Gunshots, torched trucks and Toronto’s towing community


In December 2019, an apparently co-ordinated series of arson attacks on tow trucks throughout the GTA sent a chill down the spines of the area’s towing professionals. Just days before, on December 11, 2019, a tow truck driver in a Richmond Hill parking lot had his vehicle rammed by a white pickup truck, before its driver took out a firearm and shot at the driver.

In the early hours of December 23, 2019, three tow trucks were set ablaze in Hamilton, with the crimes all reported to Hamilton Police in the same one-hour period. The towing community woke up to the news that five tow trucks had been torched in North York, and two more in Richmond Hill. While the shooting incident raised flags within the towing community, many members hoped the violent outburst against the tow truck driver was unrelated to his involvement in the industry.

For many of the GTA’s towing professionals, these attacks were taken as confirmation that their worst fears had been right. A small criminal element was once again victimizing members of the broader towing community— after an all-too-brief lull.

Toronto’s deputy police chief James Ramer said the Chester Le gang has been linked to everything
from murder, to drug trafficking and crimes involving the use of tow trucks as battering rams.

Police claims of industry turf war raise unanswered questions

That lull had begun six months earlier, with the wrapping-up of Project Kraken—a huge interdepartmental operation into the Chester Le gang.

In June 2019, Police announced that nearly 600 charges had been laid against 73 people associated with the organization.

Toronto’s deputy police chief James Ramer said the gang and its associates had been linked to everything from murder, to drug trafficking and crimes involving the use of tow trucks as battering rams.

“In two robberies in particular, tow trucks smashed their way through the front of jewelry stores and firearms were discharged,” he told reporters. Seven of the individuals charged were tow truck drivers whose vehicles were believed to have been used in at least two crash-and-grab burglaries of jewelry stores in the GTA.

According to Toronto Police, the gang’s tow truck operating associates were also suspected of being involved in attacks on towing professionals they perceived as infringing on their areas of operations. “[Some of the seven operators] had armed themselves and were prepared to shoot other tow truck operators over an ongoing battle over territory,” Ramer told the press. One detail remains unclear about the Police’s assertion that that these incidents involving the towing community qualify as a battle—or, as several department officials referred to it, a “turf war.”

That detail? Which people or groups are alleged to have taken up arms in opposition to the Chester Le gang members and associates?

In May 2019, a tow truck drove through the front of a Markham jewelry shop with two armed passengers and three accomplices.

Tow pros caught in the crossfire

In the run-up to the attacks, several members of the towing community say the dangers operators faced from roadside attacks had increased.

Despite police claims that the attacks on towing professionals and their vehicles were related to an ongoing ‘turf war,’ police did not provide evidence to suggest the thuggish acts were being reciprocated.

In fact, even drivers from businesses with stainless reputations had been on the receiving ends of violence. Earlier in the year, a driver from Abrams Towing was pulled from a vehicle and beaten in a roadside attack. The driver suffered brain injuries and was unable to recall much about the attack.

In an interview after the incident with, Joey Gagne, the CEO of Abrams Towing—and a past president of the Provincial Towing Association of Ontario— told a reporter that it wasn’t the first such altercation his drivers had experienced. “It has not been normal [for] the last year or so,” Gagne said. “We’ve had drivers harassed and intimidated.”

Early warning signs

The spectre of a relapse of criminality affecting the towing sector was predicted by Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno, shortly after the Chester Le round-up. In her June 28, 2019 column, which covered the intersection of guns, narcotics and tow trucks, DiManno suggested the round-up would be unlikely to have a significant long-term impact.

“Raids are conducted, guys get charged, defendants cycle through the justice system, they’re replaced in a gang hierarchy or resume their roles upon release from prison and nothing much changes,” DiManno wrote.

Abrams Towing CEO Joey Gagne says some “bad apples” are tainting the towing industry.

Just before Christmas, a series of tow truck arson attacks took place across the GTA, sending a chill down the spines of the area’s towing professionals.

Concerning coverage

Though a depressing read for industry professionals, DiManno’s piece—which is, even six months after the news about the Chester Le gang’s connections to the towing sector came to light, the most significant piece of journalism on the story—is admirably defensive about the towing industry’s reputation.

While the piece mentions that the Toronto Star had discovered that members of the towing industry were suspected of being involved in two open murder investigations, DiManno makes it clear that the operators involved are not representative of the industry. In fact, she goes as far as to suggest that there is no clear evidence available to the public that ties towing operators to narcotics trafficking.

“While details were scarce, it sounds like the tow truck faction was not necessarily involved with drug trafficking, which is at the core of gang activity. Rather, their interests may have dovetailed with the Chester Le crew – a means to an end in what is alleged to be a turf-protection racket.”

Unfortunately, in other passages, the piece veers perilously close to slanderous, describing roadside clients of tow truck operators as being viewed as “prey”.

“And, while many of us are familiar with the intense get-there-first competition among

tow truck drivers, the way they troll for prey, who knew that this has apparently taken on such a violent dimension?” DiMannio wrote. Unfortunately for the industry, however, DiManno’s piece is quite tame in its jingoistic assertions about the broader towing sector in the GTA.

The Toronto Sun’s coverage of Project Kraken’s decision to include a rather concerning secondary headline—PISTOL-PACKING TOW TRUCK DRIVERS CAUGHT UP IN GUN AND GANG SWEEP?—is likely to have had a much more lasting effect on the general public’s opinion of tow truck operators. Nor is the content of the article likely to leave its readers with a realistic understanding of the broader towing sector.

“You wouldn’t have wanted to argue with these tow truck drivers over your bill!” the piece jokes.

Fortunately for Canada’s towing community, some members of the industry did step forward to improve the imprecision of the coverage. It its work covering the story, the CBC reached out to both Abrams Towing’s Gagne. “There’s some bad apples that do that,” Gagne said of the seven accused tow operators, “and then there’s some guys that are just trying to get work in their shop.”

In the same story, PTAO’s current president, Mark Graves, made it clear that the honest members of the industry were at the most danger from this small criminal element. “We’ve had murders, vehicles burned,” he said. “It hasn’t escalated outside the industry. But we really want to try to get a handle on this before it does.”

March 2019

• A tow truck is driven through the front of a Markham jewelry shop. Two armed passengers and three accomplices. A second, similar crime is committed a few weeks later.

• Two tow trucks are set alight in a residential area in Richmond Hill.

June 2019

• Toronto Police seize 23 guns, and drugs valued at $400,000 from a group referred to as the Chester Le Gang.
• The investigation into the gang’s activities ends with close to 600 charges being laid against 73 members.
• Seven of the individuals charged are tow truck drivers. According to Toronto Police, several of the tow truck operators kept weap- ons in their vehicles.
• Police refer to the gang as a coordinated criminal organiza- tion. It is alleged to be involved in firearms, trafficking, conspir- acy, robbery and brazen violent crimes.

May 2019

• A driver from Abrams Towing is pulled from a vehicle and beaten. He receives life-alter-
ing brain injuries. He is not the first Abrams towing driver to be victimized.

December 2019

• A white pickup truck collides with a tow truck in a Richmond Hill parking lot. The driver of the tow truck fires several shots at the tow truck operator before driving away. The tow truck operator survives unscathed.
• Three tow trucks are set ablaze in Hamilton, with the crimes all reported to Hamilton Police in the same one-hour period
• Three tow trucks are set alight in North York, and two more in Rich- mond Hill. Police confirm that they believe the attacks to have been connected.”

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