OTTAWA — The Voice of Canadian Credit Unions says their members watched as people made large withdrawals after the federal government promised a financial crackdown on the so-called “freedom convoy.”
The government’s use of emergency powers in February included authorizing financial institutions to freeze the accounts of those involved in protests that occupied downtown Ottawa streets and blocked major border crossings.
But a House of Commons committee was told on Thursday that the government was unclear on the intended targets shortly after the financial measures were announced.
The government has also given a degree of leeway to institutions that have contributed to the confusion, MPs have been told.
Martha Durdin, president and CEO of the Canadian Association of Credit Unions, said the combined effect was a degree of panic among Canadians that their accounts could be frozen because they had made small donations to the convoy.
She said this has led to Canadians withdrawing large sums from their credit union accounts, sometimes hundreds of thousands and, on a few occasions, millions of dollars.
Credit unions ultimately froze 10 accounts with a total value of less than half a million dollars, Durdin said, adding that many credit unions would have appreciated more information on the specific accounts that would be frozen.
Durdin, among others testifying before the committee today, said the situation underscores the need for federal officials to communicate more clearly about emergency powers and consult with a wider range of financial institutions beyond of the largest banks in the country.
“Credit unions had to really answer a lot of questions from members about when the government can freeze accounts, because many Canadians felt surprised that the government had that power,” Durdin said.
The testimony came as part of hearings the House of Commons finance committee is holding into the government’s use of never before used emergency powers to end protests.
Among the measures were those requiring crowdfunding platforms to disclose information to federal law enforcement officials, as millions of donations flooded sites like GoFundMe and GiveSendGo.
Although the reporting measures for fundraising platforms were short-lived, the Liberals have said they want to make the change permanent.
Juan Benitez, president of fundraising website GoFundMe, said his company’s analysis of the more than $10 million donated through the platform found that 88% of donations and 86% of donors came from Canada.
The largest donation to the campaign was $30,000 and it came from Canada, said Kim Wilford, the platform’s general counsel.
The platform ultimately decided to freeze the funds and issue refunds after speaking with the mayor and Ottawa police about reports of violence, harassment and threatening behavior.
Liberal MP Sophie Chatel raised the possibility that “black Russian money” was pouring into the convoy without citing direct evidence. Later in the hearing, Benitez said there were only a handful of donations from Russia for the convoy fundraiser and no evidence of a coordinated effort.
As streets in downtown Ottawa, including in front of Parliament Hill, were clogged with cars and trucks protesting public health restrictions and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, sympathy protests erupted throughout the country, including at major border crossings.
The week-long blockade on the busy Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor to Detroit, Michigan, has cost the North American auto industry an estimated $1 billion in sunk production, said Flavio Volpe, president of the Association. automotive parts manufacturers.
He said a similar amount had been lost in wages for some 100,000 Canadian autoworkers.
In his opening remarks, Volpe said the blockade has also cost Canada’s goodwill to our trading partners and blamed politicians who “shamelessly encouraged” their social media followers.
“We need to put in place a better comprehensive mitigation plan at all levels of government to prevent future freedom barbecues from clogging critical public infrastructure,” he said.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 17, 2022.
Jordan Press, The Canadian Press