Police still investigating officers’ donations to the Freedom Convoy fundraiser

Police forces in Ontario say they are continuing to investigate members donating to the Freedom Convoy, six months after committing to do so.

In March, CBC News matched at least two dozen current and former members of the police forces in the province with a publicly leaked list of names identified as apparent donors to the crowdfunding site GiveSendGo.

That site was used to support the Freedom Convoy, the weeks-long occupation of downtown Ottawa by anti-vaccine mandate protesters in February.

At the time, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he was concerned about the prospect of police members donating to the Freedom Convoy, but said it wasn’t up to him to investigate the matter.

The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) announced internal investigations into the matter — but neither would disclose how many members were involved or commit to making the results of a review public.

Six months later, the OPP and OPS confirmed their investigations are still not complete.

I don’t think that people will be particularly alarmed to find that there will be a certain number of police officers who made inappropriate donations.– Michael Kempa, University of Ottawa

“An internal chief’s complaint investigation has been opened into this matter and it remains under investigation. The OPS cannot comment until the investigation is concluded,” read a statement from OPS.

The conclusion of the OPP investigation was said to be closed in June, but is also still ongoing, according to a spokesperson.

Police overloaded, little direction from oversight board

University of Ottawa criminology Prof. Michael Kempa said that while the investigation into individual officers isn’t technically a difficult one, in the context of police workloads post-convoy, officers have been “overloaded” and are under public pressure to produce results on a number of investigations stemming from the Freedom Convoy, including on hate speech, allegations of assaults and intimidation.

Coun. Eli El-Chantiry, chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board, speaks at city hall while interim chief Steve Bell looks on on May 12, 2022. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

He said the police oversight committee — the Ottawa Police Services Board — has been a “quiet caretaker” and left the police to prioritize themselves.

“You need an active and publicly visible oversight body that helps the police justify, and pushes the police into focusing on certain areas following the convoy protests,” Kempa said.

Eli El-Chantiry, the chair of the board, declined to comment.

No surprise some police supported protests

Kempa said police forces are a reflection of Canadian society, and around 30 to 50 percent of Canadians surveyed were empathetic towards at least some of the Freedom Convoy’s objectives.

“Canadians are aware that a huge percentage of Canadians were quite sympathetic with the objectives of or some of the objectives of the convoy,” he said.

Police can donate to whatever political causes they like, providing that they’re not criminal in nature.– Michael Kempa, University of Ottawa

“I don’t think that people will be particularly alarmed to find that there will be a certain number of police officers who made inappropriate donations after the declaration of emergency.”

It’s unclear what legal or disciplinary consequences — if any — police officers could face for donating money.

Donations to the protesters were made through the site starting Feb. 2, the same day Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the protest was “becoming illegal.”

Shortly after, the City of Ottawa and Ontario government declared separate states of emergency, freezing access to any funds raised on the platform for what was then termed an “illegal occupation” by Premier Doug Ford.

Kempa said the timing of any donations made by police officers will be important to determine whether or not they should be punished.

“Police can donate to whatever political causes they like, providing that they’re not criminal in nature,” he said. “The real concern is, where did donations come following the declaration of the protest as being illegal?”

Any donations made after the protests were clearly deemed illegal would be “troublesome,” according to Kempa.

“It would be a flagrant problem for police conduct to have made donations after the declaration of the national emergency by the prime minister on Valentine’s Day, the 14th of February,” he said.

Police must identify members with ties to extremist groups

Kempa said that police services need to get more serious about surveying members and identifying ties or sympathies to extremist political groups.

“Not because we’re expecting to find huge numbers, but there’s enough that it’s a problem. And it would be in the interest of police organizations to identify these problems in their midst,” he said.

“If we know a little bit more about it, we can actually design a strategy to deal with it.”

A screenshot taken the night of the hacked GiveSendGo crowdfunding site. A link on the hacked page directed people to a site with data identifying people who used the site to donate money to the organizers of the convoy protests. (Screenshot/GiveSendGo.com)

CBC cross-references police names

After comparing the names of donors living in Ontario to publicly accessible salary disclosure lists of police officers, CBC found roughly 60 people with potential connections to law enforcement based on information they provided to GiveSendGo.

CBC then cross-referenced the information with other publicly available sources such as postal codes, social media accounts and archived news stories, and was able to match at least 26 donors to current and former police members — six with Ottawa police and 20 with the OPP .

For some OPS officers, CBC was able to further confirm their names, and at times their donation amounts, with sources within the force.

CBC is not naming the officers because they have not been charged or disciplined and none agreed to be on the record. Their apparent contributions ranged from $50 to more than $1,000 each, which often accompanied a comment.

“Lord, bless these truckers and God keep our land glorious and free!!” read one comment.

Repeated attempts to contact police members who appear to have donated to GiveSendGo were largely unsuccessful. Only one retired Ottawa police officer told CBC he donated $100.

In another instance, an Ottawa police constable appeared to have donated $50 in her son’s name: “When I play hockey, I wish I could see my dad smile. Thank you for fighting for our freedom,” part of the comment read.

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