Ontario Provincial Police have privately admitted that they have yet to find direct evidence that Premier Doug Ford or members of his government have violated provincial ethics laws, as the anti-rackets branch decides whether or not to launch an official investigation.
The admission came in an email to Patrick Macklem, a constitutional lawyer and University of Toronto professor who filed a complaint with the OPP over the Greenbelt land swap.
In the email, the detective in charge of the potential Greenbelt probe said the force has yet to uncover evidence of wrongdoing that would lead to a breach of trust charge.
“We have no evidence yet to prove anyone in the Provincial Government acted in a dishonest, partial, corrupt or oppressive manner,” Det. Sgt. Todd Dart wrote in an email to Macklem on Monday.
“It may look that way … but no one has come forward with proof this occurred.”
The email, which was first reported on by The Trillium, was also obtained by Global News.
The OPP received multiple complaints from environmental groups and members of the public, including Macklem, 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 media 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.
Opponents of the Ford government blasted the deal, submitting complaints to the province’s integrity commissioner, auditor general and also the police.
Housing Minister Steve Clark, who is under investigation by Ontario’s integrity commissioner for the Greenbelt switch, told reporters previously 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.
In his preliminary investigation, part of the process to decide if a full police probe is merited, Det. Dart said the OPP doesn’t have a “clear direction” on the exact target of the probe or whether the accusation that developers were given a heads up is substantiated.
“We can’t even say the developers were tipped off, at this point,” Dart said.
While the premier has faced repeated questions over his relationship with developers — particularly related to a stag and doe party and his daughter’s subsequent wedding — the OPP seems to be dismissing those instances entirely.
“The Premier can invite anyone he wants to his daughter’s wedding celebrations. This does not indicate nor prove he committed a criminal offence in relation to the Greenbelt,” Dart wrote.
Dart said media articles — such as stories reported on by Global News, CBC News, The Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, The Narwhal and The Trillium — “do not assist with the investigation” because the OPP cannot confirm media sourcing of information and is unable to use the information to request a search warrant of Government offices.
“We have not had one media outlet contact us or provide us with a source of their information. Therefore, it is difficult to form reasonable grounds to believe an offence occurred,” Dart said.
Dart, however, indicated the anti-rackets branch is still working on the investigation and suggested ways the public could help further it.
“We need someone to say that they have information a Government official tipped off the developers, or took a bribe in doing so, etc,” Dart’s email said.
A spokesperson for the OPP told Global News that the force was still reviewing whether or not to open an official investigation. That response, or a variation of it, has been police’s position since the end of 2022.
“No, no determination or change in status,” a spokesperson wrote. “The review continues.”
Ontario’s integrity commissioner and auditor general have both accepted requests from Opposition politicians at Queen’s Park to conduct probes into the land deal.
Marit Stiles, the Ontario NDP Leader, also recently submitted a request for the integrity commissioner to begin an investigation into Ford’s daughter’s wedding and stag and doe. The commissioner has not announced a decision on that latest request.