Q&A: Jim Karygiannis, the anti-Uber crusader

Q&A: Jim Karygiannis, the anti-Uber crusader

Councillor Jim Karygiannis made his reputation as a strident defender of the traditional taxi. Yet he received thousands of dollars from that same industry. Conflict? He says nah

Jim Karygiannis (Image: Erin Leydon)

As a member of the city’s licensing and standards committee, you’ve become the unofficial spokesperson for Uber hate. What’s so bad about a popular, affordable mode of transportation?
The city tells the industry what to do. Uber replies, “No thanks!” What’s next? Uber teachers? Uber doctors? Uber jets?

Have you ever used the service?

You’re friends with Peter Zahakos, CEO of Co-op Cabs. Has he ever lobbied you?
He has, yes.

And he donated to your campaign.
So did other people.

Yes, including taxi plate owners, members of the Toronto Taxi Alliance and senior officials at cab companies.
Okay, but does that mean if my wife has a business, I can’t talk to her?

You held a press conference to announce that UberX passengers are liable to be fined $20,000. Do you stand by that statement?
Those are the rules and regulations.

You confronted an UberX driver on private property, aggressively explaining that what he was doing was illegal.
I told him, “You don’t have a taxi licence or insurance.” The owner of the house came out and said, “Get off my driveway.” I said, “Thank you, sir,” and left.

Is it appropriate for a councillor to personally enforce bylaws?
I did what I thought was right.

Mayor Tory supports innovation in the industry. He also called your heated exchanges with deputants at a recent meeting “a disgrace.” What’s your opinion of him?
He’s the mayor, one vote out of 45. I offered to help his campaign. He didn’t accept. Later, I requested a meeting; he declined.

How would you describe your relationship?
Respect me not once, fine. Respect me not twice, hey… I’ve been in the trenches a long time.

Do you want his job?
I served as an MP for 25 years, but just one at city hall so far. Never say never—although my wife, Toula, owns a baseball bat. She might use it if I ever repeat that.

How did you meet Toula?
I was a bachelor in Toronto, and one day my father put me on a plane to Greece and told me to find a wife. My uncle, a watermelon salesman, took me into the mountains, where I saw her: an angel. Sorry, I think I’m going to cry.

That’s okay. How did you win her over?
I told my uncle, “I think I like her.” He handled the back and forth. We married a week later.

You brought her here. Any bumps en route to marital bliss?
Roughly 40 years ago, when I was an engineer and had been out with colleagues, I came home fall-down drunk. Toula said, “Alcohol or me.” I chose her. Today, my only indulgence is a rare finger of cognac. And a Cuban cigar.

So the marriage-on-sight gambit worked out.
Yes, we’re still in love. I’m not on that Ashley Madison—I’ve got my hands full with the wife! Plus, we have five daughters.

You’re a pro-life Liberal. Any contradiction there?
Only at home. Toula considered aborting our fourth and fifth kids. We decided against it. Sorry. Give me a second.

That’s okay. This is clearly very emotional for you.
These days, I sometimes point at my youngest daughters and say, “See?” Toula says, “Yeah, you’re right. Now shut up.” Also, my son-in-law Mike was born to a 16-year-old mother who gave him up for adoption. He wouldn’t exist today had she chosen differently.

In light of the shooting after OVO Fest, you said you wanted to ban “these kinds of parties” at Muzik. What did you mean?
OVO Fest attracts a particular clientele that invites problems. I want Muzik to diversify their events.

Some people have called you the new Giorgio Mammoliti.
Not at all. I’m a unique voice all my own.

I think that’s the point.
Everyone’s entitled to their opinion.