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Police seized digital wallets as lawsuit seeks millions from Ottawa protest organizers


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Police seized digital wallets as lawsuit seeks millions from Ottawa protest organizers

OTTAWA—An Ottawa man who helped raise funds for the so-called “Freedom Convoy” says police searched his home and seized his digital wallets as part of a criminal investigation into alleged money laundering, according to documents tied to a proposed class-action lawsuit.

The revelation comes amid an ongoing legal fight over millions of dollars raised for the convoy protesters, as downtown Ottawa residents, workers and businesses seek more than $300 million in damages from organizers of the demonstration that occupied the streets around Parliament Hill for more than three weeks.

A Crown lawyer also revealed Wednesday that the provincial government will attempt to seize almost $1.4 million in donations held in a frozen account of convoy co-organizer Tamara Lich.

In an affidavit sworn on Monday, Nicholas St. Louis — also identified in court documents by his online alias, @NobodyCaribou — alleges police officers turned up at his ground-floor apartment on Feb. 28, “forcibly removed” him to the back of an unmarked cruiser and searched his home.

St. Louis’s affidavit says police provided a warrant that said he is under investigation for money laundering, mischief and possession of property obtained by crime, and seized items from his apartment. St. Louis denied he broke the law and said he wasn’t facing any charges, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit also says the police compelled him to provide the codes to online “wallets” that contained cryptocurrency called Satoshi that was worth at least $15,500.

In an emailed statement to the Star on Wednesday, the Ottawa Police Service said it does not comment on matters that are before the court.

St. Louis declined to comment, saying in a message on social media that he’s unable to speak while the legal proceedings are ongoing.

St. Louis’s affidavit was raised in Ontario Superior Court later in the day, as lawyers on all sides of the proposed $300-million lawsuit discussed how money and cryptocurrency raised for the convoy protesters should be protected in case it is needed to pay out damages to people and businesses allegedly harmed by the demonstrations.

Superior Court Justice Calum MacLeod extended an order issued Feb. 17 to freeze the bank accounts and cryptocurrencies of protest organizers named in the lawsuit. They include several people who are facing criminal charges linked to the protests, including Lich, a prominent convoy spokesperson and fundraiser, and far-right influencer Pat King.

The order also affected St. Louis, fundraisers identified as Chris Garrah and Benjamin Dichter, and a corporation set up on Jan. 30 by several convoy leaders called “Freedom 2022 Human Rights and Freedoms.”

MacLeod has ordered that frozen funds be transferred to an account overseen by a third-party “escrow agent” to make sure they are preserved for a possible settlement in the class-action lawsuit.

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On Wednesday, Crown lawyer Melissa Adams told the court that police had transferred St. Louis’s digital wallets to a third-party agent earlier in the day. Adams also confirmed that St. Louis’s cryptocurrency remains “of interest” to the police, and requested that the Crown be notified before these assets are distributed.

Susan Keenan, another Crown lawyer in the case, also revealed the province plans to apply for the “civil forfeiture” of almost $1.4 million, which is currently held in two frozen TD Bank accounts linked to Lich and is expected to be transferred soon to the third-party agent.

Such applications allow the Crown to freeze or seize assets that are linked to unlawful activity.

A notice of motion submitted in the lawsuit by Norman Groot, a lawyer representing some of the defendants, said $1 million of this money came from Lich’s online fundraiser through GoFundMe, and the rest was from about 3,000 individual donors.

As of Wednesday, both sides had agreed to submit at least $1.55 million to the third-party agent, according to documents prepared by plaintiffs’ lawyers in the lawsuit.

Another issue debated Wednesday concerned the money raised on behalf of convoy organizers through GiveSendGo, which hosted at least two convoy fundraisers after GoFundMe froze the one staged on its platform amid police reports of alleged crimes linked to the protests in Ottawa.

GiveSendGo’s co-founder, Jacob Wells, told a House of Commons committee last week that his platform believes strongly in freedom of expression and would host fundraisers even for white supremacist hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

On Wednesday, Wells appeared told the court his company is actively refunding donors who contributed a total of more than $12 million to the convoy through his website.

Paul Champ, another lawyer representing the plaintiffs, says it was “shocking” for Wells to admit this, arguing this is in “flagrant violation” of a provincial order from Feb. 10 to refrain from distributing this money. “He likely will be subject to contempt proceedings in Canadian court,” he said.

The case is scheduled to return to court on March 31.

With files from Tonda MacCharles

Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga

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