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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

GoFundMe scuttles campaign for trucker convoy, stops release of $10-million in donations

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People walk near police cars parked beside several trucks as truckers and supporters continue to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates, in Ottawa, on Feb. 4, 2022.LARS HAGBERG/Reuters

GoFundMe broke ties with convoy protesters late on Friday, citing “the promotion of violence and harassment” on the streets of Ottawa. The announcement scuttles one of the crowdfunding company’s biggest fundraising campaigns and blocks the release of nearly $10-million in donations.

The decision deprives demonstrators in the country’s capital of financing. Organizers had said they hoped the funds could keep protests in place for months in a bid to force government officials to retreat from vaccination mandates and other pandemic measures.

The organizers had said they wanted to use the millions of dollars in donations to provide fuel, food and lodging for truckers and others who are setting up encampments and blocking city streets.

Earlier this week, GoFundMe announced it had placed the $10-million in raised funds under review. On Friday, the California company released a statement saying it would end the campaign. Donors who apply for refunds within the next two weeks could get their money back, GoFundMe said, adding that any left over will be given to charities.

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The company said in the statement that it made its decision after hearing arguments this week from protest organizers and local police.

“Following a review of relevant facts and multiple discussions with local law enforcement and city officials, this fundraiser is now in violation of our terms of service,” GoFundMe’s statement said. It added that the protesters violated its clauses prohibiting “the promotion of violence and harassment.”

The crowdsourcing company said it was not wrong for donors to fund the initial travels of the trucker convoys to Ottawa. But circumstances had changed in the week since thousands descended on Parliament Hill for a mass rally last Saturday.

“Organizers provided a clear distribution plan for the initial $1M that was released earlier this week and confirmed funds would be used only for participants who traveled to Ottawa to participate in a peaceful protest,” the GoFundMe statement said. “Given how this situation has evolved, no further funds will be directly distributed to the Freedom Convoy organizers.”

Some protesters have been raising funds through other channels, including requests on social media that transfers be directly sent via e-mail. Nearly $250,000 has been raised through a Christian fundraising service known as GiveSendGo.

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Representatives of the protest organizers could not immediately be reached for comment on GoFundMe’s decision.

Tamara Lich, the leader of the group, released a video on social media Friday in which she urged donors to use GiveSendGo.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson released a statement urging other companies to follow GoFundMe’s lead. “I am imploring similar crowdfunding platforms to take the same position and not enable the group in its fundraising efforts,” he said.

On Thursday, a committee of MPs voted to summon representatives of GoFundMe to Parliament “as soon as possible” to answer questions about its ability to screen out hate campaigns. During last weekend’s rally, several protesters brandished Confederate flags, and another flag had a swastika drawn on it.

Protest organizers have said that the number of demonstrators in Ottawa, which dwindled during the week, could increase this weekend. And Toronto police were preparing on Friday for a demonstration at the Ontario Legislature.

With reports from Tom Cardoso and Janice Dickson

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