Canada federal police take over Ontario protected land development investigation News
Canada federal police take over Ontario protected land development investigation

Canada’s federal police service confirmed Wednesday that it has begun an assessment of whether to launch an investigation into the ongoing Ontario Greenbelt scandal after the matter was referred to the federal agency by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). The Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s (RCMP) confirmation comes in close proximity to a scathing report released by the Auditor General of Ontario earlier this month, which found that the lands removed from the protected Greenbelt in December 2022 for housing development by the Ford government were “not chosen using an objective and transparent selection process,” and that well-connected land developers were given “preferential treatment” during the selection process.

Back in January, law enforcement launched several investigations into the provincial Conservative government’s controversial decision to open protected Greenbelt lands to housing developments. The Greenbelt in Ontario claims to be “the world’s largest” stretch of protected land that protects farmland, forests, wetlands, rivers and lakes from development. Opponents of the move alleged that the Conservative government under Premier Doug Ford tipped off housing developers in advance of the decision.

Alongside the now-concluded Auditor General investigation, as well as an ongoing investigation by the Ontario Integrity Commissioner, the OPP anti-rackets branch had been working to determine whether evidence provided to the branch supported an investigation. But the OPP anti-rackets branch stated Wednesday that they had referred the matter to the RCMP to “avoid any perceived conflict of interest.”

The RCMP initially confirmed to reporters early on Wednesday that they had received the referral to “investigate irregularities in the disposition of the Greenbelt surrounding Toronto.” It was not until later that they clarified that they would begin a “full assessment” of the available information referred by the OPP, after which they will “determine whether to launch an investigation.”

The backlash towards the Ford government’s decision to open Greenbelt lands to housing developments, as well as the continuing allegations of corruption in making that decision, have proved a thorn in the side of the provincial Conservative party. On Tuesday, the chief of staff to the Ontario Housing Minister, Ryan Amato, resigned his position after being heavily implicated in the Auditor General report. That report found that Amato led the internal government project to select development properties. 

Political opponents have continued to hammer the Ford government’s conduct during and after the maligned selection process, with New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Marit Stiles calling for further resignations from the Ford government. On Tuesday, she said, “The Auditor General’s report was very clear—this staffer obviously didn’t act independently. Now it’s time the [Housing] Minister take responsibility, do the right thing, and step down.”