While fundraising efforts for the convoy protests raised roughly $24-million, only about $1-million was actually spent by organizers, according to a report produced for the Emergencies Act inquiry, as several organizers testified on Thursday about their motivations to fundraise and get involved.
The majority of funds were either refunded to donors or placed in escrow as a result of a proposed class action against convoy organizers and others who took part in Ottawa. For more than three weeks last winter, protesters gridlocked the city’s downtown core with big rigs, pickup trucks and other vehicles to protest vaccine mandates.
Donations to a high-profile GoFundMe campaign created by Tamara Lich were refunded. A related campaign – on the Christian crowdfunding platform GiveSendGo – collected donations that were never used. A cryptocurrency fundraiser, meanwhile, managed to distribute about $800,000 worth of bitcoin to truckers.
The fundraising report, which was presented by inquiry lawyer Daniel Sheppard on Thursday, described a complicated web of fundraising efforts involving numerous platforms and methods. Two fundraisers drew significant support from the United States, the report shows.
The Public Order Emergency Commission, which is led by Justice Paul Rouleau, has heard from several convoy organizers, as well as police leaders, City of Ottawa officials and residents. It is set to determine whether the federal government erred when it invoked the Emergencies Act in response to the convoy protests. Ms. Lich, along with fellow organizers James Bauder and Benjamin Dichter, testified on Thursday.
Over the past two days, the inquiry has heard about discord and disorganization among the convoy leaders. Those who have testified so far have different understandings of where the convoy was supposed to park in Ottawa, the extent of other leaders’ social-media followings and under what conditions the protests could end.
In his testimony, Mr. Dichter derisively referred to a convoy lawyer, Keith Wilson, as “Pat King in a suit.” Many convoy leaders have distanced themselves from Mr. King, another organizer, because of his violent comments.
Mr. Dichter said he was kept in the dark about a deal the convoy organizers were negotiating with Ottawa city hall to condense the footprint of the protests but Mr. Dichter’s own lawyer presented evidence to the commission that showed Mr. Wilson had actually e-mailed him about it.
The organizers also described their motivations. Ms. Lich became emotional when she described her frustration with pandemic restrictions. “I was seeing families torn apart –” she said, tearing up. “Elderly people were dying by themselves in long-term care facilities and saying goodbye over iPads.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14. Several days earlier, Mr. Trudeau had told reporters there were signs of “foreign money to fund this illegal activity.” Asked at the time to clarify the percentage of funds coming from the U.S., Mr. Trudeau said, “I’ve heard that on certain platforms, the number of U.S. donations are approaching 50 per cent.”
The commission’s report matches those figures. While the GoFundMe campaign was funded by 89-per-cent Canada-based donations, the related GiveSendGo campaign was funded by just 47-per-cent Canada-based donations – and 47 per cent was U.S.-based. A second GiveSendGo campaign, known as Adopt-A-Trucker, was 41-per-cent U.S.-funded, according to a PowerPoint shown by Mr. Sheppard.
A cryptocurrency fundraiser called Honk Honk Hodl raised about 22 bitcoin, which was worth about $1-million at the time, the report says. It was started by Ottawa resident Nicholas St. Louis on Tallycoin – a bitcoin crowdfunding platform.
About $800,000 worth of the bitcoin was distributed to truckers, according to information from Mr. St. Louis, cited in the report. “This had been accomplished by handing out physical envelopes that contained instructions on how to access approximately $8,000 CAD of Bitcoin,” the report says. The money had been split into around 100 electronic wallets.
Secure details involved in accessing the cryptocurrency – in the form of two “seed phrases” – were seized from Mr. St. Louis via a warrant and provided to an escrow agent, the report notes. Mr. Dichter, who had been involved in the crypto-fundraising, testified that he surrendered the single “seed phrase” he possessed through proceedings in the proposed class action.
Mr. Dichter also testified that his role at the protests was to be communicating the message of “peace, love, unity and freedom.”
As for Ms. Lich, she launched her fundraising campaign, called “Freedom Convoy 2022,” on Jan. 14. It was linked to a personal bank account, the report notes. Within a few hours, it came to GoFundMe’s attention because of the speed of donations, it adds. GoFundMe swiftly began asking for additional details.
By Jan. 31, three days after protesters had arrived in Ottawa, the campaign was in jeopardy. A GoFundMe team had e-mailed the organizers to confirm donations would only go to people protesting peacefully and lawfully, “i.e. ... no blockades of roads and highways,” the e-mail reads.
That same day, convoy organizers discussed moving their fundraiser to GiveSendGo in a meeting with the platform’s co-founder, Jacob Wells. Mr. Wells offered to use a payment processor in his name, which was linked to his bank account. As convoy organizers struggled to set up their own bank account, donations wound up being streamed to two places: Mr. Wells’s account and a trust account at Mr. Wilson’s law firm.
On Feb. 2, GoFundMe suspended the campaign because of reports of “potentially unlawful” activities, the report says. GoFundMe employees were receiving harassing messages, including death threats, it adds. On Feb. 4 – the same day the campaign was removed – the company discovered one man encouraging the harassment was an “associate” of Ms. Lich, the report says.
While Ms. Lich’s GoFundMe raised more than $10-million, only $1-million was ever released to her. Those funds were quickly put on a hold. Ms. Lich also received more than $400,000 in e-mail money transfer donations.
Of the roughly $1.4-million, Ms. Lich was able to access just $26,000, which was used to purchase fuel and other items, the report notes. The remainder was placed in escrow as a result of the class action. The GoFundMe donations were refunded, with the company making up the $1-million shortfall, commission lawyer Mr. Sheppard said.
Ms. Lich testified that she initially set the fundraising goal to $100,000. She said she had expected to receive $20,000, which she felt she could handle. She said she was “blown away” when the campaign hit $1-million but anxiety grew with the donations.
“There was a few days there where Canadians were donating a million dollars a day and it was very exciting and exhilarating,” she said. “When you’re talking that kind of money, the lawyers are coming and here we are today.”
As for the donations to the GiveSendGo, which raised roughly $12.4-million in Canadian dollars, they were either refunded or put in escrow, the report details.
Meanwhile, the second campaign on GiveSendGo – the Adopt-A-Trucker fundraiser created by Chris Garrah – raised about $800,000. He also raised around $31,000 in e-mail money transfer donations. Of that, around $220,000 was withdrawn and “spent on a variety of things,” Mr. Sheppard said. The remainder was placed in escrow.
Mr. Garrah spent around $10,000 on hotel bills, as well as roughly $3,700 on a combination of Best Buy purchases, groceries and payment to a sanitation company, according to the report. It does not offer a full accounting of how the released funds were spent.
Large amounts of cash were also collected throughout the protests, the report says. A accountant working with the convoy estimated that $20,000, on average, was brought in per day from one donation location. He said that the money was put into numbered envelopes and given out to truckers.