An Ontario town has struggled for years with illegal trucking. Has the fight become deadly? -Toronto

The calm of a cold night in the rural town of Caledon, Ontario, was shattered by the sound of gunfire shortly before midnight Monday.

The city is located northwest of Toronto and is home to some of the most beautiful countryside and farms in the province.

That night, however, Caledon’s southern edge, near Mayfield and airport roads, was a hive of police activity.

“A few shots, then I saw the police in the morning,” neighbor Wilifredo Rodriquez told PKBNEWS.

Police on scene were investigating a triple shooting that left one person dead and two others injured. OPP believe this may have been a targeted k*****g.

While investigators remain tight-lipped about a possible motive for the shooting, the address where the deadly events occurred has a history of breaking local rules.

The scene – located at 6186 Mayfield Rd. – was the site of what the city described as an illegal trucking operation.

Illegal trucking occurs when a company uses land zoned for activities such as farming or home construction and converts it into a large industrial truck depot without local permission.

In Caledon, several trucking companies have also been accused of burying potentially toxic substances like asphalt or concrete in the ground, without notifying local authorities or getting the green light to begin altering the landscape.

The Mayfield Road location is one of dozens of similar unregistered businesses in the city that residents say cause noise pollution, health problems and worse, according to the city.

The Ontario Provincial Police say they have no records of complaints about trucking at that address, although city and court officials were aware of them. Police have not said whether they believe the triple shooting was in any way related to illegal trucking.

Illegal road transport at the scene of the shooting

The address where the shooting took place has been under investigation for illegal trucking since 2020, when the Town of Caledon launched a task force to crack down on the practice.

That year, the city set aside hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch an employee group whose sole goal was to root out and prosecute those who ran the city’s various illegal facilities.

As of 2021, Caledon bylaw staff said there are more than 300 properties in the city that they believe house illegal trucking operations.

According to court documents obtained by PKBNEWS, a company was accused of operating at 6186 Mayfield Road without permits or proper zoning and a judge ordered it to stop.

Documents show a court order to be enforced between the Town of Caledon and an Ontario numbered company prohibited the group from using the property as a transportation depot or burying materials such as excess asphalt in field.

The court found that the company operating from the land had imported fill and buried it on the property.

“The actions taken by our bylaw enforcement team demonstrate the city’s continued commitment to eliminating illegal trucking operations that negatively impact our city,” said Mark Sraga, director of bylaw enforcement. , in a press release at the beginning of the year.

Caledon Mayor Annette Groves said the fight against illegal trucking was “gaining momentum” after the court ruling in favor of the city.

However, 6186 Mayfield Road represents only a fraction of the suspected illegal trucking operations in Caledon.

The city has fined other operators in recent years, including 6230 Mayfield Inc., a business at 14455 Dixie Rd., and another at 8242 Mayfield Rd.

An image showing trucks parked in Caledon. This is a general image and not specific to the operations mentioned in the story.

PKBNEWS

Judicial orders and investigations

After years of inaction, 2020 marked the start of a wave of investigations, enforcement and court orders against some Caledon trucking companies.

City officials could not share a specific number on the number of illegal operations in Caledon.

“Illegal haulage depots can appear almost overnight, destroying valuable agricultural land,” said a spokesperson for the Town of Caledon.

They explained that the bulk of the problem is on Mayfield Road in the Tullamore and Sandhill area, with some deposits also appearing on Airport Road.

Two dozen illegal trucking operations have been charged by the city since 2020, with more than $750,000 in fines, the spokesperson said.

The number of charges filed by the city also increased exponentially between 2020 and 2023, officials said.

Some residents, however, believe the lawsuits make no significant difference on the ground.

“We’ve had great press releases – we’ve had previous mayors, current mayors, bylaw directors congratulating us, and then, guess what, we’ve done nothing,” said local resident Joanna Valériani during a recent town meeting.

“And I’m really disappointed.”

The Town of Caledon did not directly answer questions about how many businesses fined or found guilty actually packed up and left.

“If owners repeat offenses, prosecutors can pursue a second offense and impose higher fines under provincial legislation and regulations,” the spokesperson said.

“These efforts help bring properties into compliance.”

Another resident who lives next to a trucking company, and whom PKBNEWS is not naming, said the lack of follow-up from the city and its elected officials made the app useless.

“It made no difference,” they said, blaming the government’s slow responses.

“By the time they lay a charge, it takes two, three, four years to get the case to court, then they send it back, they appeal, and it goes on forever. Once they get to the point where they know they’re going to be charged, they pack up like vagrants and head to the next property.

Complications related to conflicts of interest

Caledon’s recent initiative to combat illegal trucking was complicated when the integrity commissioner concluded the mayor broke the rules.

An investigation completed in early November found Groves violated the code of conduct when she was involved in two separate bylaw investigations, including one aimed at removing illegal embankments.

The city’s integrity commissioner said he “received extensive evidence that the mayor exerted significant pressure on staff.”

The report was based on two complaints, with the second issue raised with the Integrity Commissioner alleging that Groves had asked bylaw staff to stop enforcing an order to remove material that had been illegally buried.

The integrity commissioner says a ‘large amount’ of contaminated soil was dumped near Highway 50 and months of attempts by bylaw enforcement staff to force the person responsible to remove it had failed.

Staff ultimately decided to remove the contaminated soil themselves and went to the site, according to the report. That’s when the person who allegedly dumped it there called the mayor.

The Integrity Commissioner said Mayor Groves then called bylaw staff, who told him their instructions were clear: “cleanup activities must be stopped.”

PKBNEWS reached out to Groves for comment on the integrity commissioner’s report, asking if it had an impact on his ability to lead the city’s fight against illegal trucking.

No response was received in time for publication.

The integrity commissioner said Groves “denied ‘directing’ staff, but instead said she directed staff to stop taking enforcement action while constituents ‘worked with’ various departments of the city.

A second image showing trucks parked in Caledon. This is a general image and not specific to the operations mentioned in the story.

PKBNEWS

Fears of criminal links

Some local residents fear illegal trucking operations in the city are part of a larger, more serious problem.

“It’s not limited to the mere presence of an illegal truck in a given location,” said Valeriani, a local resident.

She highlighted a recent police investigation on Torbram Road in the city, where police discovered allegedly stolen vehicles worth $100,000.

Officers said that in early November, an investigation led them to a “rural address” in Caledon, where a Toyota Highlander and a trailer with two 2023 Sea Doos were discovered.

Two men have been charged by police in connection with the incident.

“We are a dumping ground for criminal organizations,” Valeriani said.

“They are called organized crime units. Anyone who works in policing, regulation and security knows this. This is a huge problem.”

The Town of Caledon said it does not monitor illegal activities beyond misuse of land in the town when businesses violate land use policies.

“In cases where we suspect other issues on the property, we alert the local Ontario Provincial Police,” the city spokesperson said.

Peel Regional Police, which operate in Mississauga and Brampton, said its commercial vehicle crime unit is aware that “trucking companies involved in criminal activity have some form of legitimacy to mask this.” what they do.”

Peel police said they are aware of “some businesses” involved in organized crime.

“We are constantly cooperating with our partner agencies on these matters,” Peel Police said.

Neither the OPP nor Peel Regional Police have indicated whether officers are investigating links between illegal trucking and the shooting in Caledon Monday evening.

Fatima Ahmad, another resident who also spoke at a recent council meeting, said she feared for local residents.

“Our community deserves to thrive in a safe, clean and legal environment,” she said.

— with files from Catherine McDonald of PKBNEWS

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