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'Freedom Convoy' organizer suing Ottawa for using Emergencies Act to freeze accounts

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OTTAWA -

A main organizer of the “Freedom Convoy” is suing the federal government for using the Emergencies Act to freeze his bank accounts, arguing it breached his Charter rights to protest COVID-19 mandates.

Chris Barber, who owns a trucking company in southwestern Saskatchewan, filed last week a statement of claim in Court of King’s Bench in Saskatoon, claiming the federal government’s unprecedented move to invoke the act constituted an abuse of power.

“This disruption deprived (Barber and his wife) of the ability to conduct basic financial transactions and live normal lives, leading to severe inconvenience, hardship, embarrassment, exclusion from modern society, and damaged personal and business relationships,” says the claim, which also names his wife and trucking business as plaintiffs.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The federal government has not filed a statement of defence. A spokesperson said in an email, 'We will review the claims in order to determine next steps."

Barber and Tamara Lich, who is from Medicine Hat, Alta., spearheaded protests in opposition to COVID-19 vaccine mandates that gridlocked downtown Ottawa and key border points in 2022.

The two are on trial for mischief and other charges. The case has been in an Ottawa court for months.

Barber’s lawsuit comes weeks after Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley ruled it was unreasonable for the federal government to use the Emergencies Act to quell the protests.

The judge said invocation of the act led to the infringement of constitutional rights. He specifically cited a federal failure to require that “some objective standard be satisfied” before bank accounts were frozen, concluding it breached the Charter prohibition against unreasonable search or seizure.

The government has said it would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Many protesters in large trucks rolled into Canada’s capital in January 2022. For about three weeks, residents endured unrelenting horns from big rigs, diesel fumes and even a hot tub and bouncy castle.

Trucks also clogged key border crossings, including routes to the United States at Windsor, Ont., and Coutts, Alta.

On Feb. 14, 2022, Ottawa invoked the Emergencies Act. It allowed for temporary measures, including regulation of public assemblies and a ban on support for participants. It also directed banks to freeze assets for participants.

It was the first time the law had been used since it replaced the War Measures Act in 1988.

The statement of claim says all of Barber's personal and business bank accounts were frozen the next day without notice. He couldn’t withdraw cash, deposit money or use credit cards, and automatic payments were blocked, it says.

One account was frozen for nine days and another was blocked until the next month, the document says.

Barber couldn’t access money for daily living expenses like food, fuel or medicine, says the lawsuit. He also “suffered and experienced fear and anxiety due to the anticipated loss of income,” because his salary, wage, and business revenue payments were going to the frozen accounts, it says.

That resulted in missed payments and defaults on loans and credit card bills, damaging his credit score, the document says. Barber is still being rejected for business funding applications and has been told his bank accounts will be “marred indefinitely," says the lawsuit.

It alleges the federal government froze bank accounts for the “improper purpose of dissuading and punishing” protesters for exercising fundamental Charter rights.

A separate but similar statement of claim against the federal government was also filed in Saskatoon court by Lauralee Mizu.

The lawsuit alleges Mizu's Charter rights were violated when her bank accounts were frozen. Mizu, who lives in a rural municipality south of Saskatoon, previously worked as a branch manager for a financial services company, says the document.

Invoking the Emergencies Act triggered an automatic federal commission to review the government’s decision. Commissioner Paul Rouleau concluded last year that the federal government was justified in using the legislation.

A proposed class-action lawsuit against convoy organizers on behalf of Ottawa residents, workers and business owners is still working its way through court.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2024.

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