Handling of convoy donations raises questions as trucks gear up to head home
EDMONTON—The United We Roll truck convoy is gearing up to head back from Ottawa to Western Canada after a five-day long trip and two days of protesting on Parliament Hill — a journey that has come with a hefty price tag for participants, along with some controversy surrounding the use of donated funds for the movement after infighting between organizers.
The convoy’s trip began on Feb. 14 in Red Deer, Alta., with around 80 trucks making the full trip to Ottawa to protest the federal government, and a few dozen others who joined the convoy along the way. Richard Dixon, a business professor at Athabasca University, estimates the cost of fuel alone for the journey to hover around $1,600 per truck.
Some truckers financed their journey completely out-of-pocket. Others were supported by their employers, who provided trucks for the trip and money for fuel. Rob Bennetts, who joined the convoy from Williams Lake, B.C., said the total cost of his journey, from fuel to accommodation, is over $4,000 — which he said he financed himself with the help of donations from friends and family.
To alleviate the financial pressure on the convoy, a GoFundMe page was started Dec. 28 by lead organizer Glen Carritt to help cover costs, from fuel to accommodation and repairs. It has raised around $140,000 as of Wednesday evening, with the promise that participants will be reimbursed once their journey wraps up.
“What I’ve told everybody is to keep receipts, and … we’re going to make sure that by the time they leave, or by the time they get back to where they’re going to, that they’ll get those funds reimbursed,” Carritt said.
But the handling of some convoy donations has been met with criticism by earlier organizers of the movement, who are fighting to get a portion of the money donated back to them.
CJ Clayton, a Kelowna, B.C. man., started an earlier GoFundMe page for the convoy under the name Yellow Vest Official Convoy to Ottawa, which raised around $90,000 and has since closed, following infighting between organizers. “(Carritt) wanted to bury the Yellow Vest part of the movement. and just go with gas and oil,” Clayton said. The disagreement on branding caused a rift within the group, he said.
Around $38,000 of money raised was given to Carritt to help cover costs for the convoy, Clayton said, but has since gone unaccounted for. The rest of the money, Clayton said, has been refunded to donors. A GoFundMe spokesperson confirmed the funds were withdrawn by the campaign organizers prior to closing the page.
Carritt said the money is now held in an escrow bank account, and a third party will be determining its whereabouts. He said he will recommend it be returned to Clayton. A lawyer representing Clayton has since sent a letter to Carritt demanding the $38,000 be returned by Feb. 28.
Clayton said he wanted the money to be used to help cover the costs of the convoy as intended, and he is demanding receipts from Carritt on how the donated money is being handled. If the money were to be returned after the convoy, he said, he intends to donate it to a charity.
“A lot of these people don’t have any money, they left with no money,” Clayton said of convoy participants, adding they were relying on donations. Peggy-Lee Glenn, another organizer of the Yellow Vest Convoy, claimed on social media that some participants had no money to return home as a result of financial mismanagement.
But Carritt and other participants on the ground maintain that everyone was accounted for. Wade Woywitka, who participated with the financial help of his employer, Alberta-based Entrec, said people were offered financial help when they needed it.
“If anybody needed money in the convoy, they had it right there,” Woywitka said. Bennetts agreed. “It would be completely ridiculous to think that anything was amiss with the financial responsibilities of that GoFundMe page,” Bennetts said. “ ... I have complete trust in (Carritt).”
Carritt, who is a business owner of OP Fire, an oil and gas company, and a town councillor in Innisfail, Alta., said he has helped many participants out of his own pocket as he waits for GoFundMe donations to trickle down. He added he has enlisted the help of his business’ accountant to keep track of reimbursements upon return.
“I’m a caring, giving guy,” Carritt said. “For the official Yellow Vest Convoy group to start making accusations about me taking money is completely unfounded.”
Woywitka said he has no doubt people will be reimbursed for their journey, but added the $1,000 he spent on the convoy was worth every penny.
“I would’ve spent every last dime I had to come up here to do this,” Woywitka said. “After seeing what we accomplished, I would’ve spent everything I had to get up here.”