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RCMP probing Ford government's handling of the Greenbelt

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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is probing the Ford government’s handling of the Ontario Greenbelt after being called in by provincial police.

The force was referred the file by Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) in an effort to avoid “any perceived conflict of interest,” the OPP said in a statement issued Wednesday.

“The RCMP can confirm that we received a referral to investigate irregularities in the disposition of the Greenbelt surrounding Toronto,” the force said in a statement released shortly after the OPP’s on Wednesday.

“We will review and assess the information received and will take appropriate action as deemed necessary,” it continued.

The probe is still in its “infancy,” the statement said.

A spokesperson for the RCMP later told CTV News Toronto that while they are evaluating “all of the available information,” a formal investigation has not been launched at this point.

“After we have conducted a full assessment, we will determine whether to launch an investigation,” the spokesperson said.

Earlier this month, Ontario’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk released a scathing report on the government's handling the Greenbelt, which found that certain developers received “preferential treatment” and had direct influence over the government’s decision to extract lands.

READ MORE: Ontario Greenbelt plans were 'biased' towards select developers: AG report

When reached for comment, spokesperson for the premier's office, Ivana Yelich, told CTV News Toronto that the decision to call in the RCMP was made independently from the provincial government.

"The government is currently working to implement all 14 recommendations put forward in the report related to process," Yelich said.

Lysyk made 15 recommendations in her report. The sole recommendation the provincial government will not be implementing is the recommendation to review its decision to open up part of the Greenbelt to housing development.

‘NOT GOING TO COMMENT’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about the RCMP’s probe and the Ford government’s justification for developing on Greenbelt land.

He told reporters that he was “not going to comment on decisions that the police agencies make in terms of their investigations.”

However he went on to say that while it is necessary to build housing across Canada, it requires proper partnerships with municipalities.

“We don't think that the only solution is to build on protected lands,” Trudeau said.

“There are lots of things that we can and should be doing, and we're going to continue to work on that.”

HOUSING MINISTER’S CHIEF OF STAFF RESIGNS

News of the probe comes one day after Ryan Amato, the chief of staff for Ontario’s housing minister, submitted his resignation.

Amato was the staffer primarily responsible for choosing which Greenbelt sites would be opened for development and is named in Lysyk’s report as favouring certain developers in doing so.

The premier’s office accepted Amato’s resignation, “effectively immediately,” it confirmed in a statement issued Tuesday. 

With files from CTV News Toronto's Katherine Declerq and Siobhan Morris.

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