Car pounds and towing

As much as possible, cars that are towed and stored at the request of Ville de Montréal are placed in a municipal pound. But the number of vehicles to be stored largely surpasses the physical capacities of the municipal pounds and the City must, therefore, negotiate Agreements with private pounds to tow and store vehicles on its behalf. These Agreements are negotiated by the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (“SPVM”).

According to the By-law concerning the Ombudsman, we have jurisdiction over any person carrying duties on behalf of Ville de Montréal. When a private pound tows and stores a vehicle at the SPVM request, therefore, our office may investigate the private pound’s administration, decision and actions relating to this mandate.

Here are some examples of complaints we handled with regard to towing /storage of cars which were done by Ville de Montréal or on its behalf.

Lost/recovered vehicle – Police investigation over several days – Who must pay the $1,350 storage costs? (2016)

Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM)

The SPVM recovers a vehicle that had been stolen. It has it towed and stored for the purposes of its police investigation which lasts 39 days.

Afterwards, the SPVM notifies the owner that in order to recover her vehicle, she has to pay the storage costs covering the duration of the police investigation, and then claim a refund with the Bureau des réclamations. These costs amount to $1,350. The citizen turns to our office.

Yet, in 2008, following a similar intervention from our office, the SPVM had issued an instruction confirming that the innocent victim of a car theft does not have to personally pay for storage expenses incurred due to a police investigation. Current SPVM management was seemingly not aware of this policy.

After some research, the SPVM tracks down the document stating this policy. The citizen recovers her vehicle without having to pay the amount of $1,350.

The SPVM issues a reminder of this policy to all impacted stakeholders in order to prevent the recurrence of a similar situation. Management further assures us that this rule will be clearly laid out in the local procedures which are currently being revised.

Towed vehicle unaccounted for (2013)

In the fall of 2012, a citizen parked her vehicle in the street. The next day, her car was no longer there and another vehicle was parked in its place.  She called 911 to declare the theft of her vehicle. The 911 employee suggested that she first verifies with 311 (Réseau Accès Montréal) if her car had not, rather, been towed. The 311 employee answered that there was no information on her vehicle.

She then called back 911 which sent police officers to take her theft complaint. While waiting for the officers, the citizen called 311 again for additional verification: still no trace of her vehicle.

She declared the theft of her vehicle to her insurer and, later, purchased another one.

One (1) month later, the police found her vehicle in a neighbouring street. The citizen was then told that her vehicle had been towed by Ville de Montréal four (4) weeks earlier.

Usually, the information regarding the towing of a vehicle should quickly be registered in the Info-Remorquage database so as to allow the owner to trace his vehicle as soon as possible. In reality, however, there were often delays. In this specific case, we found out the information was entered in the system twenty-six (26) hours after the towing had taken place which explains why there was no data on her vehicle, when she contacted 311.

In our opinion, such a delay for registering a towed vehicle was unacceptable!

Following our intervention, the procedure was modified. Now, whenever a parking agent requires that a vehicle be towed, he must immediately forward the information to his office for it to be registered in the database, as soon as possible.

Our investigation also showed that when the theft of a vehicle was reported, the police officers did not systematically consult the Info-Remorquage database. A vehicle towed at the City’s request could, therefore, be treated as a stolen vehicle. After discussions with the SPVM, the latter sent a memo to all police officers reminding them that they must consult the Info-Remorquage database before registering a stolen vehicle.

In conclusion: what happened to this citizen should not have occurred and we sincerely sympathize with her for this mishap that cost her much trouble and time.

This matter has nonetheless highlighted the necessity of improving procedures. We are certain improvements put in place will prevent other people from facing a similar situation.

Possessor in good faith of a stolen vehicle: Storage fees during police investigation (2009)

A citizen was contesting the towing and storage fees he had to pay to a private pound, acting under a proxy of Ville de Montréal.

His vehicle had been seized by the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (the “SPVM”), then towed and stored, at the request of the SPVM, for the purpose of a police investigation. When the citizen was authorized to retrieve his vehicle, he had to pay $869.14. The citizen seeked reimbursement because he was not responsible for this towing nor for the long storage delays due to the police investigation.

Our investigation revealed that this vehicle had been stolen in 1999 and that its serial number had been modified. When the SPVM found it, in 2009, the plaintiff was its possessor in good faith but the insurance company who had compensated the initial owner was legally the owner.

Usually, when the SPVM keeps a stolen vehicle of which it suspects the identification numbers have been modified, the towing and storage fees incurred during the investigation are billed to the insurance company who has become the legal owner of the car.

In the present instance, however, the insurance company had transferred the ownership rights to the possessor in good faith of the vehicle (our plaintiff) which is why he was the one who claimed the vehicle and charged the towing and storage fees of $869.14.

