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Ontario privacy commissioner probing deleted Greenbelt emails

'Transparency in government actions and decisions is a fundamental principle that underpins the public’s trust in government,' writes Patricia Kosseim
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Ontario's privacy commissioner says it will publish a special Greenbelt report on its findings of the use of non-government emails and deleted messages. A farmer gathers bales of hay on a family farm in Hamilton, Ont., Wednesday, June 7, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — Ontario's privacy commissioner says she will publish a special report about the use of non-government emails and deleted messages related to the Greenbelt.

NDP Leader Marit Stiles had asked Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario Patricia Kosseim to investigate the premier and government staffers' reported use of personal phones and emails on the controversial file.

In a letter from the commissioner released by the NDP, Kosseim says her office is working on 19 active access-to-information appeals that are similar to the concerns Stiles raised.

In late 2022, the Doug Ford government removed land from the protected Greenbelt to build 50,000 homes.

After months of public outcry, and reports from both the auditor general and the integrity commissioner that found the process favoured certain developers, Ford reversed course.

The RCMP is now investigating the Greenbelt removal process.

The privacy commissioner did not provide a timeline on when her special report would be published.

"My office plans to publish a special report consolidating our findings and providing a comprehensive summary of our conclusions and insights into the access to information and record-keeping issues relating to changes to the Greenbelt," Kosseim wrote in a letter to Stiles.

"Transparency in government actions and decisions is a fundamental principle that underpins the public’s trust in government."

In a separate investigation, the auditor general found political staff used both personal and government emails on the Greenbelt file.

The auditor general also discovered political staff emails related to the Greenbelt land swap had been deleted.

Both actions were inappropriate and should not have occurred, the investigation found.

Stiles said the NDP welcomed the privacy commissioner's special report.

"We have been deeply concerned by revelations of deleted emails, the use of personal accounts, and other apparent attempts to cover up the government’s actions as it schemed to give preferential treatment to well-connected Greenbelt speculators," Stiles said.

"This report will provide a clearer understanding of the government’s conduct."

Ontario created the Greenbelt in 2005 to protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area from development.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2024.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press


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