It’s been a challenging winter for some snow plow operators and residents in cities across the Greater Toronto Area.
The region has seen several significant snowstorms in recent months – resulting in large snowbanks and the need for a lot of shovelling – and the cities of Mississauga and Oshawa have said reports of clashes between snow plow operators and residents have increased.
The situation became so tense at times that the cities east and west of Toronto had to ask residents to be kinder to municipal snow removal operators.
“Snow-clearing crews and operators have been experiencing escalating harassment and violence – including verbal and physical abuse, threats and unacceptable behaviour from several residents upset about snow-clearing operations,” Helen Noehammer, a spokesperson for the City Mississauga, wrote in a statement.
After a major storm in early March, city crews and operators hired by the municipality were confronted by some residents who blocked snow-clearing work and damaged plowing equipment, Noehammer said.
“Fortunately, no one was hurt during these incidents.”
In Oshawa, police said a 32-year-old man was charged with assault following an altercation with a snow plow driver earlier this month.
“A pile of snow blocked the male’s driveway … causing him to become upset and ultimately assaulting the snow plow driver,” Durham Region police said.
The City of Oshawa said it wouldn’t tolerate harassment or abuse towards staff.
“In rain or shine, through sleet or snow, City of Oshawa workers are out in the community serving our residents, businesses and visitors,” it wrote in a statement.
“Many of them are also our friends, family and neighbours. So let’s remember to treat each other with respect at all times.”
Mississauga resident Angelo Madrasto said he doesn’t condone violence against snow plow operators but expressed frustration with the season’s snow-clearing operations.
He said he recently felt trapped in the home that he has been living in for eight years because of how poorly snow was removed from his street.
“There’s been a real big issue with what they call the windrow of the driveway. After you’ve cleared the entrance of your driveway, a snow plow would then come at some point and create this wall of snow that is very compact,” he said in a phone interview.
“You can no longer leave the home. You can’t go to an appointment. You can’t drop your kids to school or daycare. You got to spend another couple hours to kind of clear that.”
Madrasto said he is recovering from an injury to his wrist after he sprained it while clearing the windrow at the end of his driveway. He said he wants the city to acknowledge the extra effort residents have to put in to clear the windrows snow plow operators leave behind.
Kael Rebbick, a Toronto resident, says her 74-year-old father broke his ankle and had to have surgery last week after tripping over a snowbank that she said the City of Toronto did a poor job clearing.
“It was so preventable,” Rebbick said in a phone interview. “He was just walking his dog like he has been for the last 10 years,.
The snowbank was blocking a street leading to their home so her father tried to walk through it before he fell, she said. Rebbick said paramedics trying to get to her father got stuck in a snowbank while turning a corner on to the street.
“It’s just so infuriating,” she said. “I’ve lived in my building for years and I feel like the snow removal this year was worse than ever.”
The City of Toronto said it is aware many residents have expressed frustration with snow removal operations.
It said it recently consolidated contracts for various snow-clearing operators into one.
“A single contractor now delivers winter maintenance services for all roads, bikeways and sidewalks within a precise geographic zone,” the city said in a email.
The city also said it has seen a “general reduction” in the number of service requests submitted after each snowfall.
“Staff are working with contractors to ensure this trend continues,” it wrote.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2023.