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Toronto won't back down from court fight with Uber: Mayor

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Toronto City Hall is preparing to go to court against Uber in a battle over a recent council vote to cap the number of ridesharing licences.

“Our legal department is preparing a defence,” Mayor Olivia Chow confirmed Tuesday, a day after the ridesharing giant filed an injunction application with the Ontario Superior Court.

Uber Canada is alleging that the October council decision to freeze the number of ridesharing licences until at least the end of 2024 is illegal, on the grounds that the move was done without consultation and was tainted, it claims, with bias and special interests.

Chow and 15 others voted in favour of the surprise cap amid a discussion about transitioning the industry to zero-emission vehicles by 2030, arguing that the freeze would reduce pollution and congestion in the core. At the time, critics warned that without staff study and stakeholder involvement, the city would expose itself to legal liability.

“I'm not surprised,” Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie said of the lawsuit Tuesday. “I spoke in council to say that I thought [the cap] was arbitrary, unfair.”

“When you get on to the council floor and begin meddling with economics, it's no surprise that lawsuits come around,” Toronto Councillor Stephen Holyday said. “And I think this could have easily been predicted, also could have been easily prevented.”

Uber alleges that the cap was enacted in bad faith, and contrary to the city’s own procedural bylaws.

“Nonsense,” Deputy Mayor Mike Colle responded Tuesday. “Listen, this was very routine stuff we do all the time. We add motions, we make changes to things on the agenda.”

“It's just very disappointing that they would take this route and try to basically subvert the democratic process.”

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow attends a news conference with Ontario Premier Doug Ford, not shown, in Toronto on Monday Nov. 27, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

The ridesharing company also alleges that council concealed the plan to bring the motion to the floor of council, disguising it as a spontaneous amendment. Freedom of Information records of emails within the Mayor’s office indicate that Chow had discussed a plan to issue a moratorium on new licences two months before the council vote.

“Let’s discuss what steps we need to take to win this cap,” Chow wrote to a staff member in her office on Aug. 7.

“No problem waiting till October,” she said in another note to staff.

Chow said Tuesday that she could not discuss the allegations while the case is before the court.

“Of course the legal department is very clear that I cannot comment on it.”

A court date has not yet been set. 

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