The RCMP has officially launched a criminal investigation into Premier Doug Ford's controversial decision to remove select lands from Ontario's Greenbelt.
It's the latest in a string of developments that has surrounded the Ford government's attempts to open up protected Greenbelt land for the construction of housing.
The criminal investigation comes after the Ford government implied even more lands could be removed so that developers could build on them, and then walked back all development plans entirely, returning all lands to the Greenbelt.
"Following a referral from the Ontario Provincial Police, the RCMP O Division’s Sensitive and International Investigations (SII) unit has now launched an investigation into allegations associated to the decision from the Province of Ontario to open parts of the Greenbelt for development," the RCMP said in a statement to STOREYS.
"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. Therefore, no further updates will be provided at this time."
The Greenbelt saga — which began after the Ford government announced that nearly 3,000 hectares of land would be removed from the two-million-acre stretch of protected farmland, forests, and wetlands in Southern Ontario — has been marred by scandal. An Auditor General and Integrity Commissioner investigation have already taken place, both having found wrongdoing on the part of the Ontario government.
Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk found that Ryan Amato, the Chief of Staff for Ontario's Housing Minister, heavily steered the selection process for Greenbelt land removal in a manner that was "not transparent, objective, or fully informed," and showed "bias" and "preferential treatment" to certain developers. The developers chosen for removal stood to gain $8.3B in increased land value.
The Integrity Commissioner found that the former Housing Minister himself, Steve Clark, violated multiple sections of the Members' Integrity Act for his failure to properly oversee the land selection process.
Both Clark and Amato have since resigned.
Following Clark's resignation at the beginning of September, Ford and the new Housing Minister, Paul Calandra, said all Greenbelt lands would undergo a review and left open the door for possible further removals.
A few weeks later — and after many months of staunchly defending his decision to continue on with the Greenbelt land removal despite ardent objections from the public and politicians alike — Ford surprisingly had a complete about-face, calling his decision to open up the Greenbelt "a mistake" and backtracking on plans to remove any lands.
During her investigation, Lysyk met with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) about possible criminal acts, but declined to provide details on what information was shared when questioned by reporters during a press conference. In August, the OPP said it was referring the matter to the RCMP to "avoid any potential perceived conflict of interest."
At the time, the RCMP confirmed to STOREYS that it would be looking into "irregularities in the disposition of the Greenbelt surrounding Toronto."