GoFundMe for Canada’s ‘Freedom Convoy’ cut off, refunds to be issued

GoFundMe said it is cutting off funding for those participating in the so-called Canadian "Freedom Convoy" after determining the effort violated its terms of service due to unlawful activity. 

The crowdfunding site had already suspended the fundraising effort, which had raised about 10 million Canadian (US $7.8 million), but said Friday it will refund or redirect to charities the vast majority of the money raised in support of those protesting COVID-19 measures in Ottawa.

The company said in a statement they believed the intention of the Freedom Convoy fundraiser was to support a peaceful protest when it was first created, but said they now have "evidence from law enforcement that the previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity."

Thousands of protesters railing against vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions descended on the capital last weekend, deliberately blocking traffic around Parliament Hill. Police estimate about 250 remained, but deputy police chief Steve Bell said they expected 300 to 400 more trucks this weekend and more than 1,000 protesters on foot. He said up to 1,000 counter-protesters were expected as well.

Many Canadians were outraged after some protesters urinated and parked on the National War Memorial. One danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A number carried signs and flags with swastikas.

Protest organizers are also now facing a class-action lawsuit over the continuous horn noise, filed on behalf of residents.

Ontario's Conservative premier said the demonstrators were no longer participating in a protest, but called it now an "occupation" and said it is "time for this to come to an end."

RELATED: Canadian truckers, thousands of others protest vaccine mandate in Ottawa

Protesters have said they won’t leave until all mandates and COVID-19 restrictions are gone. They are also calling for the removal of Trudeau’s government, though it is responsible for few of the measures, most of which were put in place by provincial governments.

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Trucks from the "Freedom Convoy" block downtown streets during a demonstration in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. (David Kawai/Bloomberg)

Meanwhile, GoFundMe said organizers were able to account for how an initial $1 million that was released in funding earlier this week was spent, and said organizers said the money was only going to be used for participants who traveled 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 organizers — we will work with organizers to send all remaining funds to credible and established charities chosen by the Freedom Convoy 2022 organizers and verified by GoFundMe," GoFundMe said. 

GoFundMe’s decision was met with both praise and criticism. 

Ottawa police thanked GoFundMe for listening to the concerns and called "on all crowdfunding sites to follow." Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson did the same and said he hoped limiting the funding would restrict their ability to stay.

Tesla billionaire Elon Musk, who has shared his support for the convoy, criticized the decision Friday.

"Double standard?" he quipped on Twitter alongside a screenshot of a June 2020 GoFundMe that supported the "Capitol Hill Occupied Protest" in Seattle. He also shared a screenshot insinuating GoFundMe was "professional thieves." 

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Republican Florida governor Ron DeSantis tweeted Saturday morning that he’ll be investigating what he called GoFundMe’s "deceptive practices" alongside Florida attorney general, Ashley Moody. 

"It is a fraud for @gofundme to commandeer $9M in donations sent to support truckers and give it to causes of their own choosing," the tweet read, in part. 

At this time it is unclear where the undispersed donations would go if not refunded, though GoFundMe said in its statement the Freedom Convoy 2022 organizers would get to choose. 

The convoy has also garnered support from former U.S. President Donald Trump and the opposition federal Conservative party in Canada, but two federal Conservative party lawmakers broke with the party and said the protest needed to end.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance, a federation representing truckers across the country, has estimated that 85% of truckers in Canada are vaccinated. It opposes the protest.

Some of the demonstrators are protesting a rule that took effect Jan. 15 requiring truckers entering Canada to be fully immunized against the coronavirus. The U.S. has the same rule for truckers entering the U.S.

This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed.