'Freedom Convoy': Canadians concerned as government freezes bank accounts

Authorities have frozen $3.8m so far from supporters of the lorry-driver protest that brought parts of the nation to a standstill

Canadian police officers face off with protesters as they worked to restore normality to the capital Ottawa on February 19. Reuters
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Three weeks of anti-vaccine protests that rocked Canada have come to an end, stopped in their tracks by a never-before-used law that gave the federal government sweeping powers to declare the demonstrations illegal and to hit members of the so-called Freedom Convoy where it hurt — their wallets.

While the government was successful in ending the occupation of Ottawa and the border blockades, the length they went to, including freezing the bank accounts of some of the protesters, has concerned many.

“It's a very disconcerting precedent,” said Aaron Wudrick, director of the domestic policy programme at the MacDonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa. “I think it's going to do tremendous damage to trust in our institutions.”

On Sunday, Conservative MP Mark Strahl tweeted that he knew someone who had donated only $50 to the freedom convoy and had their bank account subsequently frozen.

“Briane is a single mum from Chilliwack working a minimum wage job. She gave $50 to the convoy when it was 100 per cent legal. She hasn’t participated in any other way. Her bank account has now been frozen. This is who Justin Trudeau is actually targeting with his Emergencies Act orders,” Mr Strahl tweeted.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have disputed Mr Strahl's claims, saying “at no time did we provide a list of donors to financial institutions".

While the MP’s claims may be unsubstantiated, Mr Wudrick said that under the Emergencies Act, the government is allowed to freeze any donor’s account.

But the government should instruct banks to only go after people who have donated more than a certain amount of money, he said.

“That's a very simple way to limit the scope of the order and they haven't done it and that is what is very frustrating,” Mr Wudrick told The National.

The RCMP said authorities have taken action against 219 bank accounts and financial products so far, belonging to a total of 57 people or entities. A little less than $4 million has been frozen.

Under the Emergencies Act, the special powers granted to the government will expire 30 days after the act was invoked — unless the government chooses to extend them.

On Monday, Parliament voted 185-151 in favour of the law. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters: “This state of emergency is not over. There continue to be real concerns about the coming days.”

Mr Wudrick said he hopes the government “does not wait 30 days” before revoking the act, saying it should be a question of “days not weeks".

Updated: February 22, 2022, 6:51 PM