On Tuesday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) declared that they have initiated a legal inquiry into the proposal of Ontario Premier Doug Ford to allow for the development of Greenbelt land.
“Following a referral from the Ontario Provincial Police, the RCMP O Division’s Sensitive and International Investigations (SII) unit has now launched an investigation into allegations associated to the decision from the Province of Ontario to open parts of the Greenbelt for development,” RCMP Cpl. Christy Veenstra said in a statement Tuesday.
To guarantee a just and appropriate outcome, no additional updates will be given at this moment, according to the statement.
“We acknowledge that this investigation holds great importance for Canadians, but the RCMP is obligated to safeguard the integrity of its conducted investigations.”
The RCMP’s specialized unit for sensitive and international investigations focuses on matters that pose significant threats to Canada’s political, economic, and social integrity. According to the force’s website, this squad conducts political investigations involving elected officials accused of fraud, financial crimes, corruption, and breach of trust.
The investigation into criminal activities commenced after the province took away land from the Greenbelt, which is a protected area, in order to construct 1.5 million homes by 2031. Recently, Ford reversed his decision to remove significant portions of land from the Greenbelt due to public backlash and the resignations of two ministers. He expressed regret for the land exchange and assured that all the lands would be restored to the Greenbelt.
Before the reversal, two governmental oversight bodies investigating the land exchange conducted by the government discovered issues with the selection procedure for determining which lands would be excluded from the Greenbelt. These flaws resulted in a biased outcome that favored specific developers.
J. David Wake, the integrity commissioner of the province, discovered that Steve Clark, who was Ford’s housing minister at that time, breached ethics regulations. Clark subsequently resigned soon after the release of the commissioner’s report.
In a distinct report, the auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, discovered that the developers could potentially witness a rise of $8.3 billion in the value of their land due to the land exchange.
Ford has expressed his belief that no criminal activity occurred.
WATCH | Ford apologizes for controversial Greenbelt plan:
The investigations conducted by both the integrity commissioner and the auditor general were centered on Ryan Amato, Clark’s chief of staff at that time.
Lysyk found that more than 90 per cent of the land removed from the Greenbelt was within five sites passed on to Amato by two prominent developers he met at an industry dinner.
Wake did not discover any proof of developers receiving advance notice about the government’s plans to remove Greenbelts. However, he did find one developer who seemed suspicious in this regard. Nevertheless, Amato’s actions and interactions with them had the intended outcome of conveying this information.
Amato stepped down shortly after the release of the auditor general’s report. He had previously stated that he had not committed any wrongdoing and chose not to provide any comments on Tuesday.
Amato stated in an email that, based on the guidance of their legal advisor, it would not be suitable for them to provide any comments regarding an ongoing police investigation.
The government will provide complete cooperation in the investigation.
In August, the OPP requested the RCMP to determine if an investigation is necessary to prevent any possible conflict of interest. Consequently, a criminal inquiry has been launched.
On Tuesday, Ford’s office said it will “fully cooperate” with any investigation.
A statement from his office states that we have absolutely no tolerance for any misconduct and we anticipate that anyone who was part of the decision-making process regarding the Greenbelt lands has strictly adhered to the law.
“We will refrain from making any additional comments at this time, as a sign of respect towards the police and their procedures.”
The province is preparing to introduce legislation that would require any future modifications to the Greenbelt to be approved by the legislature instead of being implemented through regulation, as the Ford government did in November of last year.
NDP Leader Marit Stiles expresses optimism that the ongoing RCMP investigation will provide further clarity and information.
Stiles expressed in a press conference on Tuesday that presently our Premier is subject to a criminal investigation, and our government is rapidly losing its ability to manage effectively.
“It is absolutely shameful that under Premier Ford’s leadership this government has appeared to have acted so improperly that the RCMP was compelled to launch an investigation.”
WATCH | Stiles comments on RCMP criminal probe announcement:
Tim Gray, the executive director of Environmental Defence, an organization that supports the preservation of clean water, a secure climate, and thriving communities, expressed optimism and importance regarding the initiation of an inquiry into the Ontario government’s Greenbelt land exchange.
Gray stated in a news release on Tuesday that it was evident from the beginning that the Ontario government’s actions of removing land to facilitate urban expansion in the Greenbelt were a deceptive explanation.
Nevertheless, the presence of political officials and allegiances in this scandal amplifies the significance of conducting a thorough investigation and assigning culpability for criminal actions.
Gray stated that, while the investigation into the criminal matter is ongoing, it is necessary to take “prompt action” to revert boundary expansions and prevent the removal of Greenbelt land. This is crucial to safeguard the land from any future development.
Examine the essential factor for ensuring justice and accountability.
Ontario Greens leader and Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner emphasized the importance of the investigation in ensuring that Ontarians receive the justice and accountability they deserve.
On Tuesday, Scheiner expressed his satisfaction with the RCMP’s investigation into the dishonest practices that allowed a small group of affluent land speculators to profit $8.3 billion from Ontario’s Greenbelt.
The Ontario Greens have continuously requested a police inquiry to rectify the damage caused by Ford’s Greenbelt giveaway and regain the trust of Ontarians. However, there are numerous unresolved queries that hold substantial consequences for our governance in this province.
John Fraser, the temporary leader of the Ontario Liberals, also described the decision as “positive news.”
Fraser stated that we should investigate the reason behind why a few of the Premier’s associates and supporters were favored and given an advantage for an $8.3 billion unexpected gain, as there is usually some truth to rumors.
“There is no possibility that a rookie chief of staff alone orchestrated a scandal of this magnitude; ultimately, it is evident that all roads point towards the Premier’s office.”