‘Sufficient to demand an investigation’: Calls grow for OPP to investigate re-zoning of Greenbelt land

Provincial police have received requests to invest the Ford government's plan to build homes on Greenbelt land. Find out why one advocacy group believe a criminal investigation is necessary.

By Richard Southern and Mike Visser

As Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) consider requests to investigate the Ford government’s reallocation of Greenbelt land, CityNews is hearing for the first time from one of the groups that OPP officers have interviewed about the merits of a potential case.

“Folks are being approached, and we were among the people who are being asked questions,” said Phil Pothen, the Ontario Environment Program Manager at Environmental Defence.

OPP officers are currently reviewing appeals to see if there are grounds for an investigation. The requests reportedly come from environmental groups and members of the public.

“The OPP requested that we keep quiet about the specifics of what investigators asked us and the answers we gave,” said Pothen in an exclusive interview with CityNews.

“I can tell you, though, that in our view, that information that you and your colleagues in the media have uncovered, it’s sufficient to demand an investigation into whether there is a criminal breach of trust by a public officer.”

RELATED: Integrity commissioner asked to investigate Doug Ford’s Greenbelt development plan

Late last year, the Ford government revealed that 7,400 acres of land would be removed from the Greenbelt and converted into housing developments. The government is also proposing to add 9,400 acres to different areas, making the overall footprint of the Greenbelt 2,000 acres larger.

At issue is that some developers bought acres of existing Greenbelt land in September, weeks before the government announced its plan to open that property for development.

“We are asking political staffers, political servants, anyone with direct knowledge of what’s happening to break this code of silence that seems to be surrounding this issue and tell the OPP what we know,” said Pothen.

“Who leaked the government’s secret plan to carve up the Greenbelt to real estate investors before that information was legitimately released to the public?”

The result of those interviews conducted by OPP officers could ultimately help determine whether a full investigation is launched.

“It’s clear that something happened here, and legally it warrants an investigation into a criminal breach of trust by a public officer,” Pothen continued. “If it’s a complete wall of silence, the OPP may just decide to give up and not invest their resources.”

The province says the move to allow development is necessary to reach its goal of building 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Premier Ford told CityNews: “No one in the Premier’s office or any member of the government has been contacted, and no documents have been requested by OPP on this matter.”

A previous version of this article linked the re-zoning of Greenbelt land to the government’s passing of Bill 23, the “More Homes Built Faster Act.” That reference has been removed as changes to the Greenbelt are part of a separate, non-legislative process.

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