Coun. Justin Di Ciano skips rezoning vote that benefits developer he has ties to

Justin Di Ciano missed a city council meeting where his colleagues approved a controversial planning report that will benefit a developer with whom the Etobicoke councillor has had ties.

Council votes to allow homes on industrial land where Dunpar Developments wants to build

A month after introducing an amendment to a report against the advice of city staff, Coun. Justin Di Ciano missed a vote on a controversial development that stands to benefit a developer his family has had ties to. (CBC)

Justin Di Ciano wasn't present at a city council meeting Wednesday where his colleagues approved a controversial land planning report that will benefit a developer with whom the Etobicoke councillor has had ties.

It's unclear why Di Ciano, who told councillors earlier this week that he was looking forward to the debate and had been cleared of any potential conflict of interest, skipped the meeting. Last month, Di Ciano introduced an amendment to the report allowing for residential homes to be built at the site — going against the recommendations of city staff, saying it fits the city's growth strategy.

Council voted 21-15 on Wednesday to pass an amended version of the Mimico-Judson Secondary Plan, which will allow for residential development on an industrial strip of land in south Etobicoke.

The amended plan benefits Etobicoke-based Dunpar Developments, which owns three properties on the land and has a proposal to build 72 townhomes and a commercial building there. Dunpar also has a conditional offer to buy a piece of the land where a cement-batching plant is currently located.

After a CBC News report raised questions about Di Ciano's connections to Dunpar, the councillor told his colleagues at a Tuesday meeting he had sought "expert legal advice" and that Ontario's Municipal Conflict of Interest Act didn't prohibit him from voting on the plan.

"I look forward to debating this issue when it comes forward," he told councillors at city hall on Tuesday.

Di Ciano didn't respond to a CBC News request asking why he missed the vote.

City staff opposed turning land into residential space

City staff had recommended the land, which runs between Judson Street and Canada's largest rail maintenance facility, be maintained for commercial and industrial use only. Both Metrolinx and community groups have raised concerns that new homes would be too close to the busy rail corridor.

It's our opinion that this is not good planning and these would not be liveable units.- Jennifer Keesmaat, City of Toronto Chief Planner

Chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat said the proposed townhouses are 28 metres from the rail corridor property line and that residents would feel the noise and vibration from the neighbouring Willowbrook train yard.

"It's our opinion that this is not good planning and these would not be liveable units," she said at Wednesday's meeting.

Coun. Mark Grimes, whose Etobicoke-Lakeshore ward includes the Judson lands, also successfully introduced an amendment to the report that would rezone the land as mixed use, paving the way for homes at the site.

Coun. Grimes argued the rezoning would also ultimately "end the nightmare" of the cement-batching plant whose dust and trucks have irked residents for years. 

Grimes said there would "probably be a 15-storey building there."

'A flaw in the Act'

CBC News has previously reported that Di Ciano and his family have had several connections to Dunpar, including:

  • Julien Di Ciano, Justin Di Ciano's brother, worked for Dunpar as a project manager from 2008-2015.
  • Julien Di Ciano runs a consulting and construction business located in a building registered to Dunpar's president.
  • An audit of Justin Di Ciano's failed 2010 election bid found his campaign had been "less than forthcoming" about his brother's employment with Dunpar.
  • Before getting elected, Di Ciano bought a Dunpar-built townhome.
  • In 2014, Di Ciano founded a charitable organization located in a Dunpar-owned building.

Stephen D'Agostino, a Toronto lawyer who specializes in municipal law, said that Di Ciano has no legal conflict of interest.

The province's Municipal Conflict of Interest Act prohibits councillors from debating issues where they have a financial interest, and that extends to any interests of the councillor's parent, spouse or child, D'Agostino said. But it doesn't extend to brothers or sisters.

"There is a flaw in the Act," D'Agostino said.

"The brother could have a blatant interest here and the Act would not apply. The end result is that to put the councillor in a legal (as opposed to moral conflict) there would have to be evidence of a direct pecuniary interest."

Trevor Farrow, associate dean of Osgoode Hall Law School and a specialist in legal ethics agrees that Di Ciano has done nothing wrong by having past dealings with Dunpar, but said he should have disclosed all of that before getting involved in the rezoning process. 

"These are the kinds of things where, even if not an actual conflict, the perceived conflict of interest is as important for confidence in the municipal process" he said.

When pressed on whether he is concerned about an apparent conflict of interest, Di Ciano replied: "No I'm not. This is one of the largest land owners in Ward 5, and if you think I'm going to sit on the sidelines while they come in and develop, it's just not going to happen. And my residents are very much aware of the situation."