Growing hope for ATOOL’s legal prospects
by Mike Beggs
The certification of class action suits filed by peers in the province of Quebec and Ottawa can’t help but lend hope to Toronto plate owners’ proposed $1.7-billion-plus class action against their City.
Late last October, a $1-billion-plus class action suit against the province of Quebec’s handling of Uber was given the go-ahead by Superior Court Judge Mark Peacock. Earlier, in January of 2018, Justice Robert Smith certified a $215-million class action filed by Ottawa plate owners, alleging their City acted with negligence when Uber arrived in town, and with discrimination against their industry in crafting a new bylaw.
Quebec taxi permit holders allege the government did not enforce its laws and allowed Uber to operate in Quebec with impunity, threatening their livelihoods. The suit spans the past five years, during which the 7,600 taxi permits across the province have dropped in value from $178,000 to about $100,000. The Province has already awarded compensation of up to $46,700 for each permit holder, but claimants are seeking $1,000 in damages for each member of the class action suit, plus the loss in value of their permits (amounting to more than $1 billion).
“The government’s inaction constitutes a disguised expropriation of the drivers’ permits,” alleged their attorney Marc-Antoine Cloutier, to the Montreal Gazette.
In certifying the class action, Judge Peacock stated, “At the heart of this case is the question of why, if two groups are carrying out the same commercial activities, the government treats one group differently than the other.”
His comments caught the attention of GTA plate owners, who allege their cities have failed to protect their financial interests and the safety of the traveling public, by kowtowing to ridesharing companies while collecting a windfall of 30 cents on every run.
“Kudos to Justice Mark Peacock for openly declaring the obvious,” says Mississauga owner Peter Pellier.
“This is encouraging both for the Toronto class action suit, and for those of us in Mississauga seeking a political solution (requesting compensation of $50,000 per plate owner from the City).”
A plaintiff in the Toronto owners’ class action, All Taxi Owners and Operators Ltd. (ATOOL) spokesman Lawrence Eisenberg agrees it’s, “absolutely” a positive sign, but has been told by their lawyer (Michael Binetti), “the judges are different in Quebec than in Ontario.”
“It sounds good, and it is good,” he comments. “Unfortunately, the question is whether the industry will still be in business when it comes to fruition? And the answer to that from what I’ve seen is probably not.
“There are stories about people offering owners nothing for plates. They say, ‘I’ll take your plate and operate it for you for free.’ It’s scary. You may as well hand it back to the City.”
Almost 40 years on the road, Ambassador David Frankel is “very disappointed” in the City’s behavior in implementing the new Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw -- “considering how they’ve bullied us, ever since we had a cab business in this city.”
While not a member of ATOOL, he says, “These class actions being certified, it’s encouraging. (But) I wouldn’t project a result.”
“Even if there’s a successful suit, and even if the money is paid out, it wouldn’t cover the value of the plate and the lack of a future in this business,” he continues. “I’ve been involved in class actions before…It’s very hard to sue the City.”
Veteran Toronto owner/operator Gerry Manley takes heart in the fact that, in granting certification, judges in Quebec and Ottawa have determined, “there is a good case against governments, for what they have done to the taxi industry in Ontario, Quebec, and around the world.” And with three different jurisdictions facing civil litigation from their taxicab industries, he believes, “they all can’t be wrong.”
“I have waited years to see our membership take the City to court, on how they have unfairly and illegally regulated our industry for decades,” he alleges.
“And, I believe, because of our unique circumstances, ours’ is the strongest of the three cases.”
In a recent edition of Taxi News, Mark Sexsmith, sales manager of Mississauga’s All-Star Taxi acknowledged this could produce a snowball effect.
“All we need is one successful suit. Then it gets down to the point, cities are better off to regulate rather than settling law suits,” he stated.
Cloutier is also representing Quebec cab drivers in a separate class action suit before the courts, challenging the legality of the Private Transportation Company (PTC) trial project -- which the government recently extended into a third year.
Meanwhile, cabbies across Quebec staged a one-day strike on March 25, to protest against the CAQ government’s proposed Bill 17, which would abolish the need for taxi permits and remove regional restrictions. Union leaders warn that, if passed, this “inhumane” Bill could be the death knell for taxis in La Belle Province.
According to MT Blog, in Montreal Uber responded by recruiting new customers at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport (left stranded by the strike), while in the city its’ regulars faced surge prices of almost 2 times the normal rate.
Meanwhile, Transport Minister Francois Bonnardel warned the striking drivers that the $500 million compensation package being offered to them is the government’s final offer.