The invoking of the Emergencies Act by the federal government has left many Freedom Convoy supporters and sympathizers concerned about the possibility of their bank accounts being frozen or their vehicle insurance being suspended.
While the RCMP and federal officials have said the financial provisions in the emergency order are not retroactive beyond February 15, and that they were intended to target active participants in and contributors to the protests that were deemed illegal, there has been a lack of clarity regarding who could potentially be affected.
Over half a dozen sources in the banking and financial services sector — speaking anonymously — have told RealAgriculture they have seen a major influx in inquiries about the status of accounts, as well as increased cash withdrawals, since the Emergencies Act was announced and implemented last week.
Several of these sources specifically said they have seen this increased activity at branches in communities and regions of the country where there has been strong support for the protests against COVID-related restrictions.
Banks have been reluctant to comment or share information on the record, however a federal finance official told the House of Commons finance committee on Tuesday that between 206 and 210 accounts containing approximately $7.8 million were frozen under the Emergencies Act measures.
Isabelle Jacques, Assistant Deputy Minister in the department of finance’s financial sector policy branch, also told MPs on the committee that the freezing of bank accounts had stopped, and that the number of suspended accounts had started to drop as banks began unfreezing accounts on Monday (February 21.)
A day earlier the RCMP said it had given financial institutions a list of 57 names identifying people or businesses who were “influencers” in the Ottawa protests and owners/drivers of vehicles that did not leave the Ottawa protest when ordered. The RCMP also provided addresses of 253 Bitcoin to virtual currency exchanges, but the police force said it did not provide financial institutions with any list of people who had made donations in support of the protests, for example, through crowd-funding sites such as GoFundMe and GiveSendGo.
According to Jacques, the accounts that were frozen were identified through two methods: either shared by the RCMP with financial institutions, or through financial institutions’ internal algorithms tracking activities related to the protests.
Responding to a question from Ontario Conservative MP Philip Lawrence, Jacques did not rule out the possibility that someone who gave $20 to support the protests through a crowd-funding site could have been flagged by a bank’s internal process and had their account frozen.
“If that person gave the money after February 15, it is possible, although very unlikely in view of the circumstances, and I say this because the financial institutions relied heavily on the information that was provided by the RCMP, further to their own internal processes and verification,” she told the committee. “Although not impossible that someone that gave 20 dollars be captured and have their bank account frozen, I find that scenario would be in rare circumstances.”
Several MPs on the finance committee, including New Democrat Daniel Blaikie and Conservative Adam Chambers, raised concerns about affected people not receiving any notice or explanation about accounts being frozen.
“There’s the appearance some people feel their accounts are being frozen as a result of the emergency orders, and in some cases that does not cohere with what we’re hearing from government,” noted Blaikie.
As the regulations are currently written, there is no obligation for the federal government or a bank to inform a customer that their account has been frozen as a result of the emergency order, said Jacques.
She suggested anyone who thinks their account might be frozen should first contact their financial institution’s customer service, and then reach out to the RCMP for more information, if needed.
“If the behaviour stops, then there is an obligation, upon review, to unfreeze the accounts,” said Jacques.
For people concerned about past donations, now that the blockade in Ottawa has ended and banks have started unfreezing accounts, Jacques said she doesn’t expect additional accounts to be suspended, unless someone begins or resumes funding activity that’s deemed illegal under the Emergencies Act.
“It will not be frozen to the extent that they do not start funding other illegal activities that are prohibited by Sections 2 to 5 of the emergency measures regulations,” she said.
As for vehicle insurance, she told the committee she did not know of any cases where truck drivers had their insurance suspended.
MPs on the finance committee also passed a motion on Tuesday that calls on federal agencies and federally-regulated institutions, including banks, to provide a weekly update on accounts affected by the Emergencies Act measures for as long as the act is in force.