Facing the upheaval of unprecedented demonstrations, blockades and other civil disobedience in Canada’s capital, a fed-up group of Ottawa residents has launched a class action for damages against the leaders of the so-called Freedom Convoy.
The private citizens’ latest salvo was an ex parte injunction approved Thursday by a judge that freezes millions of dollars, including cryptocurrency, that had been raised by the convoy. Paul Champ, an Ottawa-based lawyer for the plaintiffs, said it’s the first “Mareva injunction” freezing cryptocurrency in Canada. A Mareva injunction is a type of interlocutory relief designed to freeze the assets of a defendant, pending determination of a plaintiff’s claim.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Calum MacLeod ordered banks, financial institutions, money service businesses, fundraising platforms or websites, cryptocurrency exchanges or platforms, and holders of any cryptocurrency wallets to stop transactions related to the organizers’ accounts and digital wallets.
What is essentially an occupation of the city by a group of truckers demanding the government lift all vaccine and other COVID mandates and restrictions, has gridlocked Ottawa’s downtown core for three weeks. Residents have been harassed, businesses have been forced to shutter, horns blare at all hours despite an injunction banning them, and protesters have set up everything from food stations to a large stage and hot tubs and saunas. Police Friday stepped up enforcement to clear the Ottawa protesters, with at least 70 arrests reported.
Related demonstrations had blocked Canada-U.S. border crossings, including one in the province of Alberta that dispersed after a number of participants were arrested for firearms offenses.
MacLeod’s order freezes all assets up to a value of $20 million, specifically targeting key convoy organizers. It also targets a non-profit corporation called Freedom 2022 Human Rights and Freedoms, whose stated purpose is “advocacy against government,” according to court records.
Monique Jilesen, a partner at litigation boutique Lenczner Slaght, led the team that filed the Mareva request. She said it was critical to show the judge evidence there was a “risk of dissipation” of the millions of dollars demonstrators have collected through crowdfunding and other sources.
She said there was ample prima facie evidence of that “related primarily to the public discussion of moving things into cryptocurrency and then moving it out of the cryptocurrency into the hands of the protesters.”
While a large amount of cryptocurrency is traded on regulated exchanges and is easy to track, some experts say peer-to-peer transactions of cryptocurrency could be hard to prevent. Jilesen said that unlike briefcases of cash, which are almost untraceable, “the movement of the cryptocurrency from wallet to wallet is transparent to the world online.”
Penalties for breaching the court order include fines or imprisonment.
In a battle that’s playing out on a legal field as much as the streets of Ottawa, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which is representing some of the convoy organizers, sent a cease and desist demand letter to the city’s acting police chief after hearing his warning that Canadians should not come to Ottawa to protest.
“It is another dark day for Canada and the once-famed Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. … The government overreach together with the escalated, unlawful and unnecessary police enforcement is something that should concern every Canadian,” Eva Chipiuk, staff lawyer for the Justice Centre, said in a statement.
Also on Thursday, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association announced it will sue the Canadian government over its plan to use the Emergencies Act, legislation created for national crises. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Act on Feb. 14.
The CCLA has retained Ewa Krajewska of top-flight litigation firm Henein Hutchison in its suit against the government.
“We have said all along that the federal government did not meet the high burden necessary to invoke the Emergencies Act,” said CCLA executive director Noa Mendelsohn Aviv. “This use of the Emergencies Act is unnecessary, unjustifiable and unconstitutional.”
The federal government has argued that the demonstrations constitute a threat to Canada’s economy and the safety of citizens. It’s the first time the act has been used since it was approved by Parliament in 1988.
The act also imposes sweeping measures on banks to freeze accounts linked to the protest without court orders, ask insurers to suspend coverage on vehicles used in blockades, and brings crowdfunding platforms under terror financing oversight.
Measures under the Emergencies Act are intended to be temporary, and will expire after 30 days.