Canada’s economic system was already dealing with uncertainty when protests in opposition to COVID-19 restrictions blockaded border crossings and occupied downtown Ottawa final winter, the Department of Finance’s high civil servant advised an inquiry Thursday.
Michael Sabia, the deputy minister of finance, stated the “Freedom Convoy” protests that started in late January got here at a “very, very fragile moment” due to lingering results from the COVID-19 pandemic and shifting dynamics in world commerce.
He was certainly one of three senior finance officers testifying on the Public Order Emergency Commission, an inquiry into the Liberal authorities’s resolution to set off the federal Emergencies Act on Feb. 14 in response to the protests.
Sabia stated the demonstrations, which shut down the move of cross-border commerce at main junctions in Alberta and Ontario, had been hurting Canada’s popularity as a dependable buying and selling associate at a time when there was rising protectionist sentiment within the United States.
He additionally stated finance officers feared there can be lasting penalties for the economic system, significantly on the automotive business, if protests went on for too lengthy. At the time, Canada was negotiating with the U.S. on American tax credit for electrical automotive manufacturing.
Finance briefings ready in the course of the protest and submitted into proof on the inquiry say Canada’s popularity as a dependable financial associate for the U.S. “may be in jeopardy.”
Some U.S. lawmakers made public statements expressing concern concerning the influence of the protests, significantly on automotive aggregation crops, and Global Affairs Canada officers testified earlier this week that there was important nervousness amongst each American and Canadian diplomats.
“Duration is everything here, in terms of the disruption on the Canadian economy,” Sabia testified, emphasizing that there can be “real human consequences” to the consequences and that measures weren’t taken merely for “antiseptic” or image-related causes.
He added that it wasn’t clear on the time the act was invoked whether or not the state of affairs may worsen or unfold. “There was no way of judging whether we could find ourselves in a situation of kind of rolling disruptions across various border points of entry,” stated Sabia.
It was additionally a “very delicate time” as a result of the federal authorities was making ready its 2022 finances and eyeing the potential penalties of Russia’s anticipated invasion of Ukraine, he stated.
Department officers ready a memo for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on Feb. 9 that detailed which legislative levers might be pulled to assist finish the protests, together with a proposal to have financial institution accounts frozen.
The emergency powers in the end allowed the federal government to regulate or prohibit “the use of property” to fund or assist the blockade, which meant that monetary service suppliers may instantly freeze private or company accounts with out dealing with any liabilities.
Sabia stated the measure, introduced together with different emergency powers on Feb. 14, was meant to deter folks from coming to the protests and to encourage these already collaborating to depart.
“The minister of finance was very clear as of that date that people involved in these disruptions ran the risk of having their accounts frozen,” he stated. “It was very clear that all that had to happen was for those people to leave.”
The emergency orders included a provision that banks, credit score unions, crowdfunding platforms and different monetary companies suppliers register with FINTRAC and report suspicious transactions to the monetary watchdog.
They additionally required establishments to overview their relationships with anybody concerned within the blockades and report their holdings to the RCMP or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
About 280 accounts had been frozen consequently, holding about $8 million in whole belongings. Sabia stated the division’s understanding is that not one of the accounts belonged to individuals who had merely donated cash to the convoy.
He stated the quantity of people that held these accounts is considerably smaller. The officers had been proven documentation that recommended 240 of the accounts belonged to solely 57 folks, and agreed that the ratio of 4 accounts to one particular person can be correct for the entire quantity.
Reports by monetary service suppliers offered to the fee counsel that 204 of the frozen accounts had been financial savings or chequing accounts, and the remaining 76 had been for bank cards or traces of credit score.
The Department of Finance has not produced an evaluation of the financial impacts of the blockades, however assistant deputy minister Rhys Mendes advised the inquiry there was no direct, long-term influence on Canada’s economic system.
“It’s fair to say the impact was limited,” he stated, including that was solely the case as a result of protests weren’t widespread or long-lasting.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national security adviser, Jody Thomas, additionally appeared earlier than the fee on Thursday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first printed Nov. 17, 2022.