By Tonda MacCharlesOttawa Bureau
Tue., Feb. 22, 2022timer4 min. read
updateArticle was updated 6 hrs ago
OTTAWA—The federal government says the RCMP are working with financial institutions to “unfreeze” bank accounts locked by emergency orders that targeted people who organized, participated in, or donated to the so-called Freedom Convoy blockades.
Isabelle Jacques, assistant deputy minister of finance, told a Commons standing committee Tuesday that the RCMP began “sharing information” — related to the end of “unlawful” blockades — with banks and financial institutions as of Monday that should lead to affected accounts being “unfrozen.”
However, Jacques said some bank account holders may still be subject to other court orders freezing their assets.
The province of Ontario won an order on Feb. 10 that froze the distribution of funds raised through the American online funding platform, GiveSendGo. And on Feb. 17 a group of Ottawa citizens, businesses, and employees who are suing key organizers of the so-called Freedom Convoy 2022 won a sweeping order to preserve their ability to recover damages.
On Tuesday, Judge Calum MacLeod, of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, released reasons for his ruling, saying it concerns the “private right to sue and not the steps taken by police or government authorities.”
“Even if the defendants are ultimately found to be lawfully exercising constitutional rights of protest and dissent, it does not follow that in the exercise of those rights they do not have responsibilities to their fellow citizens,” said the judge.
The class action lawsuit has not yet been certified by a court, but it targets the accounts of individuals, specifically Patrick King, Tamara Lich, Christopher Garrah, Nicholas St. Louis and Benjamin Dichter — all key players in the protests — as well as the corporation “Freedom Convoy 2022 Human Rights and Freedoms” that lawyer Paul Champ said was set up Jan. 30 to collect nearly $11 million that was raised on GiveSendGo. The protesters occupied downtown Ottawa for 24 days after demanding a lifting of Canada’s pandemic restrictions. Police finally broke up the protest on the weekend. Blockades at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor and the border crossing in Coutts, Alta. were removed last week.
The Department of Finance officials said the emergency order issued by the Trudeau government led to between 206 to 210 accounts being frozen, totalling some $7.8 million.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, when asked Tuesday what criteria he’ll use to end the emergency declaration and orders, repeated that the federal government is receiving advice from law enforcement “every single day as we analyze reports coming in from across the country, as we hear the recommendations and operational issues faced by police agencies across the country and intelligence services.” He said he doesn’t want it in place “a day longer than necessary.”
On Monday, the RCMP said it had frozen 219 financial “products” and disclosed 57 “entities,” along with the “addresses of 253 bitcoin shared with virtual currency exchangers; and, the proactive freezing of the account of a payment processor for a value of $3.8M by a financial institution.”
The Mounties said it provided a list to financial institutions that included individuals who were “influencers in the illegal protest in Ottawa, and owners and/or drivers of vehicles who did not want to leave the area impacted by the protest.”
“At no time, did we provide a list of donors to financial institutions,” the RCMP said. The Mounties did not immediately reply to the Star’s request for information Tuesday.
But the finance department official said banks, using their own algorithms and internal reviews, may have also identified people who donated or indirectly supported the “illegal activity” and acted.
In reply to a Conservative MP’s question about whether donations as small as $20 would have been affected, the finance official said it would be “rare” but not impossible that small donations could be covered. However Jacques had no information on specifics, saying it was information shared strictly between the RCMP and the banks, not the government.
The finance official said she was unaware of a leak of hacked donor data from the crowdfunding platform GiveSendGo and doubted financial institutions would take action against an individual solely on that kind of information, without consulting the RCMP or their own legal teams.
The emergency financial orders took effect on Feb. 15, and Jacques made clear it has no retroactive effect, so that anyone who donated to crowdfunding platforms prior to Feb. 15 should not be captured by the order, she said.
Champ, the lawyer for the group of Ottawa residents trying to recover damages from the convoy, said in an interview late Tuesday their bid to keep assets frozen pending a final judgment in the civil case had two goals:
“One was similar to the federal government, that we wanted to stop the flow of funds to the freedom convoy protesters who were still engaged in the illegal behaviour, the illegal and harmful behaviour. But we also wanted to secure the large sums of money that were raised because we felt that those funds should someday be paid in damages to the plaintiffs and if the funds weren’t frozen, there was a risk that they would dissipate.”
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
Anyone can read Conversations, but to contribute, you should be registered Torstar account holder. If you do not yet have a Torstar account, you can create one now (it is free)
Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the
Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.