TORONTO - The Iranian-born wife of Defence Minister Peter MacKay says she is shocked at TD Canada Trust's decision to close a number of accounts belonging to Iranian Canadians without offering them a proper explanation.

TD (TSX:TD) began notifying Iranian-Canadian clients in May that it would no longer provide them with banking services — in some cases referring to Ottawa's economic sanctions against the Tehran regime.

Nazanin Afshin-Jam, a dedicated human rights activist, says she believes the bank "unintentionally misinterpreted" the broad application of the sanctions, aimed at cracking down on Iran's nuclear program.

"I think they should have done more investigation rather than harming innocent Iranian Canadians," she said in an interview from her home in New Glasgow, N.S.

Members of the Iranian-Canadian community have expressed outrage at the bank's decision, saying they feel they're being treated as second-class citizens.

TD has not publicly revealed how many accounts belonging to Iranian Canadians have been closed, but community leaders say they've received complaints from across the country.

Afshin-Jam says that Iranian-Canadian friends of her father in Vancouver had their TD accounts closed despite having lived in Canada for many years with no ties to the Iranian government.

"I definitely think they are entitled to an answer and evidence, that's a basic premise of law — the right to face your accuser — and I think there's nothing better than honesty and transparency in this kind of situation," she says.

In a statement released Thursday, TD said it is required to comply with Canadian bank laws and regulations, "including economic sanctions, which prohibit us from providing financial services to or for the benefit of certain countries, or any person in those countries."

The emailed statement said decisions to end customer relationships are not taken lightly but said it could not comment on "specific customer situations." Senior TD officials have promised to meet with community leaders on July 22 to discuss the matter of the account closures.

Afshin-Jam says the reason other Canadian banks aren't joining TD is because they are properly interpreting the government's intended sanctions, whereas TD, she says, has "overreacted".

Afshin-Jam points out that it is the federal government's responsibility to explain in more detail to banking and financial institutions "what they mean by these broader, targeted sanctions against regime officials."

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said in an email Friday that financial sanctions take the form of a prohibition on providing or acquiring financial services to Iran or any person in Iran.

"The application of this section to any individual account is a matter that must be determined on a case-by-case basis," said Jean-Bruno Villeneuve.

He also said that the sanctions also provide for a number of exemptions, including for any financial services required to be performed under a contract entered into before the sanctions went into effect on Nov. 22, 2011, or for non-commercial transfers of $40,000 or less sent to or from any person in Iran.

Villeneuve said that any person whose account has been affected may apply to the minister of foreign affairs for a permit allowing them to engage in transactions that would otherwise be prohibited by the sanctions.

Afshin-Jam says members of the community are still waiting for an explanation from the bank.

"Until they come out with another statement I don't think Iranian Canadians will be satisfied with that," she says.

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  • Miss Canada, Nazanin Afshin-Jam walks in the Forbidden City on Nov. 20, 2003 in Beijing, China.

  • A toddler looks at Nazanin Afshin-Jam, a contestant in the Miss World beauty contest, as she walks in the Forbidden City on Nov. 20, 2003 in Beijing, China.

  • Miss World 2003 contestant Nazanin Afshin-Jam of Canada (L) answers questions as Valentina Patruno Macero of Venezuela (R) looks on during a press conference on Dec. 4, 2003.

  • Miss World 2003 contestant Nazanin Afshin-Jam of Canada walks on stage on Dec. 5 2003.

  • Miss Canada Nazanin Afshin-Jam, a finalist in this year's Miss World contest, on stage on Dec. 6 2003 in Hainan, China.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam, Founder of Stop Child Executions, human rights activist and former Miss World Canada, speaks at Cities for Life Against the Death Penalty, an evening of words and music sponsored by Amnesty International, at Toronto's St. James' Cathedral on Nov. 30, 2009.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam, Founder of Stop Child Executions, human rights activist and former Miss World Canada, holds a candle on the church steps at the end of Cities for Life Against the Death Penalty, an evening of words and music sponsored by Amnesty International, at Toronto's St. James' Cathedral on Nov. 30, 2009.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam, President and Co-Founder of Stop Child Executions, takes part in a news conference in Ottawa on June 22, 2010.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam and Defence Minister Peter MacKay at Hope Live, held Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011, at the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre.

  • Peter MacKay arrives with Nazanin Afshin-Jam for a cabinet swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 18, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand).

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam with Defence Minister Peter MacKay at their wedding.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam with Defence Minister Peter MacKay at their wedding.

  • Defence Minister Peter MacKay, left, and his new bride, Nazanin Afshin-Jam, chat with ironworker Matthew Jardine at the Halifax Shipyard in Halifax on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam displays her baby bump in December, 2012.

  • Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Nazanin Afshin-Jam welcome their first son Kian Alexander to the world.

  • @MinPeterMacKay: "Kian enjoyed meeting @pmharper today and was presented with his first membership card! Thanks PM!"

  • PM Stephen Harper: "Great to meet you, Kian."

  • @MinPeterMacKay: "Leaving the civic hospital. A huge thanks to all on 4A, including Dr Aubin and the birthing unit."

  • MORE NAZANIN AFSHIN-JAM PHOTOS

    Nazanin Afshin-Jam with Prince Charles.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam with the Dalai Lama.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam at an Amnesty International rally in Berlin.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam at a protest she organized outside the UN in New York called "Ahmadinejad's Wall of Shame Rally."

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam at a protest outside Capitol Hill Washington DC on Iran's human rights abuses after 2009 presidential elections.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam at a protest on China's human rights abuses.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam at a protest on China's human rights abuses.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam at a protest outside Capitol Hill Washington DC on Iran's human rights abuses after 2009 presidential elections.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam at a press conference on the Beijing Olympics and China's human rights abuses.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam at a cities for life event and speech with Amnesty International in Toronto.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam at a cities for life event and speech with Amnesty International in Toronto.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam at a protest against organ harvesting and other human rights abuses in China.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam at the Global Youth Assembly in Edmonton.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam at MIT rally for Neda and Iran.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam at MIT rally for Neda and Iran.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam receives UNWatch Hero for Human Rights award.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam speaks at a rally protesting the Iranian regime with 50,000 people outside the UN in New York.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam speaks at a rally protesting the Iranian regime with 50,000 people outside the UN in New York.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam gives UNWatch human rights speech in Geneva.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam receives UBC Alumni achievement award for global citizenship.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam receives UBC Alumni achievement award for global citizenship.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam at a Parliamentary talk on Neda's one year anniversary and human rights in Iran.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam at a Parliamentary talk on Neda's one year anniversary and human rights in Iran.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam at roundtable on Iran with Stephen Harper and Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam performs.

  • The album cover for Nazanin Afshin-Jam's "Someday."

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam at a talk in Taiwan on human rights in China.

  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam at a talk in Taiwan on human rights in China.



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  • U.S. Sanctions

    <em>In this Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011 photo, Iranian women and a man weave carpet in a workshop in Qom, 78 miles (125 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)</em><br><br> Initial sanctions were imposed after Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy and took diplomats hostage in 1979. Iranian products cannot be imported into the United States apart from small gifts, information material, food and some carpets.

  • <em>Former President Bill Clinton addresses the audience during the opening night dinner of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates at the Field Museum Monday, April 23, 2012, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)</em><br><br> In 1995, President Bill Clinton issued executive orders preventing U.S. companies from investing in Iranian oil and gas and trading with Iran. The same year, Congress passed a law imposing sanctions on foreign companies investing more than $20 million a year in Iran's energy sector.

  • <em>In this Thursday, Oct. 30, 2008 file photo, an Iranian money changer holds currency with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's image in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian, File)</em><br><br> In October 2007, Washington imposed sanctions on three Iranian banks and branded the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps a proliferater of weapons of mass destruction. The Treasury has since added numerous other Iranian banks to its blacklist. The Treasury has identified about 20 petroleum and petrochemical companies as being under Iranian government control, an action that put them off-limits to U.S. businesses under the trade embargo.

  • <em>This photo shows a branch of Iranian Bank Tejarat in Tehran on January 24, 2012 upon which the US Treasury announced sanctions claiming all of the Islamic Republic's major state-owned banks have now been subjected to punitive measures. (ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br> Congress approved tough new unilateral sanctions on June 24, 2010, aimed at squeezing Iran's energy and banking sectors. The new law imposed penalties on companies that supply Iran with refined petroleum products worth more than $5 million a year. It also effectively deprived foreign banks of access to the U.S. financial system if they did business with Iranian banks or the Revolutionary Guards.

  • <em>Oil workers gather by an oil well operated by Venezuela's state-owned oil company PDVSA in Morichal, Venezuela, on July 28, 2011. (RAMON SAHMKOW/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br> In May 2011, the United States announced new sanctions on Venezuela's state oil company, PDVSA, and six other smaller oil and shipping firms for trading with Iran in violation of the U.S. ban, prompting fury from Hugo Chavez's government.

  • June 2011

    <em>Members of Iran's paramilitary Basij militia parade in front of the former US embassy in Tehran on November 25, 2011 to mark the national Basij week. (ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br> On June 11, it announced new sanctions on the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij Resistance Force, and Iran's law enforcement forces. The sanctions froze any of the targets' assets under U.S. jurisdiction and barred U.S. persons and institutions from dealing with them.

