Ontario moves to freeze convoy funds as Michigan governor demands end to blockade
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This article was published 10/02/2022 (481 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA—Pressure is mounting on police and political leaders to take action to end the trucker protests jamming the nation’s capital and border traffic at three Canada-U.S. entry points.
But Ottawa’s top cop said breaking up the protests is no simple task, describing the so-called Freedom Convoy as a “sophisticated” operation able to run provincial- and national-level campaigns.
“This is an unprecedented demonstration. It has significant levels of fundraising, co-ordination and communication. They have command centres established here and across the country and beyond this country,” Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly told reporters Thursday, adding that Canada’s national security agencies have backed that assessment.
The Ottawa police increased their presence on the main roadway in front of Parliament Hill late Thursday, as the Ontario government moved to freeze the flow of funds from one of the convoy’s primary fundraising channels — the U.S.-based Christian crowdfunding platform GiveSendGo.
Ontario’s attorney general brought an application to the Superior Court of Justice seeking an order that would block anyone from “disposing of, or otherwise dealing with … any and all monetary donations made through the Freedom Convoy 2022 and Adopt-a-Trucker campaign pages” on the GiveSendGo platform.
“This afternoon, the order was issued. It binds any and all parties with possession or control over these donations,” said Ivana Yelich, a spokesperson for Premier Doug Ford. Effectively, it freezes the spending of the funds raised.
The campaigns have together amassed more than $9 million (U.S.) to fuel, feed and house demonstrators who have gridlocked downtown Ottawa for two weeks to protest COVID-19 mandates and restrictions. Convoy organizers turned to GiveSendGo, the new platform, after crowdfunding site GoFundMe last week yanked the protest’s original fundraiser from its website.
Late Thursday, GiveSendGo tweeted a statement in response to the Ontario court order, defiantly challenging the Canadian court’s ability to touch its funds or their intended destination.
“Canada has absolutely ZERO jurisdiction over how we manage our funds here at GiveSendGo. All funds for EVERY campaign on GiveSendGo flow directly to the recipients of those campaigns, not least of which is The Freedom Convoy campaign,” the organization said on Twitter.
Police cleared more than a dozen trucks but hundreds still clogged downtown Ottawa streets Thursday as Michigan’s governor called on Canada to end the protest now jamming critical cross-border traffic between Windsor and Detroit.
In a statement posted on Twitter, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called for a quick resolution to the ongoing closure of the Ambassador Bridge.
“It is imperative that Canadian local, provincial and national governments de-escalate this economic blockade,” Whitmer said. “They must take all necessary and appropriate steps to immediately and safely reopen traffic so we can continue growing our economy.”
But Canadian governments argue their hands are tied because a basic tenet of democracy is that politicians cannot direct police operations. That leaves lawmakers on this side of the border urging protesters to leave and chiding political opponents.
As the crisis built Tuesday night, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to Premier Doug Ford by phone. Ford spoke to other federal ministers late Wednesday as the stoppage at Windsor-Detroit choked key supply chains, leading to shift cancellations by at least three major car manufacturers in Ontario.
However, the Ontario government has declined to participate in the federal government’s proposed trilateral discussion table on the convoy response.
The provincial government sees no use “in another meeting where a table of politicians are sitting around really not able to accomplish anything, because this is … a policing matter,” said Yelich, the Ford spokesperson.
“There’s nothing Justin Trudeau can do, really, at this time, and there’s nothing that Doug Ford can do,” said Yelich.
“We need the police to enforce the law.”
The Windsor-Detroit border blockade is clearly “illegal,” said Yelich, and “the police are the ones that will have to enforce the laws that are being broken there.”
Sloly on Thursday warned other demonstrators against coming to Ottawa this weekend.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Ontario Provincial Police are sending help on top of the 250 Mounties already deployed, although Sloly could not say how many more. He said several forces from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area are dispatching additional “public order units” — or riot squads — to bolster Ottawa’s force.
“With more resources, we’ll get more results and a safer end to this unlawful demonstration,” he said. “It’s been incredibly difficult,”
Sloly said some towing companies have refused to help police operations, and some tow-truck operators have reported being threatened.
Ottawa police will continue to “harden” their response in the downtown core, Sloly said, after they “negotiated” the departure of 12 trucks from a staging area near an Ottawa baseball stadium and 10 others from downtown. He said his officers have issued 1,700 tickets, made 25 arrests and laid criminal charges, and that another 126 “active investigations” were underway.
Sloly said the policing operation has cost up to $800,000 a day, and that expense will increase as more officers arrive.
Trudeau and his top ministers have repeatedly said that politicians’ options are limited, and that the federal government will not direct any police operations, but would ensure Ottawa and Windsor have all the resources they need.
A senior federal government source, speaking on condition they not be identified, said federal and provincial ministers have been communicating with their counterparts and municipal leaders, but that more co-ordination is needed between the three levels of government.
The official expressed cautious optimism that Ontario will soon provide more OPP officers in Windsor.
In the House of Commons on Thursday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh demanded the prime minister “stop hiding behind jurisdiction and fix this mess.”
The truckers’ protests have also spread to major cities including Quebec City, Winnipeg and Toronto, and border crossings in Alberta and Manitoba.
The Ambassador Bridge is a key route in the cross-border transportation of auto parts, medical supplies, manufactured goods and fresh produce. Thousands of trucks have been diverted to another border crossing in Sarnia, which is struggling to cope with the increased traffic.
The federal government continues to insist that it won’t give into demands that it immediately drop COVID-19 vaccination mandates for international truckers. It has noted many pandemic restrictions, such as masking and business capacity limits, fall under provincial jurisdiction, and maintain that controlling the protests is a local policing matter.
The RCMP has jurisdiction to handle the Alberta and Manitoba border protests, but only because it operates in those provinces under contract to the provincial government.
The federal Conservatives, whose interim leader and prominent MPs have supported the convoy protesters and argued Trudeau should grant their demands to drop mandates, reversed course on Thursday, saying it’s time for the protesters to go home because of the economic damage they have caused.
On Parliament Hill, the trucks, SUVs and pickups jamming major downtown routes remained, sprawled across several city blocks.
Police reiterated a warning issued Wednesday that under the offence known as “mischief to property,” protesters could be arrested without warrant, see their vehicles seized and possibly forfeited, and be barred from crossing into the U.S. if charged or convicted.
Police also warned of a “concerted effort” to inundate its 911 and non-emergency policing reporting line with illegitimate calls.
“This endangers lives and is completely unacceptable,” the police service posted on Twitter. “We track calls and will charge anyone deliberately interfering with emergencies.”
Early Thursday morning, around “60 to 70 light trucks” slowly circled the Ottawa International Airport, according to a statement from the airport. A spokesperson said the protesters left about two hours later.
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc
Raisa Patel is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel