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No answers from TD as more account closures surface; embassy, Iranian-Canadian legal groups denounce bank's actions

ottawacitizen.com Tue Jul 10 2012 Section: OnLine Byline: MICHELLE ZILIO

OTTAWA - TD Bank Group said Tuesday it has no further information for Iranian-Canadian clients whose bank accounts have been closed in response to changes to Canadian sanctions against Iran, even as more such cases come to light. Last week, the Citizen reported TD had begun sending letters to clients whose accounts it had closed. The letters told clients that under recent changes to the Special Economic Measures (Iran) Regulation, Canadian financial institutions are forbidden from providing financial services to anyone in Iran or for the benefit of Iran. TD said it tried to contact customers who were affected by the regulations, and in cases where they did not hear back, the bank was forced to close their accounts. When asked Tuesday if they are providing information to clients about the specific actions that led to each individual account closure, a TD spokesman said, "There is no further information we can provide to former customers at this time." Until Tuesday, bank account closures had been reported in Toronto and British Columbia. Now similar reports are coming out of the IranianCanadian community in Ottawa. One Ottawa woman found her father's TD credit card had been canceled about two-and-a-half months ago when she tried to buy a flight with it. The Citizen has agreed not to publish her name. The woman said her family was never warned by TD of any issues in regards to the credit card prior to the account closure. She claims her father rarely uses the credit card so they were surprised to hear there was an issue with the account. When her father inquired about the problem from Iran, where he is currently visiting family, he struggled to get a clear answer from TD. Unlike other cases where clients were told their accounts were canceled under Section 5 of the regulation, the woman said the sanctions never

came up in conversations with TD. She said the bank just explained that they had the right to close the account, under the terms and agreements signed in July 2009 when the account was opened. The woman said her family found out TD was closing Iranian-Canadian accounts through friends who had experienced the same thing. Since hearing about the mass account-closures, her family has given up on getting an answer from TD and is now in the process of moving their money to another bank. "This is TD Canada Trust but you can't actually trust them. They don't give you (any) explanation and I'm pretty sure they're responsible for this," she said. TD began sending the letters to Iranian-Canadians across the country as early as the beginning of May, according to those who have received them. Last weekend, at least 100 people affected by the closures showed up to a fact-finding meeting hosted by the Iranian Canadian Congress in Toronto. On Monday, the Iranian embassy in Ottawa and two law associations criticized TD Bank Group's actions. In a joint press release, the Association des Juristes Persans du Quebec (AJPQ) and the Iranian Canadian Lawyers' Association (ICLA) "denounce(d) the abusive interpretation of the sanctions against Iran by certain banks," adding the bank account closures show a "blatant disregard" for the fundamental rights of Canadian-Iranians. The AJPQ and ICLA called for the federal government to "humanize" the sanctions against Iran. They also asked financial institutions to immediately cease the closing of accounts without sufficient reason and to compensate those affected by the closures. The embassy called the TD bank account closures "discriminatory" and said political problems between Canada and Iran should not affect the Iranian community in Canada.TD Bank Group and the Department of Foreign Affairs would not comment on the denouncements. So far, it appears no other Canadian bank has taken the same action as TD, though spokespersons for CIBC, National Bank, Royal Bank of Canada and The Desjardins Group would not confirm whether they had taken similar actions, saying only that they take necessary measures to comply with sanctions and regulations. (Bank of Montreal and Scotiabank have not responded to requests for comment.)

According to the Canadian Bankers Association, it is up to each Canadian bank individually to ensure compliance with economic sanctions against Iran. Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen