The crowdfunding platform GoFundMe says it will stop payments to the organizers of Freedom Convoy 2022 because the protest violates its rules on violence and harassment .
The company announced its decision in a blog post Friday evening, just two days after it froze disbursements of the fund.
“GoFundMe supports peaceful protests and we believe that was the intention of the Freedom Convoy 2022 fundraiser when it was first created,” the company said in the post.
“We now have evidence from law enforcement that the previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity.”
The company said the protest violates a rule in its terms of service that prohibits the promotion of violence and harassment. The fundraising page for the convoy has been deleted from GoFundMe’s website.
Participants in the demonstration have displayed symbols of hate including the Confederate flag and swastikas while protesting. Truckers parked in downtown Ottawa have also made residents miserable by blaring their horns at all hours.
Organizers have said they will stay in Ottawa until the federal government lifts all pandemic restrictions. Canada Unity, the group claiming responsibility for organizing the protest, has published a document which calls for the resignation of Canada’s senators and the Governor General if its demands are not met.
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Tamara Lich, one of the organizers of the protest’s GoFundMe page, posted a video message on Friday evening directing supporters to a new online fundraiser hosted by GiveSendGo, a Christian fundraising site that was blocked by PayPal last year after it was used to raise funds for people who attended the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
“Please, if you can donate and help us keep these truckers going, we plan to be here for the long haul,” she said. “As long as it takes to make sure that your rights and freedoms are restored.”
More than 120,000 donors contributed nearly $10.1 million to the fund. A CBC News analysis found that about one-third of donors were anonymous or used aliases, and that many of the donations were made from outside Canada.
The company now says it will “work with organizers to send all remaining funds to credible and established charities verified by GoFundMe.” People who donated to the fund can also ask for a refund until February 19.
GoFundMe released $1 million to the organizers earlier this week before it froze the payments. It said organizers were able to prove that money would be used for participants involved in peaceful protest.
Premier says protest has become an ‘occupation’
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson thanked GoFundMe for freezing the fund shortly after the decision was announced.
“These protesters have been holding our city hostage for a week now, and I’m hopeful that limiting their access to funding and resources will restrict their ability to remain in Ottawa,” Watson wrote.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said on Friday that he believes the protest has become “an occupation” and urged participants to leave.
“It’s time for this to come to an end,” he said.
Other elected officials — primarily Conservative MPs — expressed their support for the protest as recently as Wednesday of this week.
Paloma Raggo, a Carleton University professor specializing in nonprofits and philanthropy, said she was surprised that GoFundMe did not block the fund sooner, since it never appeared to be a legitimate charity.
Raggo said the federal government should explore regulating crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe to prevent future misuses of its services.
“This is not the first time that this has happened. Should it be the last? Maybe. And maybe it’s time we have laws on the books for that,” she said.
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A parliamentary committee has called on GoFundMe executives to testify about the company’s operations, including its measures to prevent the funding of extremism and hate.
Organizers facing possible class action lawsuit
Organizers of the protest were dealt another blow on Friday evening in the form of a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Ottawa residents who live near the protest.
The statement of claim accuses the organizers of the protest of causing significant harm to residents due to their use of loud truck horns for “12 to 16 hours” daily.
The lawsuit notes that people who live near Parliament Hill are accustomed to protests, “but they have never experienced anything like the constant and excruciatingly loud horns of the Defendants’ Freedom Convoy.”
It is seeking $5 million in “punitive damages” and another $4.8 million in “private nuisance” damages. The lawsuit has been filed to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
“The Freedom Convoy horn protest organized by the defendants has caused significant mental distress, suffering and torment,” the document says.