MP Raj Grewal claimed he did not see the report until well after the land purchase but records show he received it by email months before….
Two MPs were given a confidential report on the property at the heart of a controversial Brampton land deal months before a company with Liberal Party connections bought it, according to emails obtained by the National Post. One of the MPs, Raj Grewal, had previously claimed he did not see the report until not almost a year after the purchase.
The revelation adds another wrinkle to a complex series of events that sources say the Toronto-area municipality has asked the RCMP to review. Meanwhile, the MPs in question and some of the company’s directors complain the matter has unfairly tarnished their reputations.
At the core of the affair is the city’s purchase of a chunk of land it needed to build a much-delayed overpass across a set of railroad tracks to alleviate traffic on a major arterial road.
The June 2016 internal report by city staff, a copy of which was also obtained by the Post, suggests the city had little choice but to buy the property and recommended paying up to the province’s $3.1-million asking price.
But the government had recently put the land on the open market and months later sold it to Goreway Heaven Inc. for a slightly higher sum, $3.35 million. Then in January 2018, Goreway Heaven sold the same parcel to the city for $4.4 million, an increase of 31 per cent. Goreway Heaven says it had planned to develop the land, but was forced to sell when the city applied to expropriate part of it.
At a closed meeting last month Brampton city council decided to refer the matter to the RCMP, sources told the Post, noting that a confidential report on the issue had been shared with local MPs Raj Grewal and Navdeep Bains, who is also the federal economic development minister.
Goreway Heaven has some Liberal connections, including the fact one of the company’s directors, Bhagwan Grewal, is a former Liberal riding association president and was part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s official trip to India earlier this year. Several of the company’s directors match the names of Liberal donors listed in Elections Canada records, with a smaller number of directors donating to the Conservatives and NDP.
Both MPs have strongly denied they leaked the confidential information to Goreway Heaven. The company says it never saw the report, and was one of 24 “potential purchasers” of the property. Two of the company’s directors, Jaswinder Bhatti and Kulwant Riarh, told the Post the company did not discuss the deal with either MP.
“Let me be clear: any insinuation or allegation of wrongdoing on my part is false and baseless,” Bains said in a recent Facebook post.
In statement to the Post Friday he added that he routinely handles sensitive information and does so “with the utmost care and in accordance with the highest ethical standards.”
Bains’s staff have also noted that many other people likely had access to the report and could have shared its contents.
In a statement last week, Raj Grewal went further, saying he received the city report last Nov. 21, almost a year after the company had already bought the land.
But the Post has obtained a copy of an email addressed to both MPs’ personal parliamentary email accounts — different from the public addresses whose messages are typically filtered through staff — dated June 28, 2016 with the subject line “Goreway Bridge update.” A source has confirmed the report was attached.
“This gives you the entire situation and all the history as you can see is extensive,” writes the city official who sent it. “Any assistance will be appreciated after we get the property in our possession.”
Any insinuation or allegation of wrongdoing on my part is false and baseless
It asks them to treat the report as confidential. “Thanks for the update Has,” Grewal responded later the same day.
Hasneet Punia, the chief of staff to then mayor Linda Jeffrey, said through a spokesman last month that he had sent the MPs the report as part of a routine effort to lobby the federal government for help funding the bridge project.
Punia declined to comment for this story, but the email appears to confirm his statement that he dispatched the report merely to seek the federal politicians’ help.
Joel Etienne, a spokesman for Raj Grewal, repeated Friday the MP’s contention that he “and other recipients” received an unsolicited confidential report on the project last Nov. 21, but did not respond when asked if he had received one in June 2016 as well.
“Mr. Grewal did nothing further with this report and to suggest that Mr. Grewal leaked confidential information is categorically false,” Etienne said.
Further emails obtained by the Post indicate that Grewal twice asked for an update on the project in the fall of 2017, saying he was anxious to give constituents a progress report. Punia sent both MPs a report Nov. 21, asking that they not share it with anyone else as it contained “real estate strategy … that is not public information.”
Grewal is no longer a member of Liberal caucus after recent revelations he had racked up personal gambling debts in the millions of dollars. He has attributed his behaviour to a gambling addiction, and though he initially said he would resign his seat in the House of Commons he has since said he may not after all.
In a legal notice to the Post, Goreway Heaven directors Bhagwan Grewal and Jaswinder Bhatti indicate the city took steps to expropriate part of the land, which would have made it “landlocked” and useless for the development they say they had planned.
(Well before the land was sold, a real-estate listing stated the city may require a portion of the site for a road widening.)
Goreway Heaven eventually sold the whole plot to Brampton at market value, plus damages under Ontario’s Expropriations Act, the directors’ notice says.
The confidential 2016 report states that the city actually needed just a small, $185,000 sliver of the 24-acre parcel to widen a road. But the province, it said, insisted on selling the whole property, most of which was flood plain and unsuitable for development.
Noting there was “a strong desire” by the public and the cities of Brampton and neighbouring Mississauga to get the overpass project built as soon as possible, the staff report recommends buying the entire 24 acres, paying up to the $3.1 million requested by the province.
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