The co-founders of Christian crowdfunding platform GiveSendGo railed against a supposed lack of communication from Canadian authorities on the protest that took over downtown Ottawa for nearly a month, saying they don’t conduct “litmus tests” for those wanting to use their site.
Speaking to the public safety committee, the site’s co-founder siblings Heather Wilson and Jacob Wells sparred with MPs of all stripes who questioned the company’s role in hosting a fundraiser for the occupation.
NDP MP Alistair MacGregor, whose motion launched the committee’s study, noted the platform took to Twitter on February 10 to write that “Canada has absolutely ZERO jurisdiction over how we manage our funds,” vowing that money raised on its platform for each campaign flows “directly to the recipients of those campaigns, not least of which is The Freedom Convoy campaign.”
That same day, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s office said it successfully petitioned the Superior Court to freeze access to funds donated through the site to demonstrators. The order barred anyone from distributing donations made through its “Freedom Convoy 2022” and “Adopt-a-Trucker” pages, which had amassed more than US $9 million combined at that time.
“We heard about it on social media,” quipped Wilson about the court order. “I can find out about aliens on social media as well.”
Organizers had initially set up a page on GoFundMe, which raised more than $10 million, though the company nixed that campaign after Ottawa Police and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson’s office highlighted a “poignant” shift in “tone” of the protest and declared it had become unlawful.
(GoFundMe’s general counsel Kim Wilford earlier told MPs the company was not “aware” of a widely circulated memorandum of understanding that called for the disbanding of government in the early days of the protest. While the blueprint has since been pulled by Canada Unity, her comments sparked outrage that the company’s controls failed to pick up on such themes.)
MacGregor said he was confused about the pair’s attestation that they “respect applicable Canadian law.”
“As much as you want to say that the Canadian government made all these statements, if you were concerned about GiveSendGo and what we were allowing, I do not know why that was not reached out to us to ask us to take a look at this,” said Wilson. “We were [operating] all on hearsay about what we were hearing from the media on both sides, and it was not important enough for your government to reach out.”
Asked by MacGregor to reflect on what lessons the pair have learned throughout the process, Wilson said governments “need to be more proactive in reaching out to the offenders,” pointing to the Bible’s teaching that “when you have an issue, you go and talk to them about it and resolve it.”
Bloc MP Kristina Michaud wondered whether the pair, at any point, viewed the protest as illegal.
Wilson said she and her brother were “seeing both sides of the narrative” and reiterated that her team had to “hear about it second and third-hand as we’re trying to work out what we should do as best practices.”
GiveSendGo mulling refunds, says Wells
Pressed by the Conservative MP Tako van Popta why the company isn’t considering “just refunding all the contributions,” as GoFundMe vowed to do, Wells said “it’s on the table” for his team. “There’s a lot of moving parts and variables. It’s not an easy situation,” he said, adding the group will be making decisions “over the next several days about how we want to proceed.”
Tensions rose toward the end of the meeting as Liberal MP Pam Damoff pushed back that Ottawa was not the “government of jurisdiction” until it enacted the Emergencies Act on February 14, by which point the Ontario order had already frozen the funds, meaning there was “no reason for the federal government to be reaching out to you.”
Wilson, in a bid to flip the script, turned that question back onto Damoff, wondering whether the MP’s remarks meant she is taking no responsibility in this,” prompting the MP to tout the unprecedented invocation of the act before pivoting to highlight other troublesome groups that have hosted campaigns on the GiveSendGo platform.
GiveSendGo landed in hot water in January 2021 when Paypal cut ties after it continued to allow the Proud Boys to raise funds on its website, a thread Damoff picked up on, demanding “how you can justify giving people” who promote Islamaphobic, antisemitic and white supremacist views “a platform to raise funds.”
Wells chimed in with a familiar defence he used in 2021.
“If we started mandating litmus tests for how good people ought to be in order to use public services, we would be in a very difficult situation,” he said. Damoff interrupted, demanding to know whether the company would allow the Ku Klux Klan to use its site.
Wells responded “if the fundraising activity was legal and it was legally authorized to have happened, we would allow people to fundraise,” so long as they are “legally authorized to receive payments” and pass the website’s “checks.”
Damoff dismissed “all this mumbo jumbo” before declaring such organizations as having “no place in our society,” adding the company should have “anti-hate provisions in your terms of service.”
“We believe completely to the core of our being that the danger of the suppression of speech is much more dangerous than speech itself, and this has been attested…,” said Wells, before Damoff retorted that his comments signalled her “brand of Christianity is very different from yours if it includes hate.”