The RCMP, banking sector and federal government said Monday that account-freezing powers bestowed under the Emergencies Act to help authorities deal with convoy protests do not affect donors to the protests, despite unsubstantiated claims by a Conservative MP that a constituent had her bank account frozen over a $50 contribution.
“At no time, did we provide a list of donors to Financial Institutions,” the RCMP said in a statement Monday.
The agency said while it had sent financial institutions a list of accounts to monitor and freeze, those accounts belonged to “individuals and companies suspected of involvement in illegal acts,” such as “influencers in the illegal protest in Ottawa” and vehicle owners and drivers “who did not want to leave the area impacted by the protest.”
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland echoed those remarks at a news conference Monday. She said people who were not directly involved in the anti-pandemic-restriction protests should contact police if they believe their accounts were unfairly frozen. But she cautioned, “It’s important to be sure that the account is not being frozen for any other reason.”
The claim that a donor’s account was caught up in the anti-convoy sweep came from B.C. MP Mark Strahl. He tweeted Sunday that a person named Briane, who he said was “a single mom from Chilliwack working a minimum wage job,” made the donation “when it was 100 per cent legal,” and had not otherwise taken part in convoy-related activities. He provided neither her last name nor her financial institution, but said “her bank account has now been frozen.”
A representative for Mr. Strahl said the MP was not available to comment. Mr. Strahl tweeted he would not share any further details of the case with media, citing privacy reasons.
The Globe and Mail contacted hundreds of people whose names appear on a widely circulated leaked list of donors and asked about the status of their bank accounts. Dozens responded to say they had not had their accounts frozen, but many said they’re watching closely and are worried the Emergencies Act order could affect them.
Norma Smith, a 73-year-old woman who donated $50 to the convoy, said she has been checking three times a day to make sure her bank account hasn’t been affected. “Looking back, had I known this would happen, I would never have donated,” Ms. Smith said in an e-mail, adding that she lives alone and can’t afford to have her savings affected.
She said the RCMP and federal government’s announcement that ordinary donors wouldn’t be targeted made her feel “a bit better.”
In an e-mail about Mr. Strahl’s tweet, mistakenly forwarded to The Globe by a media-relations officer, an Ottawa Police Service constable said they had sifted through the donor list and found two “Briannes,” neither of whom lived in British Columbia. “The information posted is false,” the e-mail said. The force declined to comment further.
It has been a week since the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act in response to protests that clogged the country’s capital and several crucial traffic arteries across Canada. The move granted banks and the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) power to monitor transactions and potentially freeze accounts, as Ottawa sought to stem the flow of funds to key figures in the protest movement.
The Emergencies Act measures only affected transactions made after the act was first invoked on Feb. 15. As of Monday afternoon, the RCMP said 219 bank accounts and other financial products had been frozen under the act, and that 57 people or organizations were affected. The force also said it had frozen “the account of a payment processor for a value of $3.8M by a financial institution,” but it did not clarify what that meant. The Canadian Bankers Association said it could offer no clarification.
The decision to invoke the act was almost immediately met with allegations of government overreach and is facing legal challenges from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Constitution Foundation. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Saturday he would also pursue legal action, despite a request from his cabinet two weeks earlier for federal assistance with removing protesters from a border crossing at Coutts, Alta. A spokesperson for Mr. Kenney said on Sunday that Alberta did not ask Ottawa to use the Emergencies Act.
Financial institutions deferred comment Monday to the Canadian Bankers Association. “The government has indicated that the measures in the Emergencies Act are intended to be temporary and focused only on a narrow group of individuals and entities involved in specific activities covered by the Order,” association spokesperson Mathieu Labrèche said. “The vast majority of customers are not impacted by these measures.”
With a report from Janice Dickson
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