FinTRAC mulling whether convoy fundraisers on Facebook, Instagram should be frozen

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Two policy managers at Meta told The Globe and Mail that FinTRAC will have final say over how the government defines Facebook and Instagram under the emergency orders.Tony Avelar/The Associated Press

Federal officials are working with executives at social-media giant Meta Platforms Inc. to determine whether Facebook and Instagram are subject to temporary measures intended to clamp down on funding for anti-pandemic-restriction protesters, who have blockaded border crossings and shut down central Ottawa.

As a result of the measures, which the federal government introduced this week under the Emergencies Act, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FinTRAC) has been given new power to monitor online crowdfunding platforms and other payment providers.

Under the new orders, any form of transaction flowing towards the protesters that is considered large or suspicious is required to be registered and reported to FinTRAC. This includes transfers of digital assets, such as cryptocurrency. Companies were also ordered to “cease dealing” in property or transactions related to people involved in prohibited acts associated with the blockades.

The measures were put in place after protesters raised millions of dollars on online crowdfunding platforms, including GoFundMe (which later stopped the fundraiser) and GiveSendGo.

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Meta – the U.S.-based parent company of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram – confirmed it is in talks with the government over whether it, too, is obligated to freeze any funding headed to the demonstrations. Facebook has allowed users to hold fundraisers on its platform since 2015. Instagram launched a fundraising service in 2020, but the function is not available in Canada.

Two policy managers at Meta told The Globe and Mail that FinTRAC will have final say over how the government defines Facebook and Instagram under the emergency orders. If it is determined that either of the social-media services qualifies as a “crowdfunding platform,” Meta will assist in registering and potentially freezing protest-related donations, they said.

The Globe and Mail is not identifying the Meta executives because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

FinTRAC would neither confirm nor deny the existence of any conversations with Meta. In a statement, spokesperson Mélanie Goulette said the agency is prohibited from doing so under federal law. FinTRAC is “working closely with businesses and our Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorist Financing Regime partners,” she said.

The Meta policy managers said the company’s fundraising tools are not being used to a great extent by supporters of the protests.

As of Friday, at least 12 different fundraisers for the protests were listed on Facebook, with crowdfunding targets ranging from $500 to $50,000.

According to the federal emergency orders published on Tuesday, FinTRAC can “require any crowdfunding platform and payment processor to report certain transactions” that belong “to a person who participates in the blockade.”

The RCMP have sent Canadian banks and cryptocurrency exchanges a list of people and cryptocurrency wallet addresses that are believed to be tied to the protests. The force has instructed the companies to stop facilitating any transactions with those on the list.

If FinTRAC decides Facebook is subject to the temporary orders, the platform would have to follow the lead of institutions such as Toronto-Dominion Bank, which froze accounts holding nearly $1.4-million donated to protesters. The orders state that a company is subject to the rules if it is able to provide, maintain, transfer and hold electronic funds, from the initiation or facilitation stage to the clearing or settlement stages.

At a late Thursday hearing in a class-action civil lawsuit brought by Ottawa residents against the demonstrators, an Ontario Superior Court judge froze protest-related assets worth nearly $20-million.

It is yet to be determined whether Facebook fundraisers would be subject to that court order. While the early court injunction named banks such as TD Canada Trust and Alberta’s ATB Financial, along with crowdsourcing companies such as GoFundMe and GiveSendGo, Facebook was not directly named.

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