The so-called “Freedom Convoy” has bitten off a lot more than it can chew. As the protests have spiraled out across the country, the Canadian government has announced a major expansion of anti-money laundering monitoring and terrorist financing laws in response to the news it raised millions in crowdfunding.
For weeks, truckers and others claiming to be opposed to vaccine-or-quarantine mandates for commercial truckers entering Canada—but in reality, espousing a range of right-wing grievances—have shut down U.S.-Canada border crossings and streets in Ottawa. Despite the convoy’s close ties to fringe extremists and members waving Nazi and Confederate flags, it has become a cause célèbre for both the U.S. and Canadian right. The convoy has been heartily endorsed by Fox News personalities, and fundraisers supposedly going to cover the participants’ expenses have raised millions of dollars. GoFundMe shut down one fundraiser that raised millions after Canadian authorities launched several investigations of potential criminal behavior by convoy participants; Christian-themed site GiveSendGo funneled millions from across the globe in its stead, at least before it was recently hacked.
On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced he would invoke the Emergencies Act for 30 days to dispel the Freedom Convoy, allowing the government to temporarily impose special restrictions on public assembly (such as banning blockades) and travel as well as beef up local authorities with federal police support. The invocation of the act also clears the way for Canadian authorities to compel banks to freeze accounts of people suspected of contributing to the convoy’s funding and require insurers to halt coverage of vehicles involved in the protest. As reported by ZDNet, the government also announced the dramatic expansion of financial reporting requirements.
The changes effectively require that crowdfunding platforms and payment providers including crypto services must report all transactions worth $10,000 or over, or any suspicious transactions, to the government, according to the Globe and Mail. This type of reporting is already mandated for banks. In this case, that also means any crowdfunding platform that hosts a campaign to send money to convoy organizers or participants must share that information with the police.
Big trucks are very expensive to operate, even before insurance cancellation is taken into account, and the convoy is highly reliant on funding to operate (as well as maintain the possible financial incentives for organizers to keep prolonging it). According to Global News, security experts like Jessica Davis of Insight Threat Intelligence have also warned organizers have been far from transparent about the way funds are being dispersed, and the money could end up flowing to hate groups.
“These changes cover all forms of transactions, including digital assets such as cryptocurrencies,” Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Chrystia Freeland said during a press conference on Monday night, according to ZDNet. “The illegal blockades have highlighted the fact that crowdfunding platforms and some of the payment service providers they use are not fully captured under the proceeds of crime and terrorist financing act.
“Our banks and financial institutions are already obligated to report the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, or FINTRAC,” she added. “As of today, all crowdfunding platforms and the payment service providers they use must register with FINTRAC, and they must report large and suspicious transactions to FINTRAC.”
Gizmodo’s analysis of data from GiveSendGo, which was obtained during the hack and subsequently leaked by parties unknown, showed that while persons using Canadian postal codes contributed the majority of over $8.3 million in funding, persons with U.S. zip codes comprised an absolute majority of all donors. Some U.S. politicians such as Rand Paul have openly endorsed the idea of a similar convoy in the states, while Fox News hosts like Tucker Carlson have salivated over the idea on air. Far-right Telegram channels devoted to staging such a U.S. convoy, however, have so far largely failed to do much other than feud over pet issues like QAnon or argue about start dates.
According to Reuters, the Parliament of Canada has to approve Trudeau’s invocation of the act within seven days; any temporary laws introduced can also be challenged in court. Freeland said the government intends to pass legislation making the expansion of financial reporting requirements permanent.
“We cannot and will not allow illegal and dangerous activities to continue,” Trudeau said in a speech on Monday night, adding that the situation has posed “serious challenges to law enforcement’s ability to effectively enforce the law.” Trudeau assured citizens he would not call in the military or use Emergency Act powers to infringe on “fundamental rights.”