An Ontario Superior Court judge in Ottawa has frozen millions of dollars, including funds held in cryptocurrency, that had been raised for the convoy protests in the nation’s capital.
The order, which was made late Thursday in a secret hearing as part of a class-action civil suit filed against the convoy by residents of Ottawa, is being described as the first of its kind in Canada by Paul Champ, the lawyer for the plaintiffs.
“I can confirm that this is the first successful Mareva order in Canada targeting bitcoin and cryptocurrency exchanges,” Mr. Champ told The Globe and Mail.
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The freezing order, also known as a Mareva injunction, is separate from the federal government’s continuing efforts to seize the same funds. The order is in place so the donations to the convoy – as much as $20-million from around the world – could potentially be redistributed to the citizens of Ottawa if the class action proves successful.
Keith Wilson, a lawyer representing the convoy protesters, said he only learned of the Mareva injunction through media reports. “We have not been served with the order or related court documents,” he said in an e-mail Friday.
The order, issued by Justice Calum MacLeod, tells the convoy protest leaders and fundraisers that they are now restrained from “selling, removing, dissipating, alienating, transferring” any of the assets raised for the protests. It is in effect globally.
The move is part of an increased pressure campaign against the protesters. On Friday morning, police began a massive operation to seal off and clear downtown Ottawa of demonstrators and large trucks that have been clogging up the streets for three weeks. Late Thursday, police made several arrests, including key protest organizers Chris Barber and Tamara Lich.
A Mareva injunction is a rare but powerful legal tool. It allows for a plaintiff’s lawyer to appear alone before a Canadian judge to press for funds to be blocked.
Last year, a Saudi Arabian company obtained such an order from an Ontario judge to freeze billions held by a former Saudi government official now living in Toronto.
Mareva injunction orders were also issued in lawsuits related to prominent Canadian business controversies such as the Bre-X and Hollinger affairs during the early 2000s.
The convoy demonstrations started in Ottawa three weeks ago to protest vaccine mandates. The stated goal of the fundraising was to use the funds to feed and provide lodgings for the protesters, as well as fuel for their vehicles, until their goals were reached. More than $10-million was raised on the GoFundMe crowdsourcing site before the company shut that fundraiser down, citing police reports of violence and other unlawful activity.
Protest organizers have since raised millions through other channels, including cryptocurrency, which they touted as being hard if not impossible to police. But protesters on the ground have said on social media that relatively little of the funds raised have been reaching them.
The Mareva injunction issued by Justice MacLeod was specifically issued for entities known to hold assets for the convoy. This includes Canadian banks, such as TD Canada Trust and Alberta’s ATB Financial, because some of the convoy leaders are known to have bank accounts at those institutions.
The order is simultaneously being issued to U.S.-based crowdsourcing companies such as GoFundMe and GiveSendGo.
It also targets almost 150 distinct bitcoin and other cryptocurrency wallets associated with the protest and is being served on several cryptocurrency exchanges – TallyCoin, BitBuy and Bull Bitcoin, among others.
It names a group of Canadian bitcoin boosters led by Vancouver entrepreneur Jeffrey Booth as holders of contentious assets.
In an interview with The Globe last week, Mr. Booth said he is not himself actively supporting the convoy protests. “I’m a keyholder for this – that’s it. I haven’t raised a dollar. I haven’t donated a dollar of my own and I’m not an organizer. I am just a keyholder in a decentralized platform.”
Specifically named in the order are assets controlled by Ms. Lich, who was arrested on mischief-related charges Thursday night. It also covers assets controlled by other leaders and the directors of a newly created non-profit corporation known as Freedom 2022 Inc. In some cases, the order was served Thursday to the protest organizers through their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“This court orders that each Mareva Respondent shall prepare and provide to the Plaintiffs, within 7 days of the date of service of this Order, a sworn statement describing the nature, value, and location of his or her assets worldwide,” the injunction says.
Justice MacLeod’s order says that such disclosures must also include “any digital assets (and any associated cryptocurrency wallet addresses).” It adds that any refusal to provide such information could amount to “contempt of court,” which in turn could lead to imprisonment or fines.
Earlier this week, the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act, which gives authorities additional powers to seize funds.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland announced that the government is moving on the same pools of funds at issue in the lawsuit. Financial institutions have started freezing bank accounts belonging to protesters involved in blockades based on information from the RCMP, she said, and she predicted the number of accounts being targeted will grow in the coming days.
The RCMP have independently sent letters naming protest organizers to banks and cryptocurrency exchanges and have identified digital wallet addresses linked to demonstrators. The letters encouraged the financial institutions to cease transacting with those individuals and digital accounts.
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