More than 200 bank accounts worth nearly $8 million were frozen when the federal government used emergency powers to end a massive protest occupation of downtown Ottawa.
Federal officials report most of the accounts are now in the process of being released, a parliamentary committee heard Tuesday.
Isabelle Jacques, assistant deputy minister of finance, told a committee of MPs that up to 210 bank accounts holding about $7.8 million were frozen under the financial measures contained in the Emergencies Act.
“Information was shared by the RCMP with financial institutions and we were informed yesterday by financial institutions that they were unfreezing the accounts,” she said.
“The vast majority of accounts are in the process of being unfrozen, subject to any new information that the RCMP may have.”
Jacques said that because accounts are being released now, the number of accounts affected and their total dollar value continues to decrease by the day.
She also said the fact that more than 200 bank accounts were frozen did not necessarily mean that more than 200 people lost access to their funds. Jacques said that individuals may have held more than one account affected by the measures.
Some Conservative MPs have said constituents have reported that their bank accounts were frozen after they made donations to the convoy protest through one of its crowdfunding campaigns.
In a statement released Monday, the RCMP said it only provided banks with the names of convoy organizers and the owners of trucks who had refused to leave the protest area. The RCMP said it did not release an exhaustive list of every donation made.
“At no time did we provide a list of donors to financial institutions,” the statement said.
Small donors unlikely to be affected: official
Jacques said that the financial measures in the Emergencies Act came into force on Feb. 15 and were specifically designed to apply enough financial pressure to convince protest organizers and participants to go home.
“Based on the knowledge that I have, I think it would be unlikely that someone who gave … $20 three weeks ago, or even $20 post Feb. 15, that they would have been captured by a freeze,” she said.
“It’s not impossible in view of the order, but in view of the exchange of information and the focused approach that was taken to stop the illegal funding of these activities, it would appear to be unlikely that this occurred, but not impossible.”
She said the measures should not affect anyone who provided financial support to the convoy before Feb. 15. Jacques said that anyone who saw their account frozen and who subsequently left the blockade area should expect to see the account unfrozen in the coming days.
Since the Emergencies Act was invoked, the Liberal government has been asked to explain what specific powers the act provides that did not already exist under conventional Canadian law.
Jacques told MPs that before the Emergencies Act was invoked, FINTRAC — Canada’s financial intelligence unit — could not police the movement of money through some crowdfunding websites and some payment service providers.
She also said that while the federal government does have the power to freeze bank accounts in certain limited circumstances without using the Emergencies Act — in cases of suspected terrorism or financial crimes, for example — it did not do so in this instance.
“There’s no other venues to freeze the accounts in view of the … illegal blockades that were ongoing,” she said.