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Home » Ontario Greenbelt: Canada Police Probe Doug Ford Land Deal

Ontario Greenbelt: Canada Police Probe Doug Ford Land Deal

by Koby John
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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have opened a criminal probe into a land deal brokered by Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his government.

The Greenbelt land swap sought to open parts of an environmentally-protected area near Toronto for development.

It was scrapped in September after an ethics report found that Mr Ford’s government “favoured certain developers” in the deal.

Mr Ford said his government will “fully cooperate” with the police.

The criminal investigation into the Greenbelt deal was announced by the RCMP on Tuesday. The federal police force said it will be handled by its Sensitive and International Investigations unit, which handles political probes around fraud, corruption and breach of trust.

It added it will not provide any further details on the nature of the probe to ensure a “fair and proper” outcome.

“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,” Cpl Christy Veenstra said in a statement.

It is the latest development in a political scandal surrounding the Ontario government’s plan to open up 3,000 hectares of the Greenbelt – environmentally-protected land that arcs around the Greater Toronto Area, stretching from Niagara Falls to Peterborough.

Mr Ford, a Progressive Conservative, previously pledged that he would not touch the Greenbelt after he was first elected in 2018.

However, he walked back his promise after he was elected for a second term in 2022, and said that opening the Greenbelt is necessary to build more homes amid a worsening housing crisis in Ontario.

Experts have countered this and said there is enough space for development outside the protected Greenbelt, which includes farmland, forests and wetlands. The plan was also widely opposed by environmental advocates.

Several news investigations later revealed that key parcels of land in the deal are owned by developers who are large donors to Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party, and some had purchased the land after Mr Ford took office.

One of the developers was invited to the wedding of Mr Ford’s daughter in 2022, raising questions about potential conflicts of interest behind the deal.

The revelations led the opposition Ontario New Democratic Party to call for a formal probe into the deal to see whether certain developers were told in advance about it, and who will stand to profit if the land is opened up for development.

In August, two probes – one by Ontario’s auditor general and another by the integrity commissioner – found that the Greenbelt deal was the product of a “biased” process driven by senior political staff that favoured certain developers.

They also found that the owners of the land newly-opened for development could see their net worth increase by more than C$8.3bn ($6.11bn; £4.97bn).

In early September, both Ontario’s Housing Minister Steve Clark, as well as his former chief of staff, Ryan Amato, had resigned over the revelations. The probes found that Mr Amato had played a key role in the Greenbelt plan.

Another minister, Kaleed Rasheed, resigned later in September after it was revealed through media reports that he had travelled to Las Vegas at the same time as one of the developers that would have benefited from the Greenbelt deal.

A day later, on 21 September, Mr Ford scrapped the Greenbelt plan and apologised for breaking his previous promise to not open environmentally-protected land for development.

“We moved too quickly and we made the wrong decision,” he said. “This process, it left too much room for some people to benefit over others. It caused people to question our motives.”

As part of the probe, Ontario’s auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, shared her findings with police to see if a criminal investigation was warranted.

Mr Ford has maintained that no criminal wrongdoing took place. On Tuesday, his office said he fully intends to cooperate 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,” Mr Ford’s office said in a statement to the media.

Specifics around the RCMP’s probe into the deal remain unclear, but previous police probes into Ontario politicians have resulted in criminal charges and jail time.

Source : BBC

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