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Should Iranian-Canadians be Allowed to Bank at TD?

9 August 2012

Canada is a melting pot. A refuge that those in war-torn and hostile countries can seek out when looking for a life of peace and harmony. But for many Iranian-Canadians, that doesn’t mean that they can bank with TD.

It was early last month when TD Bank started sending letters out to many of their Iranian-Canadian clients. The letters stated that, for extremely vague reasons, the bank could no longer offer the client any banking services, and their accounts would be closed almost immediately. For many of the clients receiving the letters, it meant more than just having their chequing account closed and needing to find a new one to store their cash. It meant mortgages would come due, lines of credit would have to be paid. And all right now.

Why? Because the client was a Canadian-Iranian. And that, according to the letter sent by TD, was enough to mean that the client no longer had privilege to financial services in Canada.

One of those Iranian-Canadians was Soudeh Ghasemi of Toronto. Her letter stated, “A recent review has identified you as a person TD is restricted from providing financial services to, from, and for the benefit of under these new regulations.”

Soudeh is one of many that has received such a letter; her father is another. But what “new regulations” exactly are in place, that TD feels so strongly they must adhere to?

The sanctions imposed by Canada’s Special Economic Measures (Iran) Regulation. Within this document it outlines that financial institutions cannot provide any financial benefit to Iran, or to citizens that may be providing a financial benefit to Iran.

The sanctions have been put in place by the federal government to hurt the Iranian government, enough so that they’ll drop their stance on nuclear weapons and nuclear testing. And the new sanctions, which came out days before the letters from TD, were put in place so that Iran doesn’t receive any help from Canada. However, just what sanctions the recipients of the letter have broken is unclear. And while TD says its hand has basically been forced by this document, no other bank has yet followed in their footsteps.

Soudeh said it best when she spoke of the concerns these new sanctions held for her and her family.

“We’re not involved in any sort of transaction or any sort of activity that may benefit the government of Iran. And we’re not people in Iran. We’re permanent residents and citizens of Canada,” she said.

The letters have caused so much concern than a meeting was held this weekend in Toronto, led by the Iranian Canadian Congress.

“A lot of people said ‘We’ve been loyal customers of TD for a number of years and we are in compliance with all the laws as far as we know. And yet unfortunately, with virtually no notice, TD has decided to close our accounts,” said Kaveh Shahrooz, an attorney and vice-chair of the congress.

He also went on to say that not only was there no notice, but when clients inquired further about their accounts closing, “they’ve been stonewalled, and treated very badly.”

Shahrooz also said that they’d be applying to the federal government and policy makers to show them the detrimental effect this is having on people who not only have lived in Canada for years; but are also against the current Iranian regime.

But TD has released an email saying that this is just not the case. “Decisions to end customer relationships are not undertaken lightly and we took additional steps to reach out by phone and registered mail to those who might be impacted by the regulations in question, in order to verify their information,” the email said. “In cases where we did not hear back from a customer to confirm their information, we were required to meet the regulations and so we ended the relationship.”

What do you think? Is TD doing the right thing closing the accounts of Iranian-Canadians? And do you think other banks will follow?

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