Crowdfunding platform GoFundMe has announced it is freezing millions of dollars raised in support of anti-vaxxer truckers in Canada and will instead refund donors in full, citing police reports of violence as the reason behind its decision.
The “Freedom Convoy” of long-haul lorry drivers originally came together to protest a change to Covid-19 vaccine laws affecting their industry, undertaking an extraordinary 2,443-mile journey from Prince Rupert in the far west of British Columbia all the way across the country to Ottawa between 23-29 January to make their point.
Prior to 15 January 2022, Canada’s lorry drivers were granted a federal exemption from vaccine requirements to enable them to cross the border into the US and back without having to show proof of inoculation against the coronavirus.
Thereafter, the privilege was revoked, meaning unvaccinated drivers returning from Canada’s southern neighbour faced having to quarantine for 14 days, although that requirement would only have applied to a minority of around 16,000 drivers, given that 85 per cent of their colleagues have had their jabs, according to the Canadian Trucking Alliance.
Nevertheless, those who were impacted were incensed and banded together to descend on their nation’s capital city, prompting more than a week of protests that have since spread to other Canadian cities, including Toronto, Vancouver and Quebec City.
Several arrests have since been made related to violent behaviour, unlawful conduct or hate speech and locals have complained their towns are under siege.
Ottawa’s mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency on Sunday over the “serious danger and threat” posed by the truckers, saying local law enforcement was struggling to keep control, while Diane Deans, chair of the Ottawa Police Services board, accused the demonstrators of “terrorising our residents, torturing them with incessant honking, threatening them and preventing them from leading their lives. People cannot go to work or open their businesses”.
Ontario premier Doug Ford meanwhile denounced their actions by saying: “It’s not a protest anymore. It’s become an occupation. It’s time for this to come to an end”.
As the anti-vaccine protests unfolded, donations to the “Freedom Convoy 2022” GoFundMe page continued to roll in and reached CAD $10m (£5.8m), with about CAD $1m (£583,000) released to the organisers before the platform was forced to take action in opposition to the behaviour of participants.
In a statement published on Friday, the company said: “To ensure GoFundMe remains a trusted platform, we work with local authorities to ensure we have a detailed, factual understanding of events taking place on the ground.
“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 (Term 8, which prohibits the promotion of violence and harassment) and has been removed from the platform.”
It continued: “Organisers provided a clear distribution plan for the initial CAD1m that was released earlier this week and confirmed funds would be used only for participants who travelled to Ottawa to participate in a peaceful protest.
“Given how this situation has evolved, no further funds will be directly distributed to the Freedom Convoy organisers – we will work with organisers to send all remaining funds to credible and established charities chosen by the Freedom Convoy 2022 organisers and verified by GoFundMe.”
It has since issued a further update telling donors they will simply be refunded automatically and do not now have to submit a request as was originally planned.
The decision has been criticised in the US by Elon Musk, opportunistic Trumpian Republicans like Florida governor Ron DeSantis and Texas senator Ted Cruz and by the attorneys-general of the states of West Virginia, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio and Texas, all of whom have threatened investigations.
Meanwhile, a Christian fundraising site, GiveSendGo, has already volunteered itself as an alternative and reportedly raised more than CAD $4.4m (£2.6m) in two days.
“To our fellow Canadians, the time for political overreach is over,” a post on the GiveSendGo campaign site read.
“We are taking our fight to the doorsteps of our federal government and demanding that they cease all mandates against its people.”
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