The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) has handed over the Greenbelt land swap review to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), citing the move is needed to avoid any potential perception of a conflict of interest.
In a statement sent to Canada’s National Observer, the OPP said it has received a number of inquiries regarding an investigation into the Ford government’s controversial plan to open up previously protected Greenbelt lands for development.
“To avoid any potential perceived conflict of interest, the OPP referred this matter to the
Royal Canadian Mounted Police RCMP," the statement reads.
The OPP refused to provide any further comment, stating questions should be directed to the RCMP, the statement added.
The RCMP confirmed receipt of the referral.
“We will review and assess the information received and will take appropriate action as deemed necessary. As the investigation is in its infancy and is ongoing, we decline to offer any further comments,” the RCMP statement said.
The decision to transfer the investigation to the RCMP comes a day after the resignation of Rayn Amato, chief of staff to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
Amato’s pivotal role in the contentious Greenbelt land swap was highlighted in auditor general Bonnie Lysyk’s report. The move to remove specific sites from the protected Greenbelt for housing development came under scrutiny in the report, revealing a process seemingly influenced by a select group of well-connected developers who had direct access to Amato.
Ryan Amato played a pivotal role in selecting the lands removed from the Greenbelt and those decisions ultimately benefited developers, the auditor general’s investigation found. #Greenbelt #onpoli
After a scathing auditor general report was released, environmental groups and the Ontario Green Party called for police investigation into Ford government’s Greenbelt plans.
Lysyk found the Ford government’s 2022 decision to open part of the protected Greenbelt for development was the result of a deeply flawed and biased process.
Lysyk revealed the inner workings of the site selection process. Astonishingly, of the 15 sites that were eventually excluded from the Greenbelt, a staggering 14 were put forth by Amato and a significant portion of these selections were made based on input from developers and specifically directed to Amato.
The report further indicated Amato played a pivotal role in selecting the lands removed from the Greenbelt and those decisions ultimately benefited developers, the auditor general’s investigation found.
Amato instructed ministry staff to restrict site-selection assessment to land sites he had mostly identified, the report found, limiting their ability to gauge the sites’ agricultural and environmental importance. He then directed this "Greenbelt Project Team" to not disclose any information and had them sign non-disclosure agreements.
About 92 per cent of the approximately 7,400 acres ultimately removed from the Greenbelt make up five land sites involving three developers, the report found, adding two of those developers had direct access to Amato.
At the Building Industry and Land Development Association’s chair’s dinner last September, “two prominent housing developers approached him and gave him packages containing information to remove two land sites from the Greenbelt,” Lysyk wrote.
Amato told the auditor general he did not open the packages immediately, but kept them in a stack in his office and added to them as more packages rolled in.
Ford and Clark both told Lysyk they were unaware the land chosen for removal was controlled by Amato.
Ontario’s Greenbelt was created in 2005 to permanently protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands from development. The swath of about two million acres of protected land includes farmland, forests, wetlands, rivers and lakes. In December 2022, the Ford government removed land from the Greenbelt to open it up for housing development as part of the province’s commitment to build 1.5 million new homes over the next decade. A total of 7,400 acres were removed, which the provincial government rationalizes with its commitment to add another 9,400 acres to the Greenbelt elsewhere.
This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.