The voice of Canadian credit unions says their members watched people make significant withdrawals after the federal government vowed a financial crackdown on the Freedom Convoy in Ottawa.

The government's use of the emergency powers in February included allowing financial institutions to freeze the accounts of those involved in the protests that occupied streets in downtown Ottawa and blocked key border crossings.

But a House of Commons committee is being told that the government was less than clear about the intended targets shortly after the financial measures were announced.

The government also granted a level of latitude to institutions that contributed to the confusion, MPs have been told.

Martha Durdin, president and CEO of the Canadian Credit Union Association, says the combined effect was a degree of panic among Canadians that their accounts could be frozen because they made small donations to the convoy.

She says that led to Canadians withdrawing large amounts from their credit union accounts, sometimes in the hundreds of thousands and, on a few occasions, millions of dollars.

Credit unions ultimately froze 10 accounts with a total value of less than half a million dollars, Durdin says.

Durdin, among others testifying today to the committee, says the situation points to a need for federal officials to communicate more clearly about emergency powers, and consult a wider array of financial institutions beyond the country's biggest banks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2022.