We questioned the relevance of requesting that the possessor in good faith of a stolen vehicle pays the towing and storage fees related to a police investigation, in regards to an event he did not perpetrate. We also took into account the fact that the citizen had no control on this investigation and therefore, on the duration of this storage. Finally, we considered the fact that the citizen had retrieved his vehicle as soon as he had been allowed to do so.

Following a discussion with the Bureau des réclamations and considering the special circumstances of this file, it was agreed that this citizen should be reimbursed, which he was.

Billing errors – Private pounds (2007)

The amounts that a private pound acting for Ville de Montréal can charge to citizens are specifically provided for in the Agreements negotiated with the SPVM.

We investigated situations, however, where the billing actually made had resulted in citizens being overcharged.

For example, we found cases where:

  • Two days of storage were billed when the vehicle had been stored for less than 24 hours;
  • “Other fees” of $25.00 had been charged although the contract forbids the claiming of any non-negotiated cost;
  • Towing fees of $85.00 had been charged whereas the contract provides for $75.00 only.

Following our interventions, the concerned citizens were reimbursed. We also notified the SPVM of these irregularities.

The SPVM quickly forwarded a letter to all private pounds with which it has an Agreement reminding them, very clearly, that they can only charge amounts which are provided for in the Agreement.

The SPVM is presently renegotiating the terms of these Agreements and modifications will be made to avoid similar problems, in the future. The SPVM undertook to keep our office informed of the changes contemplated, beforehand, as well as all the measures that will be implemented to avoid the reoccurrence of such errors.

Vehicle held for the purpose of a police investigation – Storage fees (2007)

A stolen vehicle was found and stored in a pound, at the SPVM request, until an expert investigator could examine it and take fingerprints.

When the citizen was allowed to recover her vehicle, five (5) days later, she was charged towing and storage fees totalizing $241.57. Since these costs had been incurred for the purpose of the police investigation, she asked the Bureau des réclamations of Ville de Montréal to reimburse the amount, but her request was denied.

After analysis, the Ombudsman de Montréal came to the conclusion that it was unfair to charge the victim who had committed no fault and did not participate in the commission of the crime the towing and storage fees incurred for the purpose of police investigation. She, therefore, intervene on behalf of the citizen.

The Direction du contentieux finally accepted her view and confirmed that, in such circumstances, the victim/owner should not pay these fees. It also agreed that when the police no longer needs the vehicle, for its investigation, a reasonable notice should be given to the citizen/owner to retrieve it, without cost. In the present instance, the citizen was fully reimbursed.

In 2008, a new procedure was adopted and implemented by the SPVM: the new rule confirms that whenever the SPVM has a vehicule towed and stored for the purpose of a police investigation, the resulting fees must not be charged to the owner of the vehicule.

Disposal of a seized vehicle (2007)

The citizen’s car had been seized by the SPVM, at the request of theBureau du taxi et du remorquage: he was suspected of offering paid transportation services without holding a taxi driver’s license, in breach of An Act respecting transportation service by taxi (the “Act”). His vehicle was stored in a private pound, for the SPVM.

Approximately one month later, the citizen received a notice from the private pound informing him that if he failed to recover his vehicle, within the following ten (10) days, it would be put up for sale. When the citizen tried to recover his vehicle, however, he was asked to produce a SPVM authorization to that effect, which he was unable to obtain. The citizen then submitted a complaint to the Ombudsman de Montréal to prevent the sale of his car.

Our investigation showed that, under the Act, the pound could not dispose of the vehicle and the SPVM could not authorize the pound to give it back to the citizen. The Act is clear: only a Court of law can authorize such disposal or handing over, to its owner.

In light of the above, the Ombudsman de Montréal quickly issued a Recommendation to the SPVM and to the concerned private pound asking them to:

  • Suspend immediately any proceedings for the disposal of the vehicle; and
  • Ensure that the vehicle would not be sold or otherwise disposed of, except with the specific authorization of the court.

The private pound acknowledged its mistake and immediately corrected the situation. As for the SPVM, it confirmed that appropriate measures had been taken to prevent this sale and to ensure the respect of the Act.

Our intervention prevented the illegal sale of this citizen’s vehicle.

Car towed and stored by mistake (2007)

The citizen’s car was parked illegally. Instead of having it moved elsewhere, an SPVM agent mistakenly had it towed and stored to the municipal pound.

When the citizen noticed her car was missing, she contacted the police quarters: she was told there was no Report that the car had been moved elsewhere or towed away and, therefore, that her vehicle had probably been stolen. Soon after, a Towing Report was received at the police quarters: an agent tried to contact the citizen, without success, and the file was put aside.

Many days later, the citizen received a Statement of offence for illegal parking and a bill of $1,025.55, for the towing and storage of her vehicle. After other attempts had failed, she contacted our office.

In the course of our investigation, the SPVM recognized that the car should not have been towed and stored but only moved elsewhere: the citizen could, therefore, recover her vehicle, without paying these fees. The Statement of offence remained into force, however, and had to be paid: its amount includes a $50.00 towing fee.