Opposition MPs are criticizing the government’s freezing of Canadians’ bank accounts without a court order under Emergencies Act measures after it was revealed that at least 206 accounts totalling $7.8 million have been frozen due to support of the Freedom Convoy.
Government officials were questioned on the issue during a Finance Committee (FINA) meeting on Feb. 22.
“The ability for a financial institution—which by the way, is a third party to act as the judge and the jury without the opportunity for an individual to make any representation—I’m having a hard time understanding how that is compliant with the Charter,” said Conservative MP Adam Chambers.
“Saying something complies with the Charter doesn’t necessarily make it true,” he said, given the Emergencies Act is required to be Charter-compliant and the government has said that it is.
Isabelle Jacques, assistant deputy minister of finance, said at the meeting that at least 206 accounts have been frozen, with a total worth of $7.8 million, which includes different types of accounts such as savings, chequing, and mortgages.
She confirmed that under the current emergency order a targeted individual doesn’t need to be notified or cannot make any representations to financial institutions or law enforcement before their account is frozen.
Jacques argued that these concerns have been addressed in the order by requiring that the action be reviewed on a continual basis.
The government invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14 to clear protests in Ottawa and elsewhere who were demanding the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. Jacques said the financial measures came into force on Feb. 15 and are not retroactive.
Bloc Quebecois MP Gabriel Ste-Marie asked Jacques if the government had provided written instructions to financial institutions so that they can correctly implement the measures.
Jacques said it wasn’t the case.
“We haven’t sent details or written information. But we have made ourselves available to answer any questions that may come up from the various entities about implementation,” she said.
“I’m very worried about the government’s action on this,” Ste-Marie replied.
“If I’ve understood correctly, there’s been no written passing of criteria, it’s just been on a variable basis—that then leads to lots of possible different interpretations. We know the [emergency] order gives immunity to financial institutions.”
Ste-Marie noted that people with joint bank accounts who haven’t participated in any protests could suffer collateral damage.
Freedom Convoy spokesperson Tom Marrazo said on Feb. 19 that his bank accounts were frozen and credit cards cancelled, and that his wife, who was not involved in the protests, had seen her credit score drop 109 points.
When asked if someone who gave as little as $20 to the Freedom Convoy through a crowdsourcing platform could have their account frozen, Jacques said it would be unlikely but “not impossible.”
Jacques also said that the government has stopped freezing accounts and that it started to unfreeze accounts as of Feb. 21.
The RCMP said in a statement on Feb. 23 that law enforcement “has gone back to financial institutions with some updated information about certain entities whose status may have changed pertaining to the illegal protest activity.”
“This new information can be assessed alongside all other information to help inform decisions to unfreeze certain accounts,” the statement said.
Jacques explained that the government has been targeting bank accounts using two avenues: One is through the RCMP providing a list to financial institutions, while the other is with financial institutions who can use their algorithms to detect issues and then verify if their client was involved.
The RCMP stated on Feb. 21 that the list they provided to financial institutions “included identities of individuals who were influencers in the illegal protest in Ottawa, and owners and/or drivers of vehicles who did not want to leave the area impacted by the protest. “
“At no time, did we provide a list of donors to financial institutions,” says the statement.
Conservative MP Mark Strahl tweeted on Feb. 20 that someone from his Chilliwack riding had her account frozen without notice.
“Briane is a single mom from Chilliwack working a minimum wage job. She gave $50 to the convoy when it was 100% legal. She hasn’t participated in any other way. Her bank account has now been frozen,” Strahl wrote.
Facing questions by some journalists about the validity of the story, Stahl issued a statement on Feb. 22 to confirm that Briane is a real person and that he has seen her donation receipt.
“I have verified her first and last name and her address. I will not be sharing those details with anyone to protect her privacy,” he said, noting the woman informed him her bank account had been frozen “at the same time that the government began freezing the accounts of other freedom convoy supporters.”
The motion supporting the invoking of the Emergencies Act was passed by the House of Commons on Feb. 21 and Senate debates began on Feb. 22. If the Senate votes against it, it will be automatically revoked. Otherwise, it will last 30 days from Feb. 14 unless the government revokes it or seeks to extend it.