By BETHANY BLANKLEY
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – Several Republican attorneys general have taken action against two crowdfunding sites in an effort to protect Americans who donated to the Canadian Freedom Convoy, a group of truckers and pro-liberty Canadians peacefully protesting against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other restrictions imposed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Mr. Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, which has never been used in Canadian history, saying the blockades were “illegal and not peaceful protests and have to stop.” Mr. Trudeau instructed riot and mounted police to arrest the protestors. Canadian Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland announced under the Emergencies Act that banks can immediately freeze or suspend bank accounts without a court order and be protected from civil liability.
Ottawa’s Police Chief announced, “If you are involved in this protest, we will actively look to identify you and follow up with financial sanctions and criminal charges. Absolutely. This investigation will go on for months to come.”
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association sued, arguing, “The government has brought in an extreme measure that should be reserved for national emergencies, a legal standard that has not been met. Emergency powers cannot and must not be normalized.”
The response of the Canadian government and police using violence against peaceful protestors has sent shockwaves throughout the world, especially after mounted Ottawa Police reportedly trampled a defenseless grandmother and elder from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in Ontario. She survived.
Attorneys general Todd Rokita of Indiana, Mark Brnovich of Arizona, and Ken Paxton of Texas said they want to protect Americans who donated to the truckers’ cause.
The majority of the Canadians supporting or involved with the Freedom Convoy, “have simply participated in the time-honored tradition of peaceful protest,” Mr. Rokita said. He took action in response to a hacker who infiltrated GiveSendGo, the crowdfunding website facilitating a second round of donations to the Freedom Convoy after GoFundMe canceled a campaign that raised nearly $10 million for it. Brnovich and Paxton took action against GoFundMe Inc.
GiveSendGo’s hacker’s “primary objective is to squelch free speech through their harassment and intimidation of the protesters,” Mr. Rokita said. “Hoosiers will not be silenced from speaking out in defense of their liberties, whether through direct participation in rallies or through contributing resources to fellow patriots staging the demonstrations.”
A Canadian hacker has taken credit for hacking GoFundMe’s website. Records of online donations made to the Freedom Convoy were obtained illegally, making public donors’ names, zip codes and emails, including those of Indianans, Mr. Rokita said.
“Our data privacy team sprang into action and identified Hoosier victims,” Mr. Rokita said. “We are emailing them to put them on notice and advise them on steps they should take at this juncture to protect themselves – and we are standing ready to assist them further however we can.”
Of the approximately 92,000 donors, the AG’s office has identified 519 Indiana residents who donated a total of $27,524. It’s investigating the breach and subsequent use of the data.
Anyone who thinks their personal information has been compromised – through any type of breach or scam – should file a complaint at indianaconsumer.com or call the AG’s office at 1-800-382-5516, the office said.
Mr. Brnovich and Mr. Paxton issued demands to GoFundMe. The California-based company initially said it was keeping the nearly $10 million in donations and redistributing it to other charities of its choice. Next, it said it would refund donations for those who submitted a form. By Feb. 7, “all Freedom Convoy 2022 donations have been refunded,” the company announced.
“GoFundMe supports peaceful protests and we believe that was the intention of the Freedom Convoy 2022 fundraiser when it was first created,” it said. “However, as a result of multiple discussions with local law enforcement and police reports of violence and other unlawful activity, the Freedom Convoy fundraiser has been removed from the GoFundMe platform.
“The update we issued earlier enabled all donors to get a refund and outlined a plan to distribute remaining funds to verified charities selected by the Freedom Convoy organizers. However, due to donor feedback, we are simplifying the process for you. All donations have been automatically refunded. You can expect to see your refund within 7-10 business days.”
This statement didn’t appear to be convincing to the Arizona and Texas attorneys general, who are investigating.
Mr. Brnovich’s Civil Litigation Division demanded that GoFundMe preserve materials of any kind relating in any way to the Freedom Convoy fundraiser. “We will protect Arizona consumers from fraud, deception and unfair treatment in any circumstance,” Mr. Brnovich said.
GoFundMe has been told to preserve a range of materials and forms of communication, including emails, voicemails, texts or communication app messages, social media communications, among others, related to its decision to remove the fundraiser from its platform. The company’s also on notice “to preserve materials for any other intended fundraising purpose since January 1, 2020, in which it decided not to distribute funds for the intended fundraising purpose and then redistributed the fundraising monies or claimed to refund those monies to donors.”
The Texas AG’s Consumer Protection Division issued Civil Investigative Demands to GoFundMe to investigate potential violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
“GoFundMe’s response to an anti-mandate, pro-liberty movement should ring alarm bells to anyone using the donation platform and, more broadly, any American wanting to protect their constitutional rights,” Mr. Paxton said. “Many Texans donated to this worthy cause. I am acting to protect Texas consumers so that they know where their hard-earned money is going, rather than allowing GoFundMe to divert money to another cause without the consent of Texas citizens. I will get to the bottom of this deceitful action.”
Texas’ CIDs require GoFundMe to produce documentation to the AG’s Consumer Protection Division by p.m. on or before Feb. 28.