A committee of MPs has voted to summon representatives of GoFundMe to Parliament “as soon as possible” to answer questions about the California crowdfunding company’s ability to screen out hate campaigns.
Corporate officials met with local police on Wednesday, and froze $10-million raised in support of the truck drivers’ convoy protest in Ottawa. It is currently not accepting further donations or distributing any of the funds. The company said in a statement on its website that it is reviewing whether the fundraising complies with its terms of service.
The terms say GoFundMe will shut down campaigns that promote “hate, violence, harassment, bullying, discrimination, terrorism, or intolerance of any kind.”
On Thursday, New Democrat MP Alistair MacGregor said the House of Commons public safety committee needs to know what security measures GoFundMe has “to ensure the funds are not being used to promote extremism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism and other forms of hate which have been expressed among prominent organizers of the truck convoy currently in Ottawa.” MPs on the committee unanimously passed a motion to call company officials to testify.
The convoy organizers deny ties to hate groups. The protest began last weekend in Ottawa as thousands descended on the city demanding that politicians abandon vaccination mandates and other pandemic measures.
During the weekend, some protesters in and around Parliament Hill brandished Confederate flags. One had a swastika drawn on it. Protest organizers have said that the number of demonstrators, which dwindled during the week, could increase this weekend to reinforce the ranks of those still honking horns and blocking major downtown roads. Notices on social media are now encouraging people to carry out a similar protest at the Ontario legislature in Toronto on Saturday.
Ottawa Police Service Chief Peter Sloly this week said the police may not be able to do much to end the demonstration in the capital. In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail, the police service said it is assisting GoFundMe in its review of the terms of service and applicable laws and regulations.
Municipal politicians in Ottawa indicate they may make a legal bid to seize the fund to pay the extra policing costs related to the protest. “Staff are reviewing whether there are mechanisms whereby the city might recoup the extraordinary costs,” city solicitor David White said in an e-mail.
On Wednesday, GoFundMe announced in a corporate blog post that it placed the $10-million under review “to ensure the funds are going to the intended recipients and that the fundraiser remains within our terms of service.” The company said it would not comment on social-media claims that some donations are already being rejected.
GoFundMe also had no immediate reply to questions from The Globe about whether it would send representatives to speak to the parliamentary committee.
Convoy organizers have said they hope to use the money for food, fuel and lodgings to keep truckers in Ottawa.
“We are calling on all levels of government in Canada to end all COVID mandates and restrictions,” organizer Tamara Lich said at a news conference on Thursday in Ottawa. “We will continue our protest until we see a clear plan for their elimination.”
Ms. Lich, who has been involved in Alberta’s Maverick Party, was introduced as the group’s leader by Calgary lawyer Keith Wilson during the news conference. Mr. Wilson said he is part of a group of lawyers and accountants working to secure the convoy’s access to the GoFundMe money.
Mr. Wilson said the company is doing its due diligence and that this is not surprising given how GoFundMe has been “bombarded” with calls to refrain from distributing the funds. Convoy organizers this week incorporated a not-for-profit corporation and other mechanisms to show they are in full compliance with the company’s terms, Mr. Wilson said. He said he anticipates this will “allow GoFundMe to flow the funds that so many have donated.”
Only a few GoFundMe causes appear to have ever drawn more than $10-million. One was a 2018 effort to support the Canadian families of the teenaged Humboldt Broncos hockey players killed and injured in a 2018 crash. A judge in Saskatchewan made a formal ruling on how that $15-million should be distributed.
Ms. Lich is named on the GoFundMe site as the co-organizer of the fundraising campaign. The other co-organizer is Benjamin Dichter. But in an e-mail to The Globe, Mr. Wilson said Mr. Dichter “never had any involvement or control over the GoFundMe funds.”
Court records obtained by The Globe show that an Islamic charity is suing Mr. Dichter, alleging he was part of a defamation campaign. The $2.5-million libel claim filed in 2018 in Toronto’s Ontario Superior Court alleges Mr. Dichter is among a group of people who falsely said the charity violated Canada’s terrorist-financing laws.
Mr. Dichter “is a critic of the supposed influence of Islam in Canadian society,” reads the statement of claim. The statement of defence denies defamation and counters that Mr. Dichter is “a consultant and human rights advocate” who works on podcasts.
In 2019, Mr. Dichter and his co-defendants launched a campaign via GoFundMe that raised more than $40,000 for their legal defence.
The defamation case is continuing, according to defence lawyer Lorne Honickman. In an e-mail, he said Mr. Dichter continues his podcasting, but “is also self-employed in the trucking industry.”
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