Written by 6:05 pm Cryptocurrency

Money flowed to convoy protesters through envelopes of cash, cryptocurrency campaign, inquiry hears

Millions of dollars raised by the self-styled “Freedom Convoy” was either returned to donors or is still tied up in court — but thousands of dollars went to convoy protesters through a cryptocurrency campaign and envelopes of cash, the Emergencies Act inquiry heard Thursday.

The Public Order Emergency Commission heard evidence this morning about donations to the protest made through e-transfers, cryptocurrency and fundraising platforms like GiveSendGo and GoFundMe.

Despite raising millions of dollars to support their cause through crowdsourcing sites, convoy organizers were prevented by court orders from accessing most of those funds.

But an overview report compiled by the Public Order Emergency Commission said that, starting on Jan. 27, an Ottawa man — Nicholas St. Louis — was able to raise about $1.2 million in cryptocurrency for convoy protesters through Tallycoin, a crowdfunding platform that allows individuals to donate small amounts of Bitcoin at no cost.

The commission is reviewing the circumstances that led to the federal government invoking the Emergencies Act to quell the crowds and vehicles that blocked Ottawa streets for weeks last winter.

The Honk Honk Hodl cryptocurrency campaign was able to distribute about $800,000, said the report, which was presented before the inquiry Thursday.

“This had been accomplished by handing out physical envelopes that contained instructions on how to access approximately $8,000 of Bitcoin using a mobile phone,” it said.

The commission said about 100 electronic wallets were prepared and distributed on Feb. 16 to people participating in the Ottawa protests.

According to the report, St. Louis shut down the Tallycoin fundraiser on Feb. 14 and, in a Feb. 19 video broadcast on Twitter Spaces, said that that the bulk of the remaining Bitcoin was in a “multisig wallet” — a digital wallet that requires a minimum number of electronic “signatures” to authorize money transfers.

Cash handed out in envelopes, treasurer says 

The commission’s overview report also said many protest participants left cash donations at tents that were collecting money to purchase fuel and food. The report says that money was later taken to the Swiss Hotel in Ottawa, where Chad Eros, who acted as the treasurer for the convoy, was staying.

“A system was later put into place whereby the money was placed into numbered envelopes with $500 in each one. People would then sign out these envelopes and distribute them to truckers,” said the report.

“Records were kept of the identities of the individuals who were given envelopes, and this information was tracked on a spreadsheet.”

A demonstrator screams and bangs gas canisters together during the ongoing convoy protest in Ottawa on Feb. 10, 2022. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

Eros told the commission that he estimates approximately $20,000 in cash flowed through the Swiss Hotel every day from the main stage donation collection.

He said a similar system was in place at another hub housed out of the ARC Hotel in downtown Ottawa.

“Mr. Eros did not have direct knowledge of the source of their funding, but understood that individuals would bring cash to the ARC hotel, which would be processed and placed into envelopes in the amount of $2,000 CAD before being distributed to protesters,” the commission report said.

Millions of dollars suspended, frozen 

The report also explained how most of the millions of dollars raised by protesters online ended up in an escrow account or returned to donors.

The report showed that most of the money raised for the protest through a GoFundMe campaign launched by Tamara Lich — who is testifying later today — was Canadian in origin.

According to information provided by GoFundMe to the commission, the self-styled Freedom Convoy 2022 campaign had 133,836 donors. About 86 per cent of those donations — 107,000 — originated in Canada.

The site said 14,000 donors were in the United States. 

GoFundMe suspended the page over concerns that the convoy protest had violated its rules on violence and harassment, according to a commission report presented on Thursday morning.

It says about 93 per cent of all donations to the “Freedom Convoy 2022” campaign had been refunded. The remaining refunds are either awaiting settlement or — in the case of 144 donations — are subject to chargebacks or disputes.

According to court documents, $1 million that was disbursed to Lich’s TD Bank account was frozen and ultimately paid into escrow.

Other fundraising streams show a different makeup.

According to information provided to the commission by GiveSendGo, a Christian crowdfunding website, the “Freedom Convoy 2022” campaign it hosted received donations from 113,152 donors totalling $9,776,559 US.

On Feb. 10 the Ontario Superior Court of Justice granted a request from the provincial government to freeze access to millions of dollars donated online throughGiveSendGo.

A court also granted what’s known as a Mareva injunction on Feb. 17 on behalf of Ottawa residents pursuing a proposed class action lawsuit against convoy leaders and protesters. That injunction froze millions of dollars in cryptocurrency and other financial donations to the protest.

As part of that injunction, an escrow agent was appointed to receive and hold the frozen funds.

Lich set to testify

Three organizers of the convoy protests in Ottawa are expected to appear today at the public inquiry into the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act.

Benjamin Dichter, James Bauder and Tamara Lich will testify at the Public Order Emergency Commission, which is examining the use of emergency policing powers in mid-February to clear what had become a weeks-long occupation of downtown Ottawa.

Dichter was an early spokesperson for the protest and later helped to co-ordinate a cryptocurrency fundraiser for the convoy.

A man and woman speak while seated in a meeting room.
Freedom Convoy organizers Tamara Lich, left, and Chris Barber speak as they wait for the Public Order Emergency Commission to begin on Nov. 1 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Lich was responsible for creating one of the initial online fundraisers and soon became one of the movement’s most prominent leaders.

Bauder created the Canada Unity group that helped to develop the original convoy plan.

Ottawa residents, business associations, officials and police have testified already at the public hearings. The hearings are expected to continue until Nov. 25 and culminate with testimony from federal leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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