Emergencies Act: Trust in Canada’s Institutions Eroded, Says Lawyer for Clients Whose Bank Accounts Were Frozen

By Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding is a journalist and think tank researcher based in Saskatchewan, and a contributor to The Epoch Times.
March 16, 2022 Updated: March 16, 2022

A lawyer representing clients involved in the trucker convoy protest in Ottawa whose bank accounts were frozen says the move not only significantly impacted the lives of his clients but will lead to a lack of trust in Canada’s institutions.

Keith Wilson, an Alberta-based lawyer, says six of his clients have their bank accounts back after suspensions ranging from one or two days to more than a week.

On March 7, RCMP Superintendent Denis Beaudoin told the House of Commons finance committee that the national police force gave banks a list of names of individuals directly involved in the Ottawa protests. That information, which resulted in some 257 accounts of people and businesses being frozen, included personal details of people from the police database, such as whether protesters had been suspects of other crimes or had other “dealings” with police.

Wilson says he saw the investigation report that accompanied the list and found it “remarkable” and “very surprising” because “the sole source of investigative information was the CTV news piece on CTV’s website.”

The Feb. 10 CTV article “Who is who? A guide to the major players in the trucker convoy protest” named and provided brief profiles of four organizers, four influencers, and four people involved in convoy operations.

“If you look at who’s on that list, it’s because they were vocal and interviewed by the media. So speaking out against government, advocating for civil liberties in respect of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms—is that now the secret test for whether your bank account gets frozen? That’s disturbing,” Wilson says.

Epoch Times Photo
(L-R) Lawyer Keith Wilson and Freedom Convoy organizers Chris Barber and Tamara Lich hold a press conference in Ottawa on Feb. 3., 2022. (Gerry Smith/NTD)

Beaudoin testified that virtually everyone on the RCMP list was warned in advance that their accounts would be frozen if they didn’t leave Ottawa, but Wilson says this is “patent nonsense, grossly untrue.”

“I just in fact received some additional documentation from one of my clients this morning showing the exact sequence of events, and at no time did they receive any communication from any police force.”

The Epoch Times contacted the RCMP for comment but didn’t hear back by publication time.

Wilson says frozen bank accounts affected his clients in substantial ways. He says travel was made difficult, as credit cards stopped working to allow them to buy fuel, and many hotels refused cash. One trucker with a frozen account desperately needed to refill diabetic medication for his wife, he said.

“We found a donor to pay the pharmacy directly so this man could get his medicine. Think about that. These people were completely trapped. There was nothing they could do. This is serious stuff.”

‘Flagged for Life’

An MP in the finance committee asked if joint accounts were frozen, affecting people’s ability to pay rent and child support who may not have been in the protest. Angelina Mason, general counsel and vice-president of the Canadian Bankers Association, answered “Yes.” She said the issue of “humanitarian exceptions” was raised by banks, but it became a “moot point” when the Emergencies Act was quickly revoked.

Mason confirmed that even after an account was unfrozen, “there would be something in the file indicating a freeze had taken place,” and that “there is immunity provided” for banks against lawsuits over frozen accounts.

The testimony was unwelcome news to Wilson.

“These people who had their bank accounts frozen will be flagged for life, and that’s pretty ominous,” he said.

“We all know that whenever you apply for financing, that it’s not a guarantee that it’s going to be approved. So now these people have this cloud over their head for having exercised the right of free speech and political dissent.”

Wilson said use of the Emergencies Act has had a “chilling effect” on the free speech of Canadians in general, but, ironically, not the protesters.

“It had no impact on [my clients’] resolve to continue to fight for civil liberties and to speak out against the government. But they had a huge, tremendous effect on people’s confidence in the banks and their fear of governments and questioning whether they should feel comfortable speaking out against government policies,” he said.

“That is not the hallmark of a Western, modern, democratic country. That is the hallmark of an authoritarian government.”

The government wants some of the financial powers unique to the Emergencies Act to remain. On Feb. 18, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said at a press conference: “Some of those tools, we will be putting forward measures to put those tools permanently in place. The authorities of FINTRAC [Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada], I believe, do need to be expanded to cover crowdsourcing platforms and payment platforms.”

Wilson says that while the banks may be “re-evaluating and wondering if they responded with too much enthusiasm,” he still sees overconfident enthusiasm on social media saying legal remedies will rectify Canadian institutions.

“They’ll comment, things like, ‘The lawsuits are going to start flying,’ or ‘The lawyers are going to be busy.’… It’s just not that easy. There’s not always a remedy at the courthouse,” he said.

“I am always involved in litigation against governments. You can sue them, but it’s a very, very complex chessboard that you have to enter. They usually have immunity provisions in their legislation, and I’m pretty sure there’s one in the Emergencies Act [so] you can’t sue them in damages for anything done under the act. The only exception would be if they commandeer your vehicles or your equipment.”

Wilson says he feels the recent events will lead to distrust in Canada’s institutions.

“The government and the banks have betrayed a fundamental trust, and that’s not easily restored. We now know that the banks will do the bidding of the government at the drop of a hat,” he said.

“We have a government that is manifesting authoritarian actions in Canada. So our country has changed, and not in a good way.”

Accounts Frozen

Wilson says while six of his clients now have access to their accounts, he’s still working to unfreeze the accounts of three others.

“They [accounts of the three clients] are not frozen pursuant to the Emergencies Act. They’re frozen because the provincial attorney general obtained a civil forfeiture order and because a class-action lawsuit out of Ottawa obtained a civil order as well,” Wilson told The Epoch Times.

The lawsuit, filed against convoy organizers and participants by several Ottawa residents and businesses on behalf of a proposed class of affected individuals and entities, was successful in obtaining the Mareva injunction on Feb. 17.

The Mareva injunction is a court order that prevents a defendant from selling, removing, or similarly dealing with his or her assets in a way that may deprive the plaintiffs of a remedy once a ruling is made. The plaintiffs are seeking up to $20 million in damages for alleged private and public nuisance such as noise, air pollution, and interference with the right to carry on business.

On March 9, Ontario Superior Court Justice Calum MacLeod extended the order to at least March 31, the case’s next court date, to give more time for the assets to be tracked down.

The injunction froze funds from respondents Tamara Lich, Christopher Garrah, Benjamin Dichter, Patrick King, Nicholas St. Louis, and the non-profit Freedom 2022 Human Rights and Freedoms. Both civil lawsuits seek to redistribute donated funds in the possession of the respondents that were originally given to support the Freedom Convoy.

Lee Harding
Lee Harding is a journalist and think tank researcher based in Saskatchewan, and a contributor to The Epoch Times.