Iranian-Canadians fume as TD closes accounts

Several Iranian-Canadians are crying foul after TD Bank Group abruptly closed their accounts with little explanation other than to say it had to comply with federal economic sanctions against Iran.

Sanctions against Iran hit Canadian bank account holders

Several Iranian-Canadians are crying foul after the TD Bank abruptly closed their accounts with little explanation other than to say it had to comply with federal economic sanctions against Iran.

TD began sending letters to some of its clients in May informing them it would no longer be offering them banking services so as to abide with changes made last November to the Special Economic Measures (Iran) Regulations, which prohibit banks from providing financial services that benefit Iran or anyone in Iran.

"A recent review has identified you as a person TD is restricted from providing financial services to, from, or for the benefit of under these new regulations," TD wrote in one letter to an affected customer, Soudeh Ghasemi of Toronto.

"As a result, we are informing you that TD will no longer continue to support your current accounts and/or services." The letter informs Ghasemi that she could apply to the Department of Foreign Affairs for a special permit to carry out transactions with Iran.

Ghasemi, a Canadian citizen, told CBC's The Current she was "shocked" when she received that letter, saying she does not send any money to Iran.

She said her father also received a similar letter from the bank with regards to his mortgage and his personal line of credit.

Later, she and her father received two separate letters in which they were informed the joint business account they held would be closed.

Ghasemi said her father received some money from Iran for a down payment for a home in Canada. But that transfer took place before the new round of sanctions were introduced, said Ghasemi, who doesn't see any legitimate reason for the letter.

"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.

Ghasemi said her father goes to Iran about once a year for business and for personal reasons, but does not support the current regime. None of the money from her Canadian accounts goes to her father's farming business in Iran, she said.

'Virtually no notice'

The Iranian Canadian Congress held a fact-finding meeting this weekend in Toronto to talk about the issue, which drew between 60 and 70 people.

Kaveh Shahrooz, the vice-chair of the congress, said there were a lot of "very, very distressing" stories recounted at the meeting.

"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 Shahrooz, a lawyer by trade.

"It's … given no explanation as to why this has happened and made some cryptic reference to the sanctions. But anytime they've sought some further explanation, they've been stonewalled and treated very, very badly."

He couldn't say exactly how many people have been affected. He said at this time it appears TD is the only bank sending out these letters.

"I have every hope and faith that [TD is] not really out to harm anyone, they're just overzealously applying these sanctions," said Shahrooz. "We're also going to be reaching out to policy makers, explaining to them the effect that this action is having."

TD bank said in an email that "decisions to end customer relationships are not undertaken lightly and we took additional steps to reach out by phone and by registered mail to those who might be impacted by the regulations in question, in order to verify their information."

"In cases where we did not hear back from a customer to confirm their information, we were required meet the regulations and so we ended the relationship."

The Department of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, said in an email that the application of the new rules to any individual account "must be determined on a case-by-case basis."

The email says there are exemptions — people who need to carry out transactions in order to fulfil arrangements that were set up before the sanctions took effect can do so.

Money can also be sent to and from Iran, so long as it is not for commercial purposes and so long as each individual transaction is less than $40,000.

Shown below is the letter sent to Ghasemi.