The crowdfunding platform GoFundMe says it has released an initial $1 million of the $6.2 million collected for a convoy of truckers and their supporters now heading to Parliament Hill to protest vaccine mandates.
The fundraising page was launched earlier this month by Tamara Lich to take donations to cover the convoy's fuel, food and lodging expenses.
Earlier this week, GoFundMe said it was holding back the funds until it received more details about the group and its financial management.
A spokesperson for GoFundMe, speaking on background, said Thursday that the organizer has provided a distribution plan and the withdrawn funds are being used to cover participants' fuel costs.
GoFundMe said it's working with the organizers to release of the rest of the money once participants have been reimbursed for their expenses.
Lich has said that any money left over after the convoy would be donated to a veterans organization. The GoFundMe spokesperson said they're talking to Lich about which charity will be selected.
GoFundMe said it has checks in place to ensure that every dollar donated on the platform reaches the right place.
The convoy — which includes transport truck operators from across the country and members more broadly opposed to public health mandates — is planning to stage a protest in Ottawa this weekend.
While organizers say their movement is about vaccine mandates and insist it doesn't support extremist rhetoric, police in Ottawa say they're concerned about the potential for unlawful or violent activity.
One convoy supporter said in a video he'd like to see the convoy become another Jan. 6 — a reference to the day last year when Donald Trump's supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol Building.
A contingent participating in the protest called Canadian Unity put forward what it calls a "Memorandum of Understanding" calling for either an end to vaccine mandates or the resignations of senators and the Governor General.
Jess Davis, president of Insight Threat Intelligence and author of a book on terrorist financing, said that while she thinks the chances of violence on Saturday are low, those who donated to the GoFundMe page need to be aware of the risks.
"They were likely donating for what they thought was going to be a peaceful protest," she said.
"If this turns violent ... I think that there's actually a very small chance that it will happen, but if that does happen, they will have funded a violent protest.
"The bigger piece here is Canadians need to understand that funding political violence of this kind is actually a criminal offence."
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The Criminal Code also prohibits the provision of financial services to individuals engaging in terrorist activity.
"If the protest turns violent, then GoFundMe could be in a bit of a tricky legal situation," said Davis.
"But much more importantly ... GoFundMe now has a lot of reputational risk that it needs to manage in terms of supporting the convoy, any potential for violence and some of the other allegations about the individuals involved in terms of extreme-right ideas and racist attitudes."
She said anyone who's concerned about how their money could be used in this protest could cancel their donation, contact GoFundMe for a refund or even ask their bank to reverse the contribution.
"That's not to say that people shouldn't be protesting but if they want to do that, they may want to be very accountable in terms of where they're spending their money," she said.
GoFundMe said it's unable to share any details regarding potential refunds.
Lich has ties to the Maverick Party, a federal party with roots in Alberta separatist circles. She took to Facebook earlier this week to urge her followers to report any bad behaviour to police.
"If you see participants along the way that are misbehaving, acting aggressively in any way or inciting any type of violence or hatred, please take down the truck number and their licence plate number so that we can forward that to the police," she said.
Lich maintains the purpose of the convoy is to protest what she calls infringements on personal liberty caused by public health orders.
The protest gained momentum after the federal government announced that by Jan. 15, all foreign nationals working as truckers would have to be fully vaccinated to enter Canada. Those not fully vaccinated are to be turned back to the U.S.
All Canadian cross-border essential workers — including truckers — must also show proof of vaccination at a port of entry to avoid stringent testing requirements and quarantine.
Truckers travelling within Canada are not affected by these new measures. The United States has implemented a similar mandate requiring that all U.S.-bound travellers show proof they've had the required shots