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RCMP launches investigation into Ford government Greenbelt landswap

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RCMP launches investigation into Ford government Greenbelt landswap
WATCH: RCMP launches investigation into Ford government Greenbelt landswap – Oct 10, 2023

The RCMP has formally launched an investigation into the Ford government’s decision to open parts of Ontario’s Greenbelt up for development after the potential probe was handed over by provincial police officers.

The federal police announced its investigation in a statement on Tuesday afternoon, saying it will be led by its Sensitive and International Investigations Unit.

A description of the unit on the RCMP’s website says its officers look into allegations of financial crimes like fraud, corruption and procurement. The website also says the unit looks at illegal lobbying activity and investigates elected officials.

The province removed 7,400 acres of land from the Greenbelt last year as part of its broader push to build 1.5 million homes by 2031, while adding land elsewhere. The swap triggered a public outcry and investigations from two legislative watchdogs.

One of the investigations concluded developers who owned land removed from the Greenbelt saw their property value increase by $8.3 billion. Both watchdog reports described a rushed process that allowed developers to influence which parcels of land were removed.

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The fallout led to the resignation of the province’s housing minister, another cabinet member and senior political staffers at Queen’s Park.

In September, Premier Doug Ford announced he would reverse the decision and return all removed lands to the Greenbelt. He accepted the process had been flawed and apologized.

In a statement released soon after federal police confirmed their investigation, the premier’s office said it expected everyone involved in the Greenbelt process to cooperate with police.

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“We have zero tolerance for any wrongdoing and expect anyone involved in the decision-making about the Greenbelt lands to have followed the letter of the law,” a statement said. “Out of respect for the police and their process, we will not be commenting further at this time.”

The RCMP’s formal investigation into the Greenbelt landswap comes after the issue was referred by Ontario Provincial Police in August to avoid a perceived conflict of interest. Ontario police had been weighing whether or not to begin an investigation since the turn of the year.

“While we recognize that this investigation is of significant interest to Canadians, the RCMP has a duty to protect the integrity of the investigations that it carries out, in order to ensure that the process leads to a fair and proper outcome,” the brief RCMP statement said, adding it would not provide any further updates “at this time.”

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Opposition parties welcomed the investigation.

“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,” Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles said in a statement.

Ontario Liberal Leader John Fraser called the investigation “good news” and said public money should not be spent on lawyers used by anyone involved in the investigation.
Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner said an RCMP investigation is key to delivering justice and accountability to Ontarians.

“I am pleased to hear that the RCMP is investigating the corrupt process that saw a few wealthy, well-connected land speculators cash in $8.3 billion on Ontario’s Greenbelt,” Schreiner said.

The province is soon set to table legislation so future changes to the Greenbelt would have to be done through the legislature and not done by regulation, as the Ford government did last November.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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Click to play video: '‘The intention was right’: Ford says on controversial Greenbelt land swap after reversing decision'
‘The intention was right’: Ford says on controversial Greenbelt land swap after reversing decision

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