Ottawa has ability to investigate trucking convoy funding, says Public Safety Minister Mendicino

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino stands during Question Period in Ottawa on February 3.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says the federal government has ‘robust’ investigative bodies that are well positioned to probe financial contributions from outside Canada to causes that would compromise safety and security national of that country.

The minister made his remarks in Ottawa on Monday as the federal government was pressed to investigate financial contributions to protesters who effectively shut down downtown Ottawa in their fight against pandemic restrictions. Protest organizers have raised millions of dollars through alternative fundraising sources since crowdsourcing company GoFundMe ended nearly $10 million in donations last week.

“We have very strict laws in this country that are largely covered by the Criminal Code that would legally prohibit anyone from assisting in any effort to harm public safety or national security,” Mendicino told reporters. .

“We have to be very vigilant about outside forces, about foreign interference,” he said.

Mr. Mendicino said he was speaking in general terms because investigations are conducted independently of elected officials.

Legal and academic experts, however, say they are skeptical whether Canada has adequate legislation to curb fundraising for convoy protests.

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Jessica Davis, a former federal intelligence analyst, said she knew federal agencies were keeping a close eye on money trails supporting protesters. But she says she doesn’t know what laws may apply to them. “There are a lot of people working on it. The question is: what are they going to be able to do about it? she said in an interview. “If most of these activities were legal under Canadian law, what is the outcome of these investigations? Nothing.”

Ms Davis, who runs consultancy Insight Threat Intelligence, said ‘there is a real question about passing tougher foreign interference laws’.

Organizers pledge to use donor funds to fuel and feed truckers for the long term. On Friday, GoFundMe said it would begin returning nearly $10 million in donations to convoy protests. This company found that the protesters violated terms of service clauses blocking the “promotion of violence and harassment”.

Since then, protest organizers have pivoted to pledging to raise $16 million through an alternative crowdfunding site known as GiveSendGo. By Monday night, just three days after GoFundMe severed ties, that fund had already raised about $5.3 million.

There are other fundraising efforts. One organizer, Benjamin Dichter, used social media to urge his followers to switch to bitcoin. Last month he won backing from US donors after appearing on Fox News, when he told host Tucker Carlson that vaccination mandates were pushing Canada into ‘dark authoritarian oppression and control’ .

Prominent critics of the protests are now seizing on the issue of foreign funding in Canada. “Foreign backers of an insurgency have interfered in our domestic affairs from the start,” writes Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of Canada and Bank of England, in an op-ed published by The Globe and Mail. “Canadian authorities should take all measures provided by law to identify and rigorously punish them. »

Protesters’ organizers deny links to violence or extremism and say they are not breaking any financial laws. Calgary lawyer Keith Wilson said last week that a group of lawyers and accountants had formed a not-for-profit entity to ensure money could flow to the cause in full compliance with the laws. and crowdfunding terms.

Experts say the federal government has several investigative agencies, but few tools in its toolbox that match the situation. Criminal Code anti-money laundering measures, even foreign interference investigations have been adopted to solve different kinds of problems.

Leah West, a professor at Carleton University, said the fact that Mr Mendicino raises national security and public safety considerations could signal an interest by authorities in examining whether the funding provisions of the 2001 anti-terrorism act could be invoked,

“He was very careful not to talk about ‘terrorism’ offences, but that’s what I thought he was referring to,” said Professor West, a former federal national security attorney. But she said authorities would struggle to enforce those provisions “unless there is evidence or intelligence of a specific intent to cause the physical destruction of critical infrastructure or public property, or the violence”.

Last July, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Center of Canada issued a bulletin to the public stating that monitoring fundraising for extremist causes was becoming more difficult for authorities due to “alternative outlets of crowdsourcing” and “virtual currencies”.

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