Financial institutions

Financial institutions began freezing protesters’ bank accounts based on RCMP information, Chrystia Freeland says

Police officers walk past trucks in protest truck convoys in downtown Ottawa on February 17.COLE BURSTON/The Canadian Press

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said financial institutions had begun freezing bank accounts belonging to protesters involved in lockdowns based on information from the RCMP, and predicted the number of accounts targeted would increase in the coming months. days.

The minister, who is also finance minister, said she had accurate statistics on the number of accounts frozen so far and intended to make them public “in due course and soon”. But she hid those details on Thursday after discussions with law enforcement, in a bid to avoid compromising what she called “operational actions”.

Financial institutions took the first steps to freeze customer accounts after the RCMP sent letters to them and cryptocurrency exchanges on Wednesday, sharing lists that named protest organizers and identified wallet addresses. digital related to the protesters. The letters encouraged financial institutions to stop transacting with these digital people and accounts, and Ms Freeland said on Thursday that banks and other financial institutions were “working together properly and effectively”.

“I want to make sure[…]to all Canadians that action is being taken. We see it and this action is going to increase in the coming days, ”she said at a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday.

RCMP identify dozens of financial and crypto accounts linked to convoy protests

Banks are grappling with new powers in the Emergencies Act to curb the flow of funds to support lockdowns

Emergencies Act will expand Canadian banks’ powers to freeze accounts and suspend funds

The RCMP’s letter to financial institutions contained an initial list of fewer than 20 names linked to the anti-government protests, some of which were identified as the main organizers, according to a source who reviewed the document. A separate letter to several cryptocurrency exchanges reported over 30 digital wallet addresses.

The Globe and Mail does not identify the source because it is not authorized to discuss correspondence with the RCMP.

The National Police Service described the list in the letter sent to the banks as an early disclosure of information, but it remains unclear to what extent personal and business bank accounts might be targeted.

An emergency order issued on Tuesday temporarily requires financial institutions to freeze accounts and cut services to protesters involved in the illegal lockdowns, which began as a protest against pandemic restrictions. It allows banks, credit unions, stockbrokers and other businesses in the financial sector to stop providing financial services, but gives them the final power to decide when to do so.

Ms Freeland said on Thursday that financial institutions, “in conjunction with law enforcement, will make the operational decisions.”

Spokespersons for the Canadian Bankers Association and several major banks declined to comment on the minister’s remarks.

The standoff has also shed light on Canada’s emerging cryptocurrency sector after supporters of the protests turned to other forms of fundraising to circumvent traditional financial controls. The emergency powers enacted this week are in part an attempt by the federal government to expand its financial oversight to include digital transactions.

Early indications suggest that federal authorities began by targeting a select group of a few dozen people closely involved in organizing convoys that blocked roads in Ottawa and at border crossings between Canada and the United States. So far, the measures do not appear to be aimed at donors who have given small sums to support the lockdowns. But the emergency order giving banks exceptional powers sets no specific threshold for designating someone in an anti-government protest or blockade.

When asked if donor accounts had been frozen, Ms Freeland did not specifically answer the question. But she said in French that efforts to cut off access to financial services for participants in the illegal protests are “an ongoing process, it’s a process that will accelerate if the blockades, if the occupation continues.”

It’s also unclear what recourse protesters may have after their accounts are frozen. The emergency order protects financial institutions from civil liability for the freezing or suspension of personal or business accounts, which is permitted without a court order as long as the institutions act in good faith to use their temporary powers.

A reporter asked the minister if precautions were in place to avoid issues such as someone being misidentified as a supporter of the protest because they have the same name as someone identified by police.

“It’s something that we law enforcement and financial service providers have been working on very, very carefully,” she said. “And that’s why I’m saying the use of financial tools is actually going to increase in the next few days because it was important for us to be sure that safeguards were in place.”

She added that even though the emergency measures imposed by the government are in effect, “due process remains in place. Charter rights remain in place. And of course the courts are there. … These will all be institutions that will be there to support Canadians.

Ms. Freeland did not explain how her reference to the courts corresponds to the immunity from civil suits that the emergency order grants to financial institutions.

She also said that crowdfunding platforms and payment providers have started working to register with the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Center of Canada (FINTRAC), the United States’ anti-money laundering intelligence agency. money from the country, as required by the government’s emergency order.

“We now have the tools to follow the money,” Ms Freeland said. “We can see what is happening and what is planned in real time. And we are absolutely determined that this will stop, now and for good.

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