A B.C. gun range owner, a twice-bankrupt charity founder from Durham Region, a Donald Trump fan who owns a national chain of industrial cleaning warehouses and a former lawyer who now operates a popular lodge in Killarney are among the top five Canadian donors to the Ottawa “Freedom Convoy.”
Together, these five have donated more than $225,000 to the protesters who have occupied parts of downtown Ottawa for more than two weeks. They used the online platform GiveSendGo, which had its donor list leaked after being hacked last weekend.
The Star obtained the hacked donor data from the online whistleblower DDoSecrets, a website that hosts leaked data. The Star has independently confirmed the identities of many of the top donors.
In total, more than $10.7 million was donated through the GiveSendGo campaign, which said it was for food, fuel and shelter for the protesters. Of that total, $5.5 million came from Canadian sources. The bulk of the remaining money, some 40 per cent of the $10.7 million, was donated by Americans. (All donations were made in American funds.)
More than 36,000 Canadian donated, the vast majority in sums of $126 (that is, $100 US) or less. There were a small number of large donations. Eight people gave $12,691 or more.
Trevor Farrow, a professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, said crowdfunding has become an essential tool for many social movements and protest groups that otherwise have no access to the money needed to pay for things such as legal advice.
As part of the invoking of the Emergencies Act, the federal government is now requiring websites such as GiveSendGo to report more information to authorities investigating the protest.
Farrow said the federal government is understandably examining how the protests are being funded. However, he cautioned that using a hammer instead of scalpel when regulating crowdfunding could have a detrimental impact on legitimate protest movements.
The single largest Canadian donor to the campaigns was Brad Howland, 54, the owner of Easy Kleen Pressure Systems, a large power-washing company in Sussex Corner, N.B. The company also has offices in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., as well as in Cambridge and Concord, Ont.
Howland donated about $95,000 to the GiveSendGo campaign, writing “HOLD THE LINE!!!” in the comments.
An unabashed fan of former U.S. president Donald Trump, Howland has posted photos of himself on social media wearing a Trump baseball cap. The profile photo on his Facebook page is of Howland standing at a replica of the lectern at the White House press room beside a cardboard cutout of Trump.
Howland declined to be interviewed for this story. However, in a statement posted to the Easy Kleen website, he said he donated in part because so many truckers have used his company’s services and “how the government and the media portray them is not true.”
While the protest-turned-occupation are not representative of the trucking industry — some 90 per cent of Canadian truckers are vaccinated and working — Howland states he believes he is supporting them in their time of need.
“We thank them when we can, but rarely get to support them when they are in need, and they are in need right NOW,” wrote Howland. “We drove to Ottawa and witnessed the protest for ourselves. They have a beautiful, legal peaceful protest that overwhelmed us with emotion.”
From 2008 until 2021, Easy Kleen was awarded more than $92,000 in federal contracts. The last contract was a 2021 deal with Parks Canada for more than $13,000 in parts and equipment, according to federal records.
According to federal government records, the company also received money under the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy to offset pandemic losses in revenue. The records do not show how much money the company received.
The GiveSendGo data shows that a donation of more than $50,000 was made by a person who entered a postal code from Coldwater, Ont. However, the Star has not been able to reach this person or confirm their identity. The fundraising data shows this person made two donations of about $25,000, the first on Feb. 5 and the second on Feb 6.
Ex-lawyer Holden Rhodes, who made a fortune when his car history company was sold for $650 million in 2015, is the source of the third largest Canadian donation on the list.
The owner of several outdoor resorts on Georgian Bay, including The Sportsman Inn and the Killarney Lodge, donated about $31,000.
Rhodes, 55, added a comment to his donation: “Freedom first. All else follows.”
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Contacted by the Star, Rhodes defended the “Freedom Convoy” against the negative characterizations made by politicians and the media.
