Provincial police haven’t “yet” uncovered any evidence to warrant launching an official investigation into whether any Ford government officials tipped developers off before opening up parts of the Greenbelt to development, according to a detective’s email obtained by The Trillium.
Premier Doug Ford and Housing Minister Steve Clark have repeatedly denied that developers were given a heads-up about the plan.
Currently, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) “have no evidence yet to prove anyone in the Provincial Government acted in a dishonest, partial, corrupt or oppressive manner,” Det.-Sgt. Todd Dart of the provincial police’s anti-rackets branch wrote in the email, which The Trillium has confirmed is authentic.
"It may look that way, and the media proclaims this is the case, but no one has come forward with proof this occurred," he continued in the email sent on Monday.
That means the OPP “cannot use” what it’s gathered to date “to put in a search warrant on Government offices,” he wrote.
“We need someone to say that they have information a Government official tipped off the developers, or took a bribe in doing so, etc."
The detective's email notes the controversy over Ford’s daughter’s wedding festivities but generally dismisses it. Police cannot launch an investigation on the basis of media reports without knowing the media’s sources, and wedding invites don’t amount to a criminal offence, according to Dart.
Dart was writing to Patrick Macklem, a retired legal scholar and 2022 Green Party of Ontario candidate in Parkdale—High Park, who shared it with The Trillium.
Macklem filed a complaint late last year to the OPP, asking the provincial police to investigate the government’s decision to open up some Greenbelt land for development. Several major developers stand to benefit, including some that bought land since the Ford government came to power in 2018.
Macklem said he shared Dart’s email with The Trillium to try and aid the OPP’s work.
“They need people to come forward and speak up,” he said in an interview on Wednesday.
When contacted about the email by The Trillium on Tuesday, Dart responded by saying “I am not at liberty to speak to the media about this matter,” and directed the request to the OPP’s spokesperson.
Macklem was interviewed by Dart after filing his complaint to the OPP, and the pair have been in contact by email about the provincial police’s probe since then, according to Macklem.
Since late 2022, investigators within the OPP’s anti-rackets branch have been interviewing subjects to try to determine whether or not to launch an investigation, as Global News first reported.
Phil Pothen, Environmental Defence’s Ontario lead, has previously told a Trillium reporter that his organization was first contacted by the OPP before Christmas.
In his email to Macklem, Dart wrote that “the Premier can invite anyone he wants to his daughters (sic) wedding celebrations. This does not indicate nor prove he committed a criminal offence in relation to the Greenbelt.”
Later in the email, Dart said “we have no clear direction on exactly who the subject of this complaint is (ie/ who tipped off the developers). We can’t even say the developers were tipped off, at this point.”
The detective also wrote that “to prove Breach of Trust, we (the OPP) will require evidence that the offence occurred and all we have received, from everyone we have spoken to, is the information they have learned from the news media.”
The OPP has “not had one media outlet contact us or provide us with a source of their information,” he added. “Therefore, it is difficult to form reasonable grounds to believe an offence occurred."
The detective’s email was a reply to Macklem, who'd said he believes there are now “reasonable and probable grounds” to launch a formal investigation.
In his reply, Dart referred to Regina v. Boulanger, a 2006 Supreme Court of Canada judgment, to explain that “any Criminal Code offence does require the mens rea or ‘intent’ to prove an offence occurred.”
“I know this may be disappointing but we need evidence to work with to move this forward,” he wrote.
“The anti-rackets branch are still working on this matter and we ask that you be patient,” the detective added.
Anti-rackets is the go-to branch of the OPP for investigations concerning Queen's Park. It “provides specialized investigative resources to OPP regions, detachments, bureaus, Ontario municipal police services and government ministries facing complex financial investigations,” according to OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson.
Dickson also told The Trillium that the provincial police had “heard from more than a dozen individuals in relation to the ongoing review” to determine whether it launches an investigation or not.
No one in Ford’s or Clark’s offices has been contacted by the OPP over the Greenbelt land swap, their spokespeople said on Wednesday.
The OPP started its review after receiving complaints from Macklem and others. Macklem’s complaint alleged “a breach of trust by a public official under the Criminal Code,” a Green Party press release from last December says.
Last fall, the Ford government proposed and finalized a plan to remove 7,400 acres in 15 different parcels of land from the Greenbelt to allow homes to be built on the land. The government added 9,400 acres of land from elsewhere to the Greenbelt, but this land was already under other environmental protections.
The Greenbelt, created in 2005 by Ontario’s then-Liberal government, stretches across the Greater Golden Horseshoe area and protects prime agricultural land and other important geographic and ecological features.
A couple of weeks after the Ford government proposed the Greenbelt land swap in early November, the Narwhal and Toronto Star found that at least six developers had bought parcels of that land since 2018, the year the Progressive Conservatives were elected.
Weeks before his election in 2018, a video of Ford telling a private gathering that the PCs would open up some of the Greenbelt for development ignited controversy. Days later, Ford reversed tack, promising not to touch the Greenbelt.
Last summer, a few months before the Ford government unveiled its Greenbelt land swap, developers were among those who were invited to and attended the premier’s daughter’s wedding festivities, including an Aug. 11 stag and doe and Sept. 25 wedding, Ford’s office told the integrity commissioner.
Ford sought an opinion from Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake’s office about the events months after the fact, and only after a reporter now working for The Trillium asked the premier’s office questions about the events. Based on the information Ford’s staff provided, including that the premier had no knowledge of any gifts being given to his daughter or son-in-law, and that no government business was discussed at either event, Wake found no evidence that Ford violated the Members’ Integrity Act.
Ford has since said that guests at the Aug. 11 stag and doe at his house, which Global News first reported, paid $150 to attend.
Ford has defended attendees at the Aug. 11 and Sept. 25 events as being “friends” of his family.
NDP Marit Stiles has asked the integrity commissioner to conduct a full investigation into the events and whether Ford breached MPP ethics law. Wake is still mulling over Stiles’ request.
—With files from Jessica Smith Cross and Aidan Chamandy.
Clarification: One reference to the OPP's review was edited at 8:39 a.m. on Mar. 2 to be described as its "work," instead of its "investigation."