Despite recently-withdrawn charges related to violent tow truck turf wars across the Greater Toronto Area, the investigation resulted in many positives, including regulatory change, says Équité Association.
In 2021, Équité Association’s investigative services team supported the York Regional Police’s far-reaching and complex investigation into fraudulent behaviour of several industries linked to organized crime — with a specific focus on the violent tow truck turf wars across the GTA. Known as Project Platinum, the operation probed the tow truck turf wars that allegedly involved staged collisions and extensive insurance fraud, but also resulted in charges of murder, attempted murder and arson.
Project Platinum resulted in 19 arrests and the dismantling of four distinct criminal organizations, with a multitude of charges laid, says a June 2 press release from Équité, the new company that integrated Insurance Bureau of Canada’s investigative services division with the Canadian National Insurance Crime Services (CANATICS).
Last month, the Crown withdrew charges against six people being tried as a group. “While the Crown attorney has not officially confirmed the reason for the withdrawal, it appears the decision was in order to protect the identity of an informant,” Équité reports. “Équité supports the difficult decision made by the Crown in these proceedings, understanding that public safety is of the utmost importance.”
Canadian Underwriter asked Bryan Gast, vice president of Équité’s investigative services division, why the association supported the move to withdraw the charges and whether there was a concern it might send a negative message about the importance of tackling insurance fraud.
“Things that happen with court once the charges are laid are beyond most people’s control, our control, law enforcement’s control,” Gast says in an interview. “We would never want to send the message that those types of investigations should stop, because it’s a very big hurdle and those types of investigations are extremely large and complex, and can be very fragile.
“But our message is, we will continue to support and we want them to continue to investigate these types of crimes. We understand how difficult it is to get through the court process. We’ll continue to support law enforcement and government agencies to tackle the violence and the insurance crime issues, not only in the GTA, but across the country.”
Even though some of the charges from Project Platinum were withdrawn, “there’s still many positives,” Gast says. “It really put a highlight as to what the problem was in the GTA, which prompted obviously the tow task force, the tow zone pilot and then the [Ontario Provincial Police] lead investigative team.”
The pilot project restricted towing zones on sections of provincial highways where only authorized companies could remove vehicles requiring a tow. Authorized towing companies were required to show identification to customers upon request and provide customers with fee schedules and other informational material.
Équité says in the release “the case contributed tremendous value” and has resulted in a number of significant initiatives to reform the towing industry, including the following established by the Ontario government:
Passing the Moving Ontarians More Safely Act (MOMS Act) as a means to further regulated the towing industry and prevent insurance fraud. (Lack of regulation in the towing industry was blamed for creating an environment that allowed turf wars to exist)
Creating the Organized Crime Tow Industry Project to work alongside local police departments, the insurance industry and municipal partners to develop a regulatory oversight model to increase safety and enforcement, clarify protections for consumers, improve industry standards and consider tougher penalties for violators
Developing a broader strategy to address criminal activity and violence in the towing industry.