Agriculture Minister Bloyce Thompson says he has received the long-awaited results of an investigation by the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC) into the 2019 sale of 2,200 acres of land to a corporation linked to the Irving family.
The land was transferred without approval of executive council, which is usually required for land sales under the province’s Lands Protection Act (LPA).
In an emailed statement, Thompson said the investigation revealed there are “reasonable and probable grounds” that two individuals and one corporation involved in the sale contravened the land size limits set out under the Lands Protection Act.
“The involved parties have received correspondence from government asking them to divest land and become compliant with the Lands Protection Act within 120 days,” Thompson said in the statement.
“The parties will be required to report their actions to become compliant directly to IRAC who will then confirm this with government. If they do not come into compliance within 120 days, I am prepared to take further enforcement steps as may be determined necessary.”
Thompson indicated other enforcement actions could be pursued if the parties involved in the land sale do not comply with the law, up to and including a reduction in land holdings, a summary conviction or a financial penalty.
“Our government is committed to respecting and enforcing the Lands Protection Act. I hope that all those involved in this investigation will respect the findings of the investigation and act to take the corrective actions,” Thompson said.
The release did not specify how much the individuals and corporations involved were allegedly over the LPA land size limit or state which individuals or corporations they allege contravened the act.
The LPA restricts individuals to ownership of 1,000 acres of land and corporations to 3,000 acres of land although, when full exceptions for non-arable or leased land are taken into account, a corporation can own up to 5,700 acres.
The report from the IRAC investigation has not yet been released publicly.
In an interview, Thompson said the ultimate responsibility to releasing the report falls with IRAC.
"It's an IRAC report," Thompson said, adding that he initially requested the investigation.
"I've requested them to release it to the public. Whether they do or they don't, I guess we'll have to deal that."
Thompson suggested that if IRAC was unwilling to release the report, he might pursue the matter with the province's information and privacy commissioner.
However, an emailed statement from IRAC stated that the responsibility for releasing the report fell to the agriculture minister.
"The report was prepared at the request of the Minister and has been delivered to him. The Minister determines if and when he releases it," read an email from Kim Devine, senior communication officer of IRAC.
Thompson, who added the report was very extensive, lengthy and "came in a box”, said the results of the investigation was evidence that the enforcement mechanisms for the Lands Protection Act are sound.
"It's good that the LPA worked. There is no loophole," he said.
The land sale involved a transfer of land from a family-owned farming operation to Red Fox Acres Limited, a corporation, which listed Rebecca Irving, daughter of Mary Jean Irving, as a director. A legal representative of Red Fox Acres Ltd. told The Guardian in 2019 that the transfer of land involved a sale of a corporation instead of a sale of land.
A sale of the same 2,200 acres to three other companies linked to the Irving family was denied in March of 2019 by Executive Council of the previous Liberal government.
IRAC later named former referendum commissioner Gerard Mitchell to lead the investigation of the sale.