competition in order to control and own the road.
The Guardian / ABC Flash Point News 2020.