A few weeks ago, Pierre Abraham Mulamba stopped in a shopping center in the Saint-Laurent borough in Montreal.
He had to go to the pharmacy in Galeries Norgate, near Montreal’s Côte-Vertu metro station, but first rushed across the street to get cash from an ATM .
When he returned a few minutes later, his SUV was gone.
Mulamba spotted a sign for the towing company that manages the parking lot.
When he called to ask for the address of their office, a woman said, “No, no, no, no. Look in that parking lot. [lot]there’s a guy sitting in a Honda,” Mulamba recalled. “So, I thought it was a bit strange.”
He was told that if he paid, they would tell him where his vehicle was. The man in the Honda had an Interac machine, and Mulamba was charged $116.
WATCH | Cars parked at Galeries Norgate are quickly towed away:
Mulamba expected to find his SUV in a tow yard or garage, but to his surprise it was left on a nearby residential street.
“It’s not normal,” Mulamba said.
After getting his car back, he decided to head back to the mall to see what was going on.
He saw an observer showing cars to the tow truck driver.
Within an hour, Mulamba said, he saw six cars being towed away.
To make sure it wasn’t a one-time incident, he returned a few days later and witnessed the same pattern.
He confronted the man collecting the payments in the parking lot.
“I told him, ‘I’m going to expose you,'” Mulamba said. He contacted CBC News, concerned about the large sums of money the company charges unsuspecting buyers.
Vehicles quickly removed from the lot
Over the course of two days last week, CBC observed the tow truck operator removing cars at a rapid pace, in some cases hooking up the car and carrying it away in 10 or 15 seconds.
In a single hour last Wednesday, the operator towed five cars from the lot, each time depositing the vehicle on a nearby street.
There are several white and red signs posted in the parking lot of the plaza, warning buyers that unauthorized vehicles will be towed away. At the bottom of each sign, it says that parking is reserved for shoppers in the mall.
CBC spoke to several people whose car was towed during the two-day period.
In two cases, the drivers said they never even left the mall. In other cases, drivers had only left for five or ten minutes to get to a store across the road and intended to continue shopping in the square when they returned.
To retrieve their vehicles, they were told to pay a woman in an idling SUV to find out the location of their car. Fees ranged from $87 to $133.
Under Montreal towing regulations, drivers may be charged an $89 towing fee. The tow truck operator can charge an additional $30 for storing the vehicle, but only six hours after towing the vehicle.
Towing companies are also prohibited from not revealing the location of the car to the owner until he pays.
“It wasn’t even 5 minutes”
Ali Amjad was among those who had their car towed when CBC was there last week. He said when he found his car gone, he initially thought his vehicle had been stolen.
He said he had stopped at the mall to exchange some money, but the bank had not yet opened. He crossed the street to get to Western Union, but found it also closed.
When he returned, his car was missing.
“I was so shocked: it wasn’t even five minutes,” Amjad said.
He was charged $133, which he had to borrow from a friend who works there.
By the time he returned to the SUV to pay, a line had formed.
Amjad said a man, who was told he owed $120, was angrily arguing over the woman collecting the payments. He said two others refused to pay and said they would call the police.
“It was a bad experience,” said Amjad, who recently moved from South Africa to Montreal.
Md Riaz Uddin was luckier. Uddin said he returned from the pharmacy, located in the mall, and returned to find his car hitched to a tow truck.
He managed to convince the driver to pick up the car without paying, but he was upset that it happened in the first place.
“It’s really ridiculous, and it’s not fair to people,” Uddin said.
Dongmo Ernest Joel witnessed another man struggling to find his car after it was towed away last week and stopped to help him. He had his own car towed last November while shopping at the mall’s pharmacy. He said he thought about calling the police but didn’t because he didn’t believe they would do anything.
Plaza manager defends towing
The parking of the linear mall is managed by Solutions des Parcs de Stationnement du Québec Inc. (SPSQ), but the actual towing is done by another company, Gestion RSCM.
Last October, the Journal de MontrThis isAl reported similar complaints about the same two companies from patrons of a Tim Hortons parking lot in nearby Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
SPSQ manages the parking lots of many apartment complexes and commercial spaces across the city.
An employee who answered the phone to SPSQ said company owner Shant Edgar Grigorian would not comment and referred questions to the manager of Galeries Norgate. RSCM Management owner Megerditch Batmanian did not return a request for comment.
Online reviews of Norgate Galleries include complaints about cars being towed into the square that date back more than a year.
Christopher Arnaoutelis, the vice-president of operations for Crofton Moore, the property developer that manages Galeries Norgate, confirmed that its contract with SPSQ states that cars must be removed immediately if the driver is seen leaving the mall grounds.
He said the policy was intended to prevent people taking the subway from using the square as parking for the day. (None of the towed people CBC spoke to had taken the subway.)
Arnaoutelis said the rule also applies to those who shop in the square and then briefly shop elsewhere.
“It’s something we have to do because anyone could go into the mall, walk into the convenience store, buy a pack of cigarettes or some gum, and then walk away and go somewhere else and leave the car there all the day. it doesn’t work like that.”
He admits that a few people had their cars towed by mistake. Asked about the seemingly arbitrary amounts charged to people, Arnaoutelis said the tow operator knows the regulations, but if there are questions the customer should keep proof of payment and contact Crofton Moore.
“We tow cars there every day, and we haven’t received any notification from the city that we’re breaking any regulations,” Arnaoutelis said.
Saint-Laurent Borough Mayor Alan DeSousa said he is aware of the complaints, and the borough has asked Crofton Moore to add better signage to warn buyers of the risk of being towed away. they leave the property.
Following CBC’s inquiries, Crofton Moore shared a mock-up of the sign. It’s bigger, clearer, and includes a photo of a tow truck. There is no date as to when the panels were installed.
Past Investigations, Towing Company Warnings
Towing companies have a history of malpractice in Montreal and the surrounding area.
A Radio-Canada investigation In 2016, a towing company in Laval racked up dozens of complaints with the Consumer Protection Office for its questionable business practices, including the use of intimidation and threats.
A year later, the Montreal police arrested 13 people linked to the same company, accusing them of seizing vehicles parked in violation of advertised rules on private or commercial property and holding them until the owners have paid.
The office of the ombudsman of Montreal has expressed concern in the past about such practices. In a statement last week, spokesperson Pierre Tessier said the ombudsman is still monitoring the situation closely.
Montreal police did not confirm whether there had been any complaints about the Saint-Laurent shopping center, but police said tow truck companies that do not comply with the law will be charged.
Anyone with a complaint can call the police at 514-872-6531 or email [email protected]