Canada’s banks have unfrozen most accounts belonging to customers who were linked to illegal blockades, an industry group said, restoring access to financial services that was cut off for dozens of people under emergency powers last week as a tool to put pressure on protesters to leave downtown Ottawa.
On Monday, the RCMP contacted banks and other financial institutions to notify them that they could unfreeze most of about 200 accounts, days after they were suspended under the Emergencies Act.
A smaller number of accounts remain frozen under separate court orders, including some belonging to prominent protest organizers, as the court decisions did not rely on temporary emergency powers granted by the federal government. Last week, an Ontario court froze millions of dollars, including funds held in cryptocurrency, that had been raised for the convoy protests in the country’s capital as part of a class-action civil suit filed against the convoy by residents of Ottawa.
In total, 206 accounts holding a total of $7.8-million were frozen using the emergency measures, most of which were identified as having ties to organizers of the protests or owners of vehicles used to block roads. Most of those were unfrozen early this week after police used a massive operation to clear protesters and vehicles that had blockaded Ottawa for three weeks.
“We can confirm that financial institutions acted quickly to unfreeze accounts after the RCMP notified us that it believes that individuals and entities previously identified are no longer engaged in conduct or activities prohibited under the emergency measures regulations,” a spokesperson for the Canadian Bankers Association said in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday.
“While most customer accounts have been unfrozen, it is important to remember that some accounts may be frozen for a variety of other reasons, including to comply with court orders or proceedings related to illegal activities or other unrelated legal matters,” the CBA said.
An RCMP statement on Wednesday said the police service had provided banks on Feb. 21 with “updated information about certain entities whose status may have changed pertaining to the illegal protest activity,” which will “help inform decisions to unfreeze certain accounts.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the government was ending its use of the Emergencies Act.
After the government invoked emergency powers on Feb. 15, the RCMP sent letters the next day to banks and cryptocurrency exchanges that named fewer than 20 key protesters and listed more than 30 digital-wallet addresses linked to the blockades, encouraging banks to freeze those accounts. Over the following days, banks identified the associated accounts they held and temporarily suspended them.
The emergency order created anxiety about whether thousands of people who donated to the convoy protests also risked having their accounts frozen, but the RCMP and banks said the emergency measures would not be used against those people.
“At no time did the RCMP disclose information on donors or on those who purchased merchandise,” the RCMP said in its statement.
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