Vitalik Buterin Calls Canada's Use of Banks to Stifle Protestors 'Dangerous'

Decentralized systems are not about lawlessness but rather a return to rule of law, the Ethereum founder said in an interview at ETHDenver.

AccessTimeIconFeb 19, 2022 at 12:25 a.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 4:40 p.m. UTC

The Canadian government's efforts to choke off the flow of funds to protesting truckers in Canada illustrate why cryptocurrencies exist, Ethereum founder VItalik Buterin said.

In an interview Friday at the ETHDenver conference, Buterin, who grew up in Canada, did not condone the "freedom convoys" that have been blaring their horns in Ottawa for the last week in opposition to COVID-19 restrictions.

"If the truckers are blocking the roads and that's breaking the economy, fine, blocking the roads is illegal and there are laws against that," he told CoinDesk TV anchor Christine Lee.

But he described the government's response as heavy-handed, and crypto as a potential check on such overreach.

"If the government is not willing to follow the laws ... [and] give people a chance to defend themselves ... and they just want to talk to the banks and basically cut out people's financial livelihoods without due process, that is an example of the sort of thing that decentralized technology is there to make more difficult," Buterin said.

In this way, crypto is not so much a radical technology as a restorative one, he argued.

"It's not about being lawless. In some ways, it's about bringing rule of law back," Buterin said. Governments and police can still act lawfully and pursue suspects "as they always have" without conscripting financial middlemen, he said.

"This concept of going after intermediaries and using intermediaries to bypass all that, it is dangerous," Buterin said. "Having decentralized alternatives to an intermediary is a good way to limit the damage."

This week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government invoked never-used emergency powers in an effort to quash the protests. Banks and other financial service providers were authorized to freeze or suspend accounts associated with the trucker convoy without a court order and were shielded from civil liability for doing so.

Supporters of the truckers have tried to circumvent the blockades by raising cryptocurrency donations. The government has blacklisted a number of crypto addresses associated with these efforts, and a court injunction ordered the funds frozen pending the outcome of a private class action law suit. It remains to be seen how effective these measures will be because crypto transactions cannot be vetoed, and wallets are controlled by whoever possesses the cryptographic private keys.

On the other hand, to use the funds to buy food or gasoline, the recipients would likely need to convert the crypto into fiat currency, which usually requires going through a regulated exchange subject to the government's directives.

During the sit-down with CoinDesk's Lee, Buterin also discussed Ethereum's challenges, gas fees, ETH inflation and competition Ethereum faces from newer layer 1 blockchains. Watch the full interview below, or read the (rough, AI-generated) transcript.


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Marc Hochstein

Marc Hochstein is the executive editor of Consensus, CoinDesk's flagship event. He holds BTC above CoinDesk's disclosure threshold of $1K and de minimis amounts of other digital assets (details on profile page).