Investigators with the Ontario Provincial Police have begun quietly conducting interviews to determine whether to launch an investigation into the Ford government’s controversial decision to open up parts of Ontario’s Greenbelt for development.
The OPP received multiple complaints from environmental groups and members of the public after the government revealed that 7,400 acres of land would be removed from the Greenbelt and converted into housing developments, breaking a promise Ford made during the 2018 election campaign to leave the area intact.
Further questions were raised after a Toronto Star/Narwhal investigation found one developer bought 700 acres of Greenbelt land in September, weeks before the government announced its plan to open that property for development.
One of the groups interviewed by police told Global News that investigators received more than a dozen complaints and were taking the matter “seriously.”
“They will be making a determination this month about whether to pursue a more formal investigation,” said Tim Gray with Environmental Defence.
An OPP spokesperson confirmed that the anti-rackets branch has begun working on the file.
“The OPP Anti Rackets Branch continues to review the information from the complainants to date to determine if there is any evidence to support an actual investigation,” the OPP said in a statement.
Premier Doug Ford’s office told Global News the OPP has not, to date, engaged with the government.
“No one in the premier’s office or any member of the government has been contacted and no documents have been requested by the OPP on this matter,” a spokesperson for Ford said in a statement.
Toward the end of 2022, both Ford and his housing minister Steve Clark denied their plan to allow home building on parts of the Greenbelt had been communicated to developers in advance, including those that have donated to the Progressive Conservative Party.
Opponents and critics of the Ford government blasted the deal, submitting complaints to the province’s integrity commissioner, auditor general and police.
Gray said at the heart of the matter is whether those who stand to gain billions of dollars were aware of the government’s plan ahead of time.
“We feel that there is an argument to be made here that what the province did, if they had a conversation with developers ahead of time, is something under the criminal code — which is criminal breach of trust by a public official,” Gray said.
In a separate statement to Global News in December, Ontario Provincial Police confirmed it had “received requests from members of the public and advocacy groups seeking an investigation into circumstances surrounding proposed Greenbelt development.”
At the time, the force said it was reviewing the requests to decide whether there were grounds for an investigation.
Both the integrity commissioner’s office and auditor general confirmed they had received complaints.
The controversial plan announced by Clark in November removed land from 15 different areas of the Greenbelt, adding acres elsewhere so that 50,000 homes can be built.
Clark told reporters that while he routinely meets with “people who want to build housing” he “followed all of the rules” when the government posted a proposal to amend the Greenbelt to Ontario’s Environmental Registry.
“I didn’t hide the posting, I was honest, open and transparent,” Minister Clark said in November.
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