Canadian banks have started to freeze a small number of accounts connected to people whom police say have been involved in illegal protests, acting on orders from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government. 

But the banks won’t be going after donors who collectively gathered millions of dollars to help the truckers and demonstrators who’ve blockaded downtown Ottawa and other sites. 

Trudeau invoked an emergency law Monday that requires financial institutions in Canada to examine customer records and take action against people involved with the protest, or those aiding them. 

The law also grants the government other extraordinary powers, such as the right to ban public assembly in certain locations. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said it plans to challenge the government’s decision in court. 

The emergency orders won’t apply to actions that took place before 9 p.m. Ottawa time on Tuesday, according to a Canadian government official who asked not to be named. That’s when the emergency rules were published in government documents. 

Most of the donations to truckers were made prior to that time. Much of the money was raised on crowdfunding sites and includes thousands of small donations as well as some larger ones, such as a US$90,000 donation made by Tom Siebel, a billionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur. 


For Canada’s cautious financial institutions, the rollout of the government’s emergency orders has been marked by questions about how to execute the crackdown without running afoul of the law or upsetting customers. The orders do require banks to seek out the names of customers who have been involved in supporting the blockades, the government official said. But the firms have been reluctant to take that step in the absence of clearer guidance.

Banks are investigating or freezing the accounts of people whose names were provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but they have balked at taking action against anyone who isn’t on the list, according to a person familiar with the situation.

At a news conference earlier Thursday, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland confirmed some accounts have already been frozen. “It is happening -- I do have the numbers in front of me.” But she declined to give details. 

The emergency orders require virtually every participant in the Canadian financial system -- banks, investment firms, credit unions, loan companies, securities dealers, fundraising platforms and payment and clearing services -- to determine whether they possess or control property of a person who’s attending an illegal protest or providing supplies to demonstrators.

If they find such a person in their customer list, they must freeze the accounts and report it to the RCMP or Canada’s intelligence service, the regulations say. Any suspicious transactions must also be reported to the country’s anti-money-laundering agency, known as Fintrac. 

Trudeau formally kicked off parliamentary debate on his use of emergency powers Thursday by saying the situation “could not be dealt with under any other law in Canada.”

He said the blockades are “a threat to our economy and relationship with trading partners. They’re threats to supply chains and the availability of essential goods like food and medicine. They’re a threat to public safety.”

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said the emergency orders on the financial system are remarkably broad -- and could encompass people providing almost any help to protesters after the orders came into effect. 

“If somebody else does agree with it and wants to bring coffee to the protesters, are they now indirectly involved? And you can turn their information over to the financial institutions who will turn to their information over the security services, services, freeze, their assets?” Mendelsohn Aviv said in an interview. “There is nothing that I’ve seen so far on my understanding of the orders that limits it. They are very broad in scope.”