RCMP officials say the freezing of the Freedom Convoy protesters’ bank accounts without a court order was a necessary and targeted measure during the public order emergency, but opposition MPs are questioning why existing laws weren’t applied.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Michel Arcand told the House Finance Committee (FINA) on March 7 that the freezing of accounts “enhanced the effectiveness of law enforcement’s investigation” pertaining to border blockades, and helped bring a “peaceful and timely end to the public emergency.”
Conservative MP Ed Fast asked Arcand why they had not obtained a court order to freeze bank accounts earlier if that measure was judged as effective at discouraging protesters.
Arcand replied that the RCMP wasn’t the lead agency on the issue, it was rather the Ottawa Police Service and the Ontario Provincial Police.
“Did you ever ask the federal government to avail itself of existing legal and police authorities to bring an end to the protest?” pressed Fast.
“To my knowledge, no,” responded Arcand.
The government invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14 to deal with the Ottawa protest, and related border blockades in several provinces, demanding the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. In the end, the Act was only used to clear the Ottawa protest as other demonstrations had mostly cleared by then.
A measure in the emergency order allowed the police to disclose information to financial institutions without a court order, which the RCMP says was necessary and acted as a deterrent. Financial institutions in receipt of police information about their clients proceeded to freeze the accounts.
RCMP explained during the FINA meeting how it identified accounts to be frozen, and said some entities were warned beforehand.
“We contacted [protestors] before providing information to financial institutions. During this time, a lot of people wanted to leave, but were not in a position to leave because the streets were not cleared,” said Superintendent Denis Beaudoin, director of the RCMP’s financial crimes division.
Arcand said the action was directed at key protest figures to “discourage the people that are influencing the protests.”
“So how many of the key leaders and influencers of the protest actually did stand down as a result of the banks freezing their account or the threat of their accounts being frozen?” asked Fast.
“To answer directly your question, I don’t have the specific numbers,” replied Arcand.
Fast asked Arcand to provide this information to the committee, saying, “We want to know, did the Emergencies Act actually achieve what it was intended to do, which was to get the influencers and the leaders to back down?”
The police started to clear the protest on Feb. 18, with organizers calling for trucks to leave after police used force to dislodge a participant.
“One of Freedom Convoy Canada drivers had his truck windows smashed by Ottawa Police, guns drawn & dragged out of his vehicle by force. It’s time to leave. Ottawa Police please allow the remaining trucks to leave in peace,” organizer Benjamin Dichter wrote on Twitter on Feb. 18.
A contingent of trucks left but some remained, and police continued clearing protesters from the area for the rest of that weekend.
257 Accounts Frozen
Arcand said that at least 257 accounts were frozen by financial institutions after the RCMP provided them with information on 57 entities.
A drawn-out battle between convoy organizers and authorities around the issue of fundraising for the truckers saw online platforms collecting millions and being shut down or frozen by court order. During this tumult, fundraising shifted towards cryptocurrency to avoid scrutiny, but this was also targeted.
Arcand said the RCMP identified and disclosed 170 Bitcoin wallet addresses linked to crowdfunding for the convoy, which had raised 20.7 Bitcoins valued between $1 to $1.2 million during the period of the public order emergency.
The freezing of accounts only targeted protesters in Ottawa and the list was partly developed based on information gathered by the Ottawa Police Service and the Ontario Provincial Police on 15 entities, Arcand said, as well as from information taken by the RCMP from license plates and names of companies and drivers.
No Terrorist Activity
During the protests, federal ministers had made allegations that the protesters were extremists who had ties to overseas influence operations and sought to overthrow the government.
Conservative MP Philip Lawrence asked the RCMP if it saw “any evidence of terrorist activity in the funding of these illegal protests and blockades?”
“I have not,” responded Beaudoin.
Liberal MP James Maloney asked the RCMP where the frozen accounts were located, and Arcand said it was a “mixture of people from Ontario and other places.”
“Those other places, I assume, overseas as well?” asked Maloney.
“I don’t know about overseas … it was mainly in Canada,” replied Arcand.
Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair had claimed that the protest movement was a “largely foreign-funded, targeted and coordinated attack,” but crowdfunding platform GoFundMe told the Public Safety Committee on March 3 that 88 percent of donations to the Freedom Convoy fundraiser originated within Canada.