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Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino rises during question period, in Ottawa, on Feb. 3.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says the federal government has “robust” investigative agencies that are well-situated to probe financial contributions from outside Canada to causes that would undermine this country’s safety and national security.

The minister made his remarks in Ottawa on Monday as the federal government was pressed to investigate financial contributions to protesters who have effectively shut down Ottawa’s downtown in their fight against pandemic restrictions. Protest organizers have raised millions of dollars through alternative fundraising sources since the GoFundMe crowdsourcing company pulled the plug on nearly $10-million in donations last week.

“We have very strong laws in this country that are covered extensively in the Criminal Code that would legally prohibit anybody from contributing to an effort to undermine public safety or national security,” Mr. Mendicino told reporters.

“We need to be very vigilant about external forces, about foreign interference,” he said.

Mr. Mendicino said he was speaking in general terms because investigations occur independent of elected officials.

Legal and academic experts, however, say they are skeptical about whether Canada has adequate legislation to curb fundraising for the convoy protests.

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Jessica Davis, a former federal intelligence analyst, said she knows that federal agencies are looking closely at the money trails backing the protesters. But she says that it is not clear to her what laws can be brought to bear on them. “There’s lots of people working on it. The question is: What are they going to be able to do about it?” she said in an interview. “If most of this activity was legal under Canadian law, what’s the outcome of those investigations? Nothing.”

Ms. Davis, who runs the consultancy Insight Threat Intelligence, said “there is a real question to be had about legislating stronger foreign-interference laws.”

Organizers are vowing to use donor funds to fuel and feed truckers over the long haul. On Friday, GoFundMe announced it would start returning nearly $10-million in donations to the convoy protests. That company found that protesters were in violation of terms of service clauses blocking the “promotion of violence and harassment.”

Since then, protest organizers have pivoted by vowing to raise $16-million through an alternative crowdfunding site known as GiveSendGo. As of Monday evening, just three days after GoFundMe cut ties, that fund had already raised around US$5.3-million.

There are other fundraising efforts. One organizer, Benjamin Dichter, has used social media to urge his supporters to switch to bitcoin. Last month, he drummed up support from American donors after appearing on Fox News, when he told host Tucker Carlson that vaccine mandates were causing Canada to veer into “dark authoritarian oppression and control.”

Prominent critics of the protests are now seizing on the issue of funding coming into Canada from abroad. “Foreign funders of an insurrection interfered in our domestic affairs from the start,” Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of Canada and Bank of England, writes in an opinion article published by The Globe and Mail. “Canadian authorities should take every step within the law to identify and thoroughly punish them.”

Protester organizers deny ties to violence or extremism and say they are not breaking any financial laws. Calgary lawyer Keith Wilson said last week that a group of lawyers and accountants have incorporated a not-for-profit entity to ensure that money can move to the cause in full compliance with laws and crowdfunding corporate conditions.

Experts say the federal government has several investigative agencies but few tools in their toolkit that fit the situation. Criminal Code anti-money-laundering measures, even foreign-interference probes were passed to address different kinds of problems.

Carleton University professor Leah West said that Mr. Mendicino’s raising of national security and public safety considerations may signal an interest by authorities in looking at whether the financing provisions of the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act could be invoked,

“He was pretty careful not to say ‘terrorism’ offences but that’s what I took him to be referring to,” said Prof. West, a former federal national-security lawyer. But she said authorities would be hard pressed to apply these provisions “unless there is evidence or intelligence of a specific intent to cause physical destruction to critical infrastructure or public property, or violence.”

Last July, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada issued a bulletin to the public that policing fundraising for extremist causes was becoming more difficult for authorities because of “alternative crowdsourcing outlets” and “virtual currencies.”

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