It is “very unlikely” most small-time donors to the so-called Freedom Convoy would have their bank accounts frozen under federal emergency powers, officials told MPs Tuesday.
While tens of thousands donated funds to the convoy organizers’ cause, a senior Finance Canada official said Tuesday just 206 accounts remain “frozen” due to their association with the illegal protest that ground downtown Ottawa to a halt for more than three weeks.
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It’s not clear how many individuals had their accounts frozen, but the government estimates a total of $7.8 million has been frozen since last Tuesday. And Isabelle Jacques, the associate deputy minister responsible for financial sector policy, said authorities have already begun unfreezing accounts as the alleged illegal activity stops.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Feb. 14 that his government would invoke the Emergencies Act, a never-before-used law designed to give Ottawa exceptional powers in a state of emergency.
Trudeau and his cabinet have argued, and continue to argue, that emergency powers were required to bring an end to the illegal occupation of downtown Ottawa, and to prevent future blockades of key trade corridors with the United States.
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That’s given rise to concerns — particularly from the opposition Conservatives — that individual Canadians could have their bank accounts frozen and lives derailed for kicking $20 in support of the convoy.
Based on what the RCMP and federal officials have said so far, however, it is unlikely that individual donors would have their accounts frozen.
RCMP said Monday that the names provided to financial institutions included the “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.”
So according to federal authorities, to be caught under the emergency powers, someone would have had to have donated in the last seven days, would have to be associated with one of the roughly 200 accounts, and would have had to be flagged by the RCMP for some other reason than donating to the cause.
“Although not impossible, that someone who donated $20 be captured and have their bank account frozen, I find that scenario … I think that would be in rare circumstances,” Jacques told MPs.
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Jacques added, however, that the Freedom Convoy saga has exposed “gaps” in what the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada — FINTRAC, the country’s financial intelligence branch — can track.
Jacques said that the government is currently looking at bringing in new legislation or regulations to ensure crowdfunding platforms and payment providers must report any suspicious transactions to FINTRAC.
But Jacques said that the emergency powers, or future legislation, would not prevent Canadians from using crowdfunding platforms to raise money for or donate to legitimate causes.