OPP offloads potential criminal investigation into Ford government’s Greenbelt land swap to RCMP

The Ontario Provincial Police said Wednesday that to “avoid any potential perceived conflict of interest” it will fall to the Mounties to decide whether or not to launch a criminal investigation into the Ford government’s controversial Greenbelt land swap.

In a brief news release Wednesday, an OPP spokesperson said the force “has received a number of inquiries regarding an investigation into the Greenbelt” and has decided to transfer consideration of a probe to the RCMP.

The release did not elaborate on what the perceived conflict of interest might be and said the OPP will not be publicly commenting further on the matter.

The OPP said in January that its Anti Rackets Branch was working to determine if evidence provided in multiple formal complaints about the Greenbelt land swap supported an investigation. As recently as Aug. 9, the day Ontario’s auditor general released an explosive report on how thousands of hectares of Greenbelt land were opened for housing development, the OPP said that work was still ongoing. 

On Tuesday, the political staffer singled out in the auditor general’s report as having played a key role in selecting sites for development resigned his position. Ryan Amato, former chief of staff to Housing Minister Steve Clark, oversaw a process that was heavily influenced by a small group of politically-connected developers who had direct access to him, the auditor general said. 

The report said Amato — not non-partisan public servants — selected 14 of the 15 sites that were ultimately removed from the Greenbelt and the majority were chosen after suggestions from developers who lobbied him personally through encounters at an industry event or in emails sent by their lawyers.

Both Premier Doug Ford and Clark have said they were unaware that the land chosen for removal was brought forward by Amato via the developers. Ford has said he was only briefed on the sites the day before cabinet approved the changes, while Clark has said he learned of the plan the week prior.

The New Democrats, Liberals and Green Party have all called on Clark to resign his cabinet post. 

Ontario’s integrity commissioner is also currently considering whether to investigate whether Amato broke any ethics rules during the process. A probe by the integrity commissioner was one of 15 recommendations included in Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s report. Ford’s office requested an investigation the day after her report was released.

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