Other countries have rules for online fundraising, committee probing convoy protest hears | CBC News

Several other countries have adopted laws to govern how crowdfunding platforms can be used to raise money for causes, officials from the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe told members of a parliamentary committee Thursday.

While Canada has few laws that regulate crowdfunding platforms, Kim Wilford, general counsel for GoFundMe, said some other countries have introduced rules.

“In some jurisdictions, we see that fundraising for charity is quite regulated,” she said, responding to questions from MPs about laws Canada could consider adopting.

“We see that you need to actually go to the government to get a permit to do that in places like Australia, in places like Denmark, in places like Finland.”

Representatives of GoFundMe are appearing before the House of Commons finance committee to answer questions about its role in raising funds for the anti-vaccine mandate protest convoy that paralyzed downtown Ottawa for three weeks last month and blocked a number of border crossings across Canada.

Wilford said Singapore has a voluntary code of practice for online fundraising platforms to protect users and prevent data leaks, privacy breaches and fraud. She said Romania is the only country she knows of that has regulations limiting the size of individual donations.

Don’t penalize worthy causes, MPs told

Wilford called on the government to bear in mind the ability of crowdfunding platforms to raise money for good causes. She said GoFundMe has raised $50 million from people in more than 140 countries to help those affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“It is wonderful how people can come together to help one other in their time of need, so we want to make sure that we don’t do anything here that would impact that,” she said.

The convoy protest attracted millions of dollars in donations via crowdfunding platforms – first on GoFundMe, then on GiveSendGo. A separate online cryptocurrency fundraiser raised more than $1 million.

It’s not yet clear how much of the money raised has made its way to protest organizers or the protesters themselves.

GoFundMe says most donations came from Canada

GoFundMe president Juan Benitez told the committee that, based on an analysis by its payment processor of the types of payments that were used, 88 per cent of the more than $10 million collected came from donors located in Canada, while 12 per cent came from outside Canada.

Benitez said 86 per cent of the 120,000 donors came from Canada. That means that 14 per cent, or roughly 16,800 people, donated from outside Canada.

“There just was not a significant foreign contribution,” he said.

Benitez said the analysis didn’t identify any particularly large individual donations from international donors. Wilford said the largest donation to the GoFundMe campaign — for $30,000 — came from a donor located in Canada.

Benitez said only a handful of donations came from individuals located in Russia and the company did not see signs of coordinated activity in those donations.

A protester yells ‘Freedom!’ at a person who attempted to stick a paper sign on a truck criticizing the convoy protest on its 18th day in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

GoFundMe’s statistics don’t match the numbers provided by its rival GiveSendGo, which took up the convoy protest fundraiser after GoFundMe concluded on Feb. 4 that the campaign did not meet its terms and conditions, shut it down and announced it would refund all donations.

GiveSendGo had been invited to appear before the committee. In an e-mail, co-owner Heather Wilson said they couldn’t appear Thursday because they were travelling.

At a meeting of the House of Commons public safety committee on March 3, GiveSendGo co-owner Jacob Wells testified that, at that point, 60 per cent of the money raised on his platform came from Canada and 37 per cent came from the United States.

GiveSendGo says it’s refunding donations

According to data hacked around Feb. 10 and then released widely online, the largest donation to the convoy fundraiser was $90,000 US, in the name of an American businessman.

Earlier this week, the convoy fundraising campaign was still active. A notice on the website now says the campaign is “currently disabled and cannot receive new donations.”

At the point it was paused, the campaign had raised $9.7 million US, or $12.4 million Canadian.

Anti-vaccine mandate protesters gather on Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill on Feb. 13, 2022. (Félix Desroches/Radio-Canada)

A notice posted on GiveSendGo’s convoy fundraiser site says it is planning to refund donations to prevent the money from being seized.

“The Canadian government has criminalized the receiving of funds from the Freedom Convoy 2022 campaign and now are trying to seize the funds to redistribute,” the company wrote. “In order to protect our Givers and the intended purposes of their gifts, all donations not already transferred to the recipients of the Freedom Convoy 2022 campaign will be refunded automatically, no refund requests necessary.”

Wilson has not yet responded to questions from CBC News about how the refund process will work and when donors will receive refunds.

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at [email protected]

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