The stillness of a cold night in the rural town of Caledon, Ont., was shattered by the sound of gunshots just before midnight on Monday.
The town sits to the northwest of Toronto and is home to some of the province’s most beautiful countryside and farms.
That night, however, the southern edge of Caledon, by Mayfield and Airport roads, was a hive of police activity.
“A few gunshots, and then I saw the police in the morning,” one neighbour, Wilifredo Rodriquez, told Global News.
Officers at the scene were investigating a triple shooting that left one person dead and two others with injuries. Ontario Provincial Police believe it may have been a targeted homicide.
While investigators are staying tight-lipped on a possible motive for the shooting, the address where the deadly events transpired has a history of breaking local rules.
The scene — located at 6186 Mayfield Rd. — was the home to what the town described as an illegal trucking operation.
Illegal trucking occurs when a company uses land zoned for activities like farming or homebuilding and converts it into a large, industrial truck depot without local permission.
In Caledon, several trucking operations have also been accused of burying potentially toxic substances like asphalt or concrete in the ground, without notifying local authorities or getting the green light to begin changing the landscape.
According to the town, the Mayfield Road site is one of dozens of similar unregistered outfits around the town that residents claim are causing noise pollution, health issues and worse.
Ontario Provincial Police say they do not have records of complaints about trucking at the address, though municipal and court officials were aware. Police have not said if they believe the triple shooting is in any way connected to illegal trucking.
Illegal trucking at scene of shooting
The address where the shooting took place has been the subject of an investigation into illegal trucking since 2020, when the Town of Caledon launched a task force to crack down on the practice.
That year, the town set aside hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch a group of staff whose sole focus was rooting out and prosecuting those running the various illegal setups in the town.
As of 2021, bylaw staff in Caledon said there were more than 300 properties in the town they believed housed illegal trucking operations.
According to court documents obtained by Global News, a business was accused of running operations from 6186 Mayfield Road without permission or the correct zoning and ordered by a judge to stop.
Documents show a court order to be enforced between the Town of Caledon and an Ontario numbered company banned the group from using the property as a transportation depot or burying fill such as excess asphalt in the land.
The court found the company operating from the land had imported fill and buried it on the property.
“The actions taken by our bylaw enforcement team demonstrates the Town’s continued commitment to eliminate illegal trucking operations that negatively impact our Town,” Mark Sraga, director of municipal enforcement, said in a statement at the start of the year.
Annette Groves, the Caledon mayor, said the fight against illegal trucking was “gaining momentum” after the court ruling in favour of the town.
6186 Mayfield Rd., however, represents just a fraction of the alleged illegal trucking operations in Caledon.
The town has fined other operators in recent years, including 6230 Mayfield Inc., a company at 14455 Dixie Rd. and another at 8242 Mayfield Rd.
Court orders and investigations
After years of inaction, 2020 marked the start of a flurry of investigations, bylaw enforcement and court orders against some of the trucking companies in Caledon.
Officials with the town could not share a specific number for the number of illegal operations in Caledon.
“Illegal transportation depots can appear almost overnight, destroying precious farmland,” a spokesperson for the Town of Caledon said.
They explained the bulk of the issue is on Mayfield Road in the Tullamore and Sandhill area, with some depots appearing on Airport Road as well.
Two dozen illegal trucking operations have been charged by the town since 2020, with more than $750,000 in fines, the spokesperson said.
The number of charges laid by the town has also grown exponentially from 2020 to 2023, officials said.
Some residents, however, believe the legal action isn’t making any meaningful difference on the ground.
“We’ve got great press releases — we’ve got previous mayors, current mayors, directors of bylaw patting ourselves on the back, and then, guess what, we did nothing,” local resident Joanna Valeriani said at a recent town meeting.
“And I’m really disappointed.”
The Town of Caledon did not directly address questions about how many of the companies fined or found guilty have actually packed up and moved on.
“If owners do re-offend, prosecutors can lay second offences with higher fines under provincial legislation and provincial by-laws,” the spokesperson said.
“These efforts help bring properties into compliance.”
Another resident who lives beside a trucking operation, and who Global News is not naming, said a lack of follow-through from the town and its elected officials made the enforcement pointless.
“It hasn’t made one bit of difference,” they said, blaming slow government responses.
“By the time they lay a charge — it takes two, three, four years to get it to court, then they remand it, they appeal it, it goes on forever. Once it gets to the point they know they’re going to get charged, they pack up like vagabonds and move on to the next property.”
Conflict of interest complications
Caledon’s recent drive to deal with illegal trucking was complicated when the mayor was found by the integrity commissioner to have broken conflict of interest rules.
An investigation completed at the start of November found Groves fell foul of the code of conduct when she became involved in two separate bylaw investigations, including one to remove illegal fill.
The town’s integrity commissioner said he “received considerable evidence that significant pressure was placed on staff” by the mayor.
The report was based on two complaints, with the second issue raised to the integrity commissioner alleging Groves told bylaw staff to stop enforcing an order to remove material that had been illegally buried.
The integrity commissioner said a “large amount” of contaminated soil had been dumped near Highway 50 and months of attempts by bylaw staff to force the person responsible to remove it had been unsuccessful.
Staff eventually decided to remove the contaminated soil themselves and went to the site, the report said. It was at that point, the person who had allegedly dumped it there in the first place called the mayor.
The integrity commissioner said Mayor Groves then called bylaw staff, who said the direction from her was clear: “‘clean-up activity was to be stopped.'”
Global News contacted Groves for comment about the integrity commissioner report, asking if it impacted her ability to lead the town’s fight against illegal trucking.
No response was received in time for publication.
The integrity commissioner said that Groves “denied that she ‘directed’ any staff but instead stated that she asked that staff stop taking enforcement actions while the constituents were ‘working with’ various Town departments.”
Fears of criminal connections
Some local residents fear illegal trucking operations in the town are part of a larger and more serious issue.
“It doesn’t end with just having an illegal truck in a spot,” local resident Valeriani said.
She pointed to a recent police investigation on the town’s Torbram Road, where police found $100,000 worth of allegedly stolen vehicles.
Officers said, in early November, an investigation led them to a “rural address” in Caledon, where a Toyota Highlander and a trailer with two 2023 Sea Doos were discovered.
Two men were charged by police in relation to that incident.
“We are a dumping ground for criminal organizations,” Valeriani said.
“They’re called organized crime units. Anyone who is in policing, bylaw, security, would know this. This is a huge problem.”
The Town of Caledon said it did not monitor illegal activity beyond the misuse of land in the town when companies break land use policies.
“In instances where we suspect additional issues on the property, we alert local OPP,” the town spokesperson said.
Peel Regional Police, which operates in Mississauga and Brampton, said its commercial auto crime unit is aware that “trucking companies involved in criminal activity have some form of legitimacy to mask what they are doing.”
Peel police said they were aware of “certain companies” that are involved in organized crime.
“We are in constant cooperation with our partner agencies on these issues,” Peel police said.
Neither OPP nor Peel Regional Police have said if officers are pursuing links between illegal trucking and the shooting in Caledon on Monday night.
Fatima Ahmad, another resident who also spoke at a recent council meeting, said she feared for local residents.
“Our community deserves to thrive in a safe, clean and legal environment,” she said.
— with files from Global News’ Catherine McDonald