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Defendants in convoy lawsuit want $450K from donation fund to appear before commission

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Organizers of the Freedom Convoy protests in Ottawa have asked a court to unfreeze $450,000 in donations they received so they can pay for lawyers to represent them at an upcoming public inquiry into the Emergencies Act.

Money given to the convoy through crowdfunding platforms GoFundMe and GiveSendGo was put into escrow under court order, pending a proposed class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Ottawa residents and businesses.

Protest organizer Tamara Lich is among a group of 10 defendants named in the lawsuit who want some of the escrow funds released to pay for their participation in the Public Order Emergency Commission, which will conduct hearings into the Liberal government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act beginning this fall.

Their motion application, filed in Ontario Superior Court on Friday, also shows that more than $1.3 million of donations ended up in two bank accounts in Lich’s name, money that was also frozen. She is currently awaiting trial on criminal charges related to the convoy.

In their motion application, the defendants say they need $450,400 for legal representation at the inquiry, including an unnamed senior counsel at a rate of $350 per hour.

Their proposed budget includes $83,000 in travel and accommodation costs to send them and other witnesses to Ottawa for 39 days of hearings.

The defendants are represented in the civil action by Keith Wilson of the Alberta-based legal charity Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF). The defendants have standing to appear before the inquiry but did not receive funding.

The defendants have “significant concerns about their ability to be adequately represented and to fully participate in the Commission without access to funding,” they argue in the motion application.

They say the JCCF can no longer fund their representation.

“The demands of the Commission are far greater than anticipated,” they argue, saying they "will be significantly prejudiced without access to legal representation funds.”

The defendants argue they are at a disadvantage because lawyer Paul Champ, who represents the plaintiffs in the civil suit, received funding to appear before the commission on behalf of a group called the Ottawa Coalition of Residents and Businesses, which includes community associations and business improvement associations.

The lawsuit was first launched in February on behalf of downtown resident Zexi Li and later expanded to include other plaintiffs. It seeks more than $300 million in damages on behalf of those living and working in the city during the three-week occupation by anti-mandate protesters in January and February.

Earlier this year, Champ successfully obtained court orders to put into escrow more than $5 million in cash and crypto donated to the convoy, pending resolution of the case.

The documents filed in court by the group show the escrow includes:

  • $1,393,399 received through GoFundMe and direct email transfers, held in two accounts in Lich’s name;
  • $3,777,843 donated through payment processor Stripe to the Freedom 2022 Human Rights and Freedoms, a federal corporation set up by the protest organizers;
  • $141,482 in an RBC account related to Chris Garrah;
  • $10,000 held by the Freedom 2022 corporation in the Steinbach Credit Union; and
  • various forms of cryptocurrency, including Bitcoin and Ethereum.

The court previously agreed to release $100,000 of the funds from escrow so the defendants could pay for their legal defence in the civil action.

Along with Lich, the group represented by Wilson includes: Daniel Bulford, Dale Enns, Chris Garrah, Miranda Gasior, Joe Jansen, Tom Marazzo, Ryan Mihilewicz, Sean Tiessen and the Freedom 2022 corporation.

A court date on the motion to unfreeze the money has not yet been scheduled.

With files from CTV News producer Mackenzie Gray

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