View of Tehran, Iran at night. Being a party to a financial transaction to or from family in Iran was enough to get the accounts of some TD Bank customers closed. (Babak Farrokh)
After a report last week by the Ottawa Citizen detailing the case of several Iranian-Canadians who had their bank accounts closed by TD Bank with little to no explanation, it has emerged that the scale of the closures is much larger than the initial report indicated.
At least one hundred Canadians of Iranian descent have come forward in the last week reporting that they have had their accounts closed by TD, in an attempt by the financial institution to enforce economic sanctions against Iran put in place by the Harper government last year.
The Canadian government has had targeted sanctions on individuals tied the Iranian government since 2007, but new broad-based sanctions, enacted in November 2011 under the Special Economic Sanctions Act (SEPA), created a prohibition against any financial transaction by a Canadian resident or institution with any account at a financial institution in Iran, subject to a few exceptions, including personal remittances of values less than forty thousand dollars.
It has been left to each Canadian financial institution to interpret and decide how to comply with the new sanctions, and TD Bank has stated in letters to customers whose accounts it has closed that it believes the sanctions prohibit it from “providing any financial services to, or for the benefit of Iran, or any one in Iran”.
Many in the Iranian-Canadian community are furious about the closures. One affected TD customer, Pooya Sadeghi, created a Facebook page, Condemn TD Bank in their Treatment of clients with Iranian Background, after TD closed an account he shared with his wife and her parents.
On the Facebook page, a commenter, Nilofar Shidmehr, expressed her fear that Canadians of Iranian descent could be targeted by ethnic laws like those that affected Japanese-Canadians during World War 2:
We should do everything to stop this asap. Imagine what happens if there will be a war and the Canadian government sends us to an internment, like they sent Japanese-Canadians to. Is anyone knows some human rights organization which can help? I think this case can be considered as human rights abuse.
There was also blame put on the Harper government for the sanctions. “TD Bank is small potatoes. The real problem is Harper and his thugs in government who are behind all this,” commented Poyan Nahrvar.
In an interview with CICS News, Kaveh Shahrooz, a lawyer and vice-president of the Iranian Canadian Congress, and a harsh critic of the Iranian government, denounced the sanctions’ indiscriminate effect. “The Iranian government is a brutal regime that has killed many people in Iran, and to the extent that sanctions can prevent their agents from operating, we have no problem with that, but they need to differentiate between ordinary Iranians and regime agents.”
In regards to TD’s closure of customer accounts, Mr. Shahrooz said: “we believe [the sanctions] are being over-zealously applied.” The ICC is set to meet TD executives in about 10 days, at which point Mr. Shahrooz says they hope that TD will agree to put in place a process whereby the people affected can be told why their accounts were closed.