A Sussex-area businessperson who was one of the largest financial donors to the Freedom Convoy is asking a court in Ontario to throw out an attempt to sue him for damages.
Brad Howland, who gave $75,000 to the convoy that paralyzed downtown Ottawa last winter, is named in a motion to designate him as the representative of everyone who gave money to support the protest.
It’s part of a broader class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of downtown Ottawa residents, businesses and employees who say the convoy disrupted their lives.
The suit wants the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to add Howland on behalf of a “donor class” of defendants.
The motion says Howland and other donors “knew or ought to have known” that the Freedom Convoy protesters were breaking the law and disrupting the lives of residents and workers in the downtown by blasting their truck horns and spewing diesel fumes.
Those who donated money online did so “with the intention of encouraging and facilitating those acts,” lawyer Paul Champ argues in his motion.
The motion will be heard in court in Ottawa Jan. 24-25.
The allegations have not been proven in court, and James Manson, a lawyer for Howland and other potential defendants, argues that the lawsuit and the attempt to add Howland are not backed up by any evidence about specific defendants.
“The plaintiffs have, in fact, improperly sued a crowd of people without identifying who was in the crowd, or which people did what things,” his motion says.
Manson argues it’s unreasonable to try to sue “thousands of random people around the world who merely donated money to a political cause.”
Each individual donor’s personal reasons for donating to the Freedom Convoy would have to be examined, he said.
“That would be impossible.”
The convoy began parking trucks in downtown Ottawa last Jan. 28, and the protest continued until police broke it up on Feb. 19-20.
Most participants wanted the federal government to end vaccine mandates for truckers, though some also called for the removal of the Trudeau government from power.
Howland, who lives in Kars and owns Easy Kleen Pressure Systems Ltd. based in Sussex Corner, was identified as the second-largest donor to the convoy in leaked data from the online fundraising site GiveSendGo.
He travelled to Ottawa to “participate” in the convoy on Feb. 11-12, according to the motion by the plaintiffs.
Howland confirmed in a statement to CBC News last year that he had been to the protest and called it “a beautiful, legal, peaceful protest that overwhelmed us with emotion.”
The business owner said his company relied on truckers, and it was important to support them.
“Our company and my family are proud to stand with these men and women as they uphold the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of our great nation,” he said.
Howland’s assistant said in an email Thursday he was not available to comment on the court filings.
Champ argues in his motion that financial donations such as Howland’s “emboldened and incited” convoy participants as they made “as much noise as possible to cause discomfort and distress” for local residents “in order to coerce political leaders.”
But Manson calls the claim “both ridiculous and incapable of proof.
“There is quite simply no way for the plaintiffs to ever demonstrate that all of the people who donated funds to the ‘Freedom Convoy’ protest ‘knew or ought to have known’ that those funds” would be used to fund wrongful actions, he argues.
Champ is seeking a total of $290 million in general, special and punitive damages from all of the defendants, which include several high-profile leaders of the movement.
Champ says in his motion that Howland’s company, Easy Kleen, has a 7,400-square-metre manufacturing plant and 165 employees. It operates seven offices across Canada and ships equipment worldwide.