The protest “is hardly a ‘fringe minority’ as our prime minister has been calling the folks who believe in freedom,” Rhodes wrote in an email. “While there have (been) a few large donations like mine and larger, most of the donations are smaller showing the magnitude and breadth of the people financially supporting this movement.”
“While it started as a protest to the Jan 15 federal requirement that truckers had to prove vaccination when crossing the CDN/US border … the movement has exponentially grown and at the core it is about freedom,” he wrote. “As of today, 90% of all eligible Ontarians are double vaccinated — what more does the government want?”
“The overreach on the last two years has been astounding, but in the last two weeks in Canada it has been absolutely alarming for anyone believes in a peaceful and free society,” wrote Rhodes. “Freedom is rightfully restricted by reasonable laws that have at their core protections that are framed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I am not prepared to accept a country without freedom for my family, my children, my friends, my neighbours and every other Canadian. That is why I am doing what I am doing.”
Rhodes has made several political donations in recent years, both to the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. In 2017, he donated $1,200 to the provincial London North-Centre PC riding association. In 2016, he donated $500 to the PC Party of Ontario.
David Slabodkin, a philanthropist and former insurance executive who was found by a judge to have cheated an elderly woman out of her house decades ago, made a donation of over $25,000.
Slabodkin, 64, now lives in Cannington, Ont., just southeast of Lake Simcoe, where he has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to local charities and founded one of his own, through a trust fund set up in his name.
The Nourish and Develop Foundation runs a food bank, women’s shelter and community garden as part of its anti-poverty work in Cannington. In a statement posted to its website, the organization said Slabodkin made the convoy donation with “personal funds” and it “is not connected in any way to TNDF values or operations.”
Slabodkin did not respond to emails or messages from the Star.
Provincial records show he has donated to all three political parties. In 2018, he gave a total of $3,666 to the provincial NDP, its Sudbury riding association and now-MPP Jamie West. The same year, he gave $1,222 to the Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock PC Riding Association and another $1,222 to PC candidate and now-MPP Laurie Scott. In 2017, he gave $1,200 to the Ontario Liberal party.
In 2017, Slabodkin sent $30,000 to Wapekeka First Nation in northern Ontario after hearing about the deaths by suicide of two 12-year-old girls. He later pledged $380,000 for a suicide-prevention plan, but revoked the donation after learning that the federal government would fund the project, according to the CBC.
Prior to starting his own insurance business, Canada Protection Plan (which he has now sold), Slabodkin appeared to have had a more difficult time with money. In the 1980s, while working as a contractor, he declared bankruptcy. Several years later, he was sued by an 88-year-old woman after her granddaughter found her forged signature on a sales document that transferred her house to Slabodkin.
He testified that he had brought her $175,000 in cash in a paper bag before she signed over the Toronto house. Slabodkin later took out a $150,000 mortgage on the property in Lawrence Park.
A judge ruled that it was impossible to believe that Slabodkin paid the “confused” woman who “could only read with the assistance of an illuminated magnifying glass and who was hard of hearing.”
A judge reversed the sale of the house to Slabodkin and ordered him to pay the mortgage provider $191,000. A year after the judgment, Slabodkin declared bankruptcy again, with $569,400 in debts.
Dustin Sikora, the 40-year-old owner of an indoor shooting range in Langley, B.C., donated about $23,000.
Sikora posted his business’s name — The Range Langley — with his donation, adding a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Sikora did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The range’s website states that it is “owned and operated by active and retired Canadian military and law enforcement.” The Department of Defence was unable to confirm whether Sikora had served with Canada’s military before deadline.
Earlier this week, a statement on the donation was posted to the website.
“Our donation to the Freedom Convoy 2022 is our way of peacefully participating in democracy. For whatever reason, some may disagree with our beliefs and support for this cause. That is their Right. We will always defend the Rights of those that disagree with us,” it read. “We warn all Canadians to be aware of anyone that accuses their dissenters as being ‘dangerous’ and use such labels as justification to take their Right to peaceful protest away.”
With files from Josh Rubin
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