Ottawa

Police grappling with members who allegedly donated to 'Freedom Convoy'

CBC News has matched at least two dozen current and former members of the Ottawa Police Service and Ontario Provincial Police with names identified as apparent donors to GiveSendGo, a crowdfunding site used to support the weeks-long occupation in Ottawa.

Question of when donations became unethical or illegal will be key, expert says

Police are seen on Feb. 19 moving in to clear downtown Ottawa near Parliament Hill of protesters after weeks of demonstrations. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

CBC News has matched at least two dozen current and former members of the Ottawa Police Service and Ontario Provincial Police with a publicly leaked list of names identified as apparent donors to GiveSendGo, a crowdfunding site used to support the weeks-long occupation in Ottawa.

The OPP said it has launched an investigation into alleged officer donations to the convoy, but won't divulge how many members are involved. Ottawa police (OPS) wouldn't confirm whether they are investigating the matter.

    It's unclear what legal or disciplinary consequences — if any — police officers could face for donating money to the so-called Freedom Convoy that paralyzed downtown Ottawa for much of February.

    Donations to the protesters were made through the site starting Feb. 2, the same day Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the protest was "becoming illegal."

    Shortly after, the City of Ottawa and Ontario government declared separate states of emergency, freezing access to any funds raised on the platform for what was then termed an "illegal occupation" by Premier Doug Ford.

    Criminology professor Michael Kempa says rules around donations are the same for officers and citizens. 

    "Whereas at what point did donating to this protest become either unethical from a police disciplinary action, or illegal from a more serious police disciplinary perspective," said Kempa, who teaches at the University of Ottawa.

    Kempa said that question alone will be key in any internal work done by police forces investigating members who donated to the convoy.

    Police clutch batons as they form a line to block Sparks Street, restricting access to the streets near Parliament Hill, as they clear downtown streets. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

    CBC cross-references police names

    After comparing the names of donors living in Ontario to publicly accessible salary disclosure lists of police officers, CBC found roughly 60 people with potential connections to law enforcement based on information they provided to GiveSendGo.

    CBC then cross-referenced the information with other publicly available sources such as postal codes, social media accounts and archived news stories, and was able to match at least 26 donors to current and former police members — six with Ottawa police and 20 with the OPP.

    For some OPS officers, CBC was able to further confirm their names, and at times their donation amounts, with sources within the force.

    CBC is not naming the officers because they have not been charged or disciplined and none agreed to be on the record. Their apparent contributions ranged from $50 to more than $1,000 each, which often accompanied a comment.

    "Lord, bless these truckers and God keep our land glorious and free!! [sic]," read one comment.

    Repeated attempts to contact police members who appear to have donated to GiveSendGo were largely unsuccessful. Only one retired Ottawa police officer told CBC he donated $100.

    In another instance, an Ottawa police constable appeared to have donated $50 in her son's name: "When I play hockey, I wish I could see my dad smile. Thank you for fighting for our freedom," part of the comment read.

    Police officers walk on Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill in Ottawa after clearing away trucks and protesters. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

    Unclear if OPS investigating members

    A statement from the OPS stated it won't confirm whether any members participated in the protests. OPS also would not confirm whether it expected to lay any charges as a result of GiveSendGo donations.

    "A review of the Ottawa Police response to the unlawful demonstration is underway," the statement said.

    The OPP said it is aware members "appear to have made donations that have gone toward the unlawful protest in Ottawa," and the matter has reached the force's top command.

    "The OPP Professional Standards Unit has launched an internal conduct investigation into this matter," wrote acting OPP media relations manager Bill Dickson. "We cannot comment or speculate on the outcome of the investigation."

    Dickson said the OPP would not say how many members it was investigating.

    Investigation results should be public, expert says

    Kempa said police officers donating to the convoy should not come as a surprise.

    "The police provide an exaggerated reflection of society's attitudes, so if there is support for the anti-vax movement in society, there will of course be support for the anti-vax, or anti-mandate, movement in the police," said Kempa. 

    When off duty, police service members are like anyone else and they can get involved in community or political activism without facing repercussions, he said.

    "The thing they are not allowed to do is in any way counsel illegal activity, or be involved in promoting illegal activity, or actually engage in illegal activity," Kempa said.

    He said police forces should thoroughly investigate any potential donors and share their findings with the public in a timely manner to ensure public confidence. 

    CBC News has matched at least two dozen current and former members of the Ottawa Police Service and Ontario Provincial Police with names identified as apparent donors to GiveSendGo, a crowdfunding site used to support the weeks-long occupation in Ottawa. CBC reporter David Fraser has the details.

    With files from Judy Trinh

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