Police on standby as CBRM council decides to delay controversial tow truck bylaw

Police officers watch in the background as tow truck operator Frank Campbell speaks to media following a Cape Breton Regional Municipality council meeting on Tuesday. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)
Police officers watch in the background as tow truck operator Frank Campbell speaks to media following a Cape Breton Regional Municipality council meeting on Tuesday. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)

Cape Breton Regional Municipality has put a controversial tow truck bylaw on hold over what are being called "substantive" changes after tow truck operators staged a long and loud protest earlier this month outside and inside city hall in Sydney.

A large number of police officers were on hand and up to 20 tow truck operators were in the council chamber for Tuesday's meeting, where second reading of the bylaw was scheduled to be voted on before coming into law.

The bylaw is intended to limit the fees tow truck drivers can charge to clean up accident scenes, place restrictions on licensing of operators and regulate which companies get called to an accident scene.

Operator Frank Campbell said there is no tow truck industry, just roughly 10 private businesses trying to make a living.

He said he doesn't want changes to the bylaw, but he had a message for council.

"Abolish it. Get rid of it," Campbell said. "Mind their own business. If they want to get into the tow truck business, buy 30 trucks like we had to."

Tow truck operator Kevin MacEachern says CBRM's bylaw amounts to "communism" and council has no right to regulate private businesses.
Tow truck operator Kevin MacEachern says CBRM's bylaw amounts to "communism" and council has no right to regulate private businesses.

Tow truck operator Kevin MacEachern says council has no right to regulate private businesses, and he doesn't believe the operators will be properly consulted on the bylaw changes. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Kevin MacEachern said the bylaw amounts to "communism" and council has no right to interfere in private business.

He said he doesn't trust council's decision to delay the regulations over the summer.

"I think they're going to call a private meeting without notifying us, come in and vote it in and screw us over," said MacEachern.

On Tuesday, council accepted CBRM solicitor Demetri Kachafanas's advice to delay the bylaw.

He told council his department needed to do more research before recommending approval.

Staff Sgt. Joe Farrell, who drafted the bylaw and consulted with tow truck company owners, has said Cape Breton regional police need the bylaw to better control accident scenes and stop tow truck operators from accident chasing.

Cape Breton regional police Staff Sgt. Joe Farrell says the proposed bylaw has been amended to replace a flat fee with an hourly rate after consulting with towing company owners.
Cape Breton regional police Staff Sgt. Joe Farrell says the proposed bylaw has been amended to replace a flat fee with an hourly rate after consulting with towing company owners.

Cape Breton regional police Staff Sgt. Joe Farrell says the proposed bylaw has been amended to replace a flat fee with an hourly rate after consulting with towing company owners. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

He told council last month the insurance industry has complained about excessive towing fees.

During a protest earlier this month, operators said they objected to a flat fee being proposed for cleaning up accidents.

On Tuesday, Farrell said the bylaw has been amended with an hourly rate instead and said towing company owners will be consulted further before the bylaw comes back to council.

Mayor Amanda McDougall said after first reading, it became clear the operators wanted more say in changes to the bylaw.

Mayor Amanda McDougall says she hopes to have the bylaw approved during a special virtual meeting of council sometime before the October general municipal elections.
Mayor Amanda McDougall says she hopes to have the bylaw approved during a special virtual meeting of council sometime before the October general municipal elections.

Mayor Amanda McDougall says she hopes to have the bylaw approved during a special virtual meeting of council sometime before the October general municipal elections. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

A delay is necessary because the solicitor said the proposed changes are "substantive," she said.

"You can't just change a document with so much information excessively and accept it as a final reading. You have to go back and do another first reading."

Farrell recommended council adopt the changes.

"It's basically the same bylaw that has been trying to be passed for the last four years," he told reporters.

CBRM staff nervous

McDougall said council will not be meeting in council chambers this summer because it is undergoing major renovations to upgrade voting and online broadcasting technology.

However, she said she hopes to have a special virtual meeting sometime before the October elections to get the bylaw passed.

McDougall said staff were nervous about the meeting Tuesday because the last confrontation with tow truck operators became heated.

That's why one police officer was in the council chamber and more were seen down the hall and in the entrance.

A Cape Breton regional police officer watches as tow truck operators file into the council chambers for second reading of the bylaw at Tuesday's meeting.
A Cape Breton regional police officer watches as tow truck operators file into the council chambers for second reading of the bylaw at Tuesday's meeting.

A Cape Breton regional police officer watches as tow truck operators file into the council chambers for second reading of the bylaw at Tuesday's meeting. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"You only have to go on the internet and watch back videos from our lobby where our commissionaire and various members of staff were abhorrently treated," she said.

"That is not acceptable and will not continue to happen in council chambers, nor in city hall."

The delay was not called to avoid meeting in public on the bylaw, but it will provide more time for input from the industry, McDougall said.

"We've seen some heated argument and concerns during first reading. We want to make sure that that doesn't happen again, so that consultation has to take place."

MORE TOP STORIES