Convoy protest could change the way money is monitored, says watchdog agency
The use of American crowdfunding sites to financially fuel the anti-vaccine mandate convoy protest in Ottawa could lead to changes in the way financial transactions are monitored, a top official with Canada's money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog told members of Parliament Thursday.
Testifying before members of the House of Commons committee on public safety and national security, Barry MacKillop, deputy director of intelligence for the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), said there are likely lessons to be learned from the protest.
"It is really a unique event," MacKillop told MPs. "Will we learn from that event? Yes. Will we continue to have discussions with our international partners? That's certain.
"The platforms exist on the internet. They are accessible to everyone around the world."
FINTRAC and its American counterpart monitor transactions related to groups identified as being involved in what authorities call "Ideologically Motivated Violent Extremism" (IMVE). MacKillop said that, to his knowledge, the Ottawa protest has not been identified as an IMVE-driven event.
"Any funding that would be linked to IMVE would be of extreme concern and importance to us and we would disclose that intelligence to our law enforcement and national security partners," he said.
MacKillop said financial institutions have sanctions lists; they know who has been identified as being involved in IMVE activities and they monitor their transactions.
MacKillop's testimony comes as questions emerge about how the protesters who have paralyzed the downtown core of the nation's capital raised so much money so quickly, and where it came from.
The protestors raised more than $10 million from more than 120,000 donations on the crowdfunding site GoFundMe. The company shut down the fundraiser last week and pledged to refund all of the donations, saying it had questions about how the money would be used. One million dollars was paid out to protest organizers before GoFundMe made that decision.
Protest organizers quickly migrated their crowdfunding efforts to a Christian fundraising site called GiveSendGo. The convoy campaign has received more than 91,000 donations through GiveSendGo since Friday, totalling more than $8.2 million US. Many donors left comments indicating they had donated previously to the GoFundMe fundraising page.
The GiveSendGo site says that, unlike GoFundMe, it does not refund donations because the money raised flows directly to the bank account designated by organizers of a fundraising campaign.
A separate Adopt a Trucker campaign on GiveSendGo to support the protest has received more than 7,000 donations totalling more than $644,000 Cdn.
An analysis of GoFundMe donations by CBC News revealed that at least one third of them had been made by donors who chose to remain anonymous or who listed names that were obviously fictitious or political commentary. A review of the comments made by 6,600 donors found that 573 donors said they were located outside Canada — more than half of them in the United States.
WATCH | Covoy protest gets support, funds from U.S.:
Transactions aren't entirely anonymous
Mackillop said the donations may not be visible to the public but they're not completely anonymous because the crowdfunding platform and the company that processes its transactions know the names of the donors.
While crowdfunding sites do not fall under Canada's regulations and aren't required to report any transactions to monitoring agencies like FINTRAC, the companies that process the payments and the banks that receive the donations are required to report certain types of transactions, MacKillop said.
Financial institutions also have their own policies when it comes to handling suspicious transactions, he added.
While FINTRAC receives transaction reports from companies obliged to report, it does not investigate. Instead, FINTRAC reports that information to law enforcement or national security bodies in cases of suspicious transactions.
WATCH | Why GoFundMe cut off Ottawa protest fundraising campaign:
The committee says that officials from GoFundMe will appear before it on March 3 to answer MPs' questions about the convoy fundraiser it hosted.
The committee also voted Thursday to expand the scope of its study to include the rise of IMVE in Canada, including "the influence of foreign and domestic actors in funding and supporting violent extremist ideologies in Canada" and "the use of social media to fuel the IMVE movement."
The motion calls on the committee to examine the role of anonymous and foreign donations, including those made through crowdfunding sites, and to call GiveSendGo, Paypal and Stripe to testify.