OTTAWA — The RCMP told MPs Monday that it only gave the names of people directly involved in Ottawa protests to banks to freeze their accounts, and not supporters who donated to the so-called Freedom Convoy.
The lists of protesters given to banks included personal details from the police database, such as whether protesters had been suspected of other crimes, had witnessed crimes or had other “dealings” with the police, as well as personal information such as age and height.
RCMP Supt. Denis Beaudoin told the House of Commons finance committee that banks, building societies and other institutions were sent “different types of information” from the police database on protesters, depending on what was in their files.
He agreed that around 50 to 100 employees of banks and other financial institutions could have seen the information, in reply to questions from Conservative MP Philip Lawrence, who asked about the sharing of private details from police files and how many people employed by banks and building societies would have seen it.
Angelina Mason of the Canadian Bankers Association said the RCMP, when it identified people involved in the protests, gave the banks “a high-level description of what they thought the activities were” in Ottawa.
The RCMP told the committee that around 257 accounts of people and businesses involved in the protests had been frozen by financial institutions.
Assistant RCMP Commissioner Michel Arcand said the accounts were frozen to encourage protesters in Ottawa to leave and to discourage others from joining the protests.
He said the special measures in the Emergencies Act freezing accounts were useful and “did encourage people to leave.”
Arcand says the intelligence about who was involved in the Ottawa protests was gathered by the RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police and Ottawa police before the names were given to banks.
Hundreds of demonstrators blockaded roads in Ottawa for more than three weeks last month, and similar demonstrations blocked four major border crossings in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia.
The Ottawa protests caused misery for many local people, with incessant honking from trucks affecting downtown residents and reports of abuse hurled at those who were wearing masks.
The Emergencies Act was in force from Feb. 15 to 23. It was invoked by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the first time in Canada’s history to deal with the protests.
The act imposed a legal obligation on banks to freeze the accounts of protesters named by the RCMP.
All those who had their accounts frozen under the emergency laws have now had them unfrozen, according to Mason, though some related to court orders may still be frozen.
She said that banks were likely to retain information in their files that an individual’s account had been frozen. However, it was up to individual banks how to deal with their customers.
She said the banks “were given a heads-up it was coming” but they were not aware of the details of the emergency law until it was published.
Arcand says the Mounties only gave banks the names of people directly involved in Ottawa protests to freeze their accounts.
No donors were included in the list, despite hints during the protest they might be.
“If you are a member of a pro-Trump movement who is donating hundreds of thousands of dollars, and millions of dollars to this kind of thing, then you ought to be worried,” Justice Minister David Lametti told CTV Power Play during the protests, when asked about the freezing of accounts.
Beaudoin said there is an ongoing police investigation into money that came from abroad to back the protests.
He was among those giving evidence to the House of Commons finance committee for its study of the government’s use of the Emergencies Act to bring an end to blockades in Ottawa.
He said the RCMP made attempts to contact protesters to warn them that their accounts might be frozen and to verify whether they remained at the protest or had left.
The RCMP told MPs the force did not use the emergency powers to stop truckers’ insurance. They were questioned by the Commons committee about whether such a measure could have led to truckers driving from the protests illegally and causing a crash without insurance.
MPs also asked if joint bank accounts had been frozen, affecting people not involved in the protests and their ability to pay rent and child support.
Mason told the committee she was aware of joint accounts being frozen. She said the bankers association had raised the issue of “humanitarian exceptions” with the government. But the Emergencies Act was rapidly revoked and accounts unfrozen swiftly so it became a “moot point.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2022.
Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press