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RCMP launches investigation into Ontario's Greenbelt scandal

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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is investigating the Ontario government’s decision to open up parts of the Greenbelt for development.

A spokesperson confirmed the news with CTV News Toronto Tuesday afternoon.

In a statement, the RCMP said that an investigation into “allegations associated to the decision” has been launched.

It will be conducted by the RCMP Ontario Division’s Sensitive and International Investigations Unit.

According to the RCMP’s website, this unit probes “high risk matters that cause significant threats to Canada's political, economic and social integrity of its institutions across Canada and internationally.” This can include investigations into elected officials on “allegations of fraud, financial crimes, corruption and breach of trust.”

“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,” RCMP Cpl. Christy Veenstra said in a statement.

“Therefore, no further updates will be provided at this time.”

The RCMP was referred the file by the Ontario Provincial Police back in August to avoid “any perceived conflict of interest.” The provincial police’s anti-rackets branch had been reviewing complaints since mid-December.

The decision to develop on 15 areas of protected land has garnered significant backlash, with both the province’s auditor general and integrity commissioner concluding that some developers may have received preferential treatment during the process.

After months of sticking by the choices his government made, arguing the development was necessary in order to meet housing goals, Premier Doug Ford reversed the decision in mid-September.

“It was a mistake to open the Greenbelt. It was a mistake to establish a process that moved too fast,” he said at the time.

In November 2022, the Ontario government announced that they would be removing 7,400 acres of protected green space and opening it up for housing. The announcement came as a shock as the premier had previously promised not to touch the Greenbelt.

The auditor general and integrity commissioner began investigations after media learned that some developers may have been tipped off about the decision ahead of time.

The auditor general found that the decision-making process “favoured certain developers,” lacked transparency and failed to consider environmental, agricultural and financial impacts. The owners of the 15 land sites chosen through this process could see more than an $8.3 billion increase to the values of their properties, the report found

Meanwhile, the integrity commissioner said that then-housing Minister Steve Clark broke ethics rules by not overseeing his staff. Clark eventually resigned from his cabinet position as a result of the pushback. His chief of staff, who was primarily responsible for choosing the 15 sites, also resigned.

While Ford has said he is reversing the decision to develop those 15 sites, it likely won’t prevent a significant review of the Greenbelt—in addition to hundreds of applications for land removal—in the next few years as mandated by a previous government.

The province’s new housing minister, Paul Calandra, has also told reporters that new Greenbelt legislation is expected on Oct. 16 that will codify the boundaries.

It’s unclear if an RCMP decision will impact future actions on the Greenbelt.

The Premier's Office said in a statement that it will cooperate fully with the investigation.

"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," the statement said.

"Out of respect for the police and their process, we will not be commenting further at this time.”

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles said that she hopes the government doesn't use the investigation as an excuse not to address questions from the opposition and the public about the Greenbelt.

"They are publicly elected officials. They swear an oath of integrity to the people of this province," she told reporters Tuesday afternoon. "I want him to actually answer our questions and the questions of Ontarians."

In a statement, John Fraser, Ontario’s interim Liberal Leader, said that it appears as though “all roads lead to the Premier’s office.”

“There is no way that in a scandal of this size, one rookie chief of staff was the mastermind behind it,” he said. "Not one dime of taxpayer dollars should be spent on lawyers for anyone implicated in this scandal — staff or elected officials."

Ford has previously said that his government chose to open up the Greenbelt “for the right reasons” but ultimately “moved too quickly.”

“Even if you do something for the right reasons, with the best of intentions, it can still be wrong,” he told reporters last month.

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