Vancouver entrepreneur Jeff Booth said he does not like being called an “organizer” for the funding going toward the self-described freedom convoy protests. And he insists he’s not a “facilitator” either.
But Mr. Booth said he helped create a Bitcoin wallet that has helped channel donations toward those demonstrations. More than $500,000 has been raised through the wallet so far.
In a wide-ranging interview, Mr. Booth said he believes in freedom of speech and his entire family is double-vaccinated against COVID-19. He also “understands both points of view” about pandemic restrictions across Canada, which he believes were “right at first.” And he said he’s not a COVID-19 denier.
“I’m a keyholder for this – that’s it,” he said. “I haven’t raised a dollar. I haven’t donated a dollar of my own and I’m not an organizer. I am just a keyholder in a decentralized platform … I could be replaced by anyone tomorrow. Tomorrow, there could be 10 people.”
After the U.S. crowdfunding platform GoFundMe broke ties with demonstrators last week, the fundraising effort started using other channels. One was the self-described “#1 Free Christian Crowdfunding Site” GiveSendGo, which had raised more than US$8,877,000, as of Friday.
On Thursday, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice granted a request from the provincial government to freeze access to GiveSendGo, under Section 490.8 of the Criminal Code, prohibiting anyone from distributing donations made through the “Freedom Convoy 2022″ and “Adopt-a-Trucker” online campaigns.
This has not been the case for cryptocurrency transfers or donations, which bypass traditional channels and don’t rely on banks or government systems to distribute money.
On Friday, Toronto-Dominion Bank TD-T confirmed it had frozen accounts holding nearly $1.4-million donated to protesters who helped organize blockades, and said it is asking an Ontario court to take control of the funds.
TD is applying to the Ontario Superior Court to accept money raised through crowdfunding platforms and held in personal accounts at the bank. The bank will file an interpleader application that, if granted, would allow the court to accept the funds and decide how to disburse or return them to donors.
The bank’s decision to cut off access to the money comes after GoFundMe stopped releasing donations to protest organizers. More recently, the Ontario government successfully petitioned a court to freeze access to millions of dollars donated through GiveSendGo. Since then, donors have turned to alternatives such as cryptocurrency.
“TD has asked the court to accept the funds, which were raised through crowdfunding and deposited into personal accounts at TD, so they may be managed and distributed in accordance with the intentions of the donors, and/or to be returned to the donors who have requested refunds but whose entitlement to a refund cannot be determined by TD,” said Carla Hindman, a spokesperson for the bank, in an e-mailed statement.
Last month, as a convoy of trucks converged in Ottawa, GoFundMe temporarily froze about $1-million in funds donated by supporters of the blockade. But it then released that money after an organizer of the fundraising effort presented a plan to distribute the funds.
That $1-million in initial donations was deposited in a personal account at TD, according to a source familiar with the matter. Nearly $400,000 raised separately through e-transfers was also deposited in another personal account at TD, the source said.
The Globe and Mail is not identifying the source because they are not authorized to discuss details of the accounts.
Donated funds are supposed to be held in business banking accounts opened for non-profit purposes, not in personal banking accounts, according to bank policies that led TD to freeze the funds.
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Canadian banks are monitoring financial activity related to funding the protests and taking action when necessary.
The protest organizers’ stated goal in raising donations was to reimburse members of the convoy of trucks for fuel, food and expenses, and to give any leftover funds to charities.
But with traditional fundraising channels cut off, Bitcoin backers such as Mr. Booth and other crypto enthusiasts demonstrate the stark differences between the two financial sectors – and how they are playing out with the protests.
A prominent figure in Canada’s technology sector, Mr. Booth was named “Person of the Year” by the British Columbia Technology Industry Association in 2015. He serves on the board of multiple tech businesses and organizations, including Terramera Inc. and CubicFarm Systems Corp. (He chairs both companies.)
Until earlier this week, Mr. Booth also sat on the board of the Richmond Hospital Foundation in British Columbia. But after an emergency meeting this week, he resigned from his duties with the hospital.
“While we very much appreciate Jeff’s past contributions to our board, his affiliation is incompatible with our mission of ensuring the highest possible standard of health care for the families in our community,” the foundation said in a statement to The Globe and Mail, without elaborating.
Mr. Booth said he called the foundation himself and asked to resign.
Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum are distributed across networks of computers through a technology called blockchains, which provide each participant with a public and private key.
The public key works much like an e-mail address that is shareable, while the private key is a string of letters and numbers that must not be shared. This is because the private key is a virtual vault that holds a participant’s money, much like a bank would, but instead on a blockchain ledger, providing the ideal of anonymity.
Sending cryptocurrency to someone is not a difficult process when a wallet address is public. It is as easy as choosing the amount and deciding where it goes. There are multiple wallet apps available for this.
Mr. Booth is one such wallet holder. But he said he is not specifically asking anyone to donate to his wallet. “I am not on either side of this issue,” he said.
Since Jan. 28, protesters across Parliament Hill have forced businesses to close and halted traffic in Ottawa for days. Police have laid multiple charges. On Friday, Ontario’s provincial government declared a state of emergency.
Mr. Booth said he’s against protests that turn violent. “I hate that part about it. I am categorically against it,” he said. “But I am still on both sides here… I believe in freedom of speech and expression… I don’t agree with all of the people on one side or another.”
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