A prominent Toronto-area developer is asking a court to block or delay a provincial watchdog interviewing him as part of its investigation into the Ontario government’s decision to open previously protected land for housing development, it has learned. Breaking:.
Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk has been investigating the government’s removal of more than 2,995 hectares of land from 15 different areas of the southern Ontario greenbelt so that 50,000 homes can be built. Other lands will be added in other places. The Greenbelt was created in 2005 to permanently protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive land from development and covers some 810,000 hectares of farmland, forest and wetlands from Niagara Falls to Peterborough.
As part of that process, Lysyk issued a subpoena in late June to Silvio De Gasperis, president of the Vaughan, Ontario-based Tacc Group of companies, requiring him to provide information related to his companies’ properties that were removed from the Greenbelt, according to to an application filed on behalf of De Gasperis in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on June 29.
The subpoena required De Gasperis to submit to an “examination under oath” and produce all pertinent “records, correspondence, notes and documents,” according to the court filing.
The filing says the subpoena followed a letter sent in mid-June by Lysyk’s office, which noted that the Tacc Group owned land in the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Reserve in Pickering, Ontario, that is no longer subject to Greenbelt restrictions. .
That letter outlined some of the potential topics of the interview, according to the court filing, including how the Ontario government identified Tacc Group land for removal from the Greenbelt, the Ontario government’s expectations for development of the set-aside land of the Greenbelt and the general situation. Experience working with the government to remove land from the Greenbelt.
In his request, De Gasperis asks the court to annul the summons or, failing that, suspend it while the auditor general provides more information about what he wants discussed.
The filing claims that De Gasperis does not have the information the auditor general’s office seeks, that the auditor general does not have the jurisdiction to conduct such an audit, and that requesting his appearance is an abuse of process, among other things.
Neil Wilson, a partner at Stevenson Whelton LLP representing De Gasperis, declined to comment. Emails and a phone call to Tacc Developments, the parent company of the Tacc Group, requesting an interview with De Gasperis went unanswered.
Lysyk’s office agreed in January to carry out “certain audit work” related to Ontario’s Greenbelt policy in response to a joint call by the three opposition parties for a “value for money” audit and financial effects assessment. and environmental disposal. . However, it never publicly defined the full scope of the audit.
In a phone call on Monday, Lysyk said he cannot comment on the details of the audit, including its scope, as it is still ongoing. He said he expects to present a report before he ends his 10-year term on September 3.
Ontario Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake is conducting his own investigation into the Greenbelt decision.
The De Gasperis family founded the Tacc Group of companies, which includes Tacc Developments, Tacc Construction, Arista Homes, Opus Homes and Decast Ltd., among others, and are known for building homes in planned subdivisions in the Greater Toronto area.
As CBC Toronto previously reported, corporate and property records show that companies controlled by Silvio and his brothers Carlo and Michael De Gasperis own land that was removed from the Green Belt in three municipalities: Vaughan, Richmond Hill and Pickering, including at least 28 properties in the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Reserve.
The De Gasperis brothers have been prolific political contributors to Ontario political parties, with the majority of donations made since 2014 going to the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party and its politicians, Ontario Elections records show. Tacc companies have also hired lobbyists with ties to the PC government, the lobbyist registry shows, although none of the records indicate they were hired to influence decisions about the Greenbelt.
AG can bind private citizens
Trevor Farrow, a professor at York University Osgoode Hall School of Law in Toronto, said the Ontario Auditor General Act gives Lysyk the authority to compel private citizens to answer questions and provide information related to its audits.
“It’s pretty broadly worded,” Farrow said. “Authority comes from the act and flows from the authority of the auditor who can ask questions to get real information.”
However, when that authority is challenged, the auditor general must prove that he has the jurisdiction to conduct the audit in the first place and that the person he seeks to speak with is within the scope of the audit.
“If the audit is warranted and this person is at the center of the information that is needed,” Farrow said. “That’s the kind of thing that the law provides for when it’s written to include people, including members of the public.”
No date has been set to hear the court challenge.