  • <em>Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (L) announce new sanctions against Iran at the State Department on November 21, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)</em><br><br> On Nov. 21 the United States named Iran as an area of "primary money-laundering concern", a step designed to dissuade non-U.S. banks from dealing with it. The United States also blacklisted 11 entities suspected of aiding its nuclear programmes and expanded sanctions to target companies that aid its oil and petrochemical industries.

  • <em>US President Barack Obama (C) greets guests after speaking on nuclear security, touching on subjects from terrorism to Iran and North Korea, during a visit to Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul on March 26, 2012. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br> On Dec. 31, 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law a defense funding bill that imposed sanctions on financial institutions dealing with Iran's central bank, which is the main conduit for oil revenues. Sanctioned institutions would be frozen out of the U.S. financial markets.

  • <em>Hostesses stand in front of the construction site of the Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC) Technology Centre and Greater China Headquarters in Shanghai, China Friday, April 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)</em><br><br> On Jan. 13, 2012 the United States extended sanctions to Chinese state-run energy trader Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp, which it said was Iran's largest supplier of refined petroleum products. It also imposed sanctions on Singapore's Kuo Oil Pte Ltd and United Arab Emirates-based FAL Oil Company Ltd.

  • <em>Members of Iranian Revolutionary Guards attend a ceremony at the mausoleum of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, commemorating 33rd anniversary of his return from exile after 14 years, and the 1979 Islamic Revolution which toppled pro-US Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, just outside Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)</em><br><br> The United States exempted Japan and 10 European Union nations from financial sanctions on March 20 because they had significantly cut purchases of Iranian oil, but Iran's top customers China and India remain at risk of such steps. On March 28 the Treasury set additional sanctions against Iranian engineering firms with ties to the Revolutionary Guards, as well as individuals and shipping companies with ties to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL).

  • <em>In this Sept. 27, 2000 file photo, an Iranian oil worker repairs a pipe at an oil refinery in Tehran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)</em><br><br> On May 21 the Senate approved the latest tightening of sanctions on Iran's oil trade.

  • <em>In this Jan. 19, 2012 file photo, fishing boats are seen in front of oil tankers on the Persian Gulf waters, south of the Strait of Hormuz, offshore the town of Ras Al Khaimah in United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)</em><br><br> On Aug. 12, 2010 the EU banned the creation of joint ventures with enterprises in Iran engaged in the oil and natural gas industries. Member states must prohibit the provision of insurance and re-insurance to the government of Iran. The import and export of arms and equipment that could contribute to uranium enrichment, or have a "dual use", is banned. The sanctions forbid the sale, supply or transfer of energy equipment and technology used by Iran for exploration and production or for refining or liquefying natural gas. The EU expects the effects of the sanctions to increase over time as existing parts wear out.

  • <em>EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton speaks during a media conference after a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, Jan. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)</em><br><br> In May 2011, EU foreign ministers added 100 new entities to a list of companies and people affected, including those owned or controlled by IRISL. Last October, the EU imposed sanctions on 29 people, extending the list targeting individuals associated with human rights violations to 61. On Dec. 1, the EU added 180 Iranians and entities to a sanctions blacklist that imposes asset freezes and travel bans on those involved in the nuclear program.

  • <em>In this March 13, 2008 file photo, gold coins and bars are shown at California Numismatic Investments in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)</em><br><br> On Jan. 23, 2012 the EU placed an immediate ban on all new contracts to import, purchase or transport Iranian crude oil and petroleum products. EU countries with existing contracts to buy oil and petroleum products were allowed to honor them until July 1. The EU also agreed to freeze the assets of Iran's central bank and ban trade in gold and other precious metals with the bank and state bodies.

  • <em>British Ambassador to the UN Mark Lyall Grant (C) speaks during a vote on broader military and financial sanctions on Iran over its suspect nuclear program during a UN Security Council at the UN headquarters June 9, 2010 in New York. (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br> The Security Council has imposed four sets of sanctions on Iran, in December 2006, March 2007, March 2008 and June 2010. The first covered sensitive nuclear materials and froze the assets of Iranian individuals and companies linked with the nuclear program.

  • <em>A military truck carries a Sejil rocket as it is paraded during the annual Army Day military parade in Tehran on April 17, 2012. (ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br> The second included new arms and financial sanctions. It extended an asset freeze to 28 more groups, companies and individuals engaged in or supporting sensitive nuclear work or the development of ballistic missiles.

  • <em>Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad adjusts his goggles as he tours an exhibition on laser technology in Tehran on February 7, 2010. (ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br> The third, in 2008, increased travel and financial curbs on individuals and companies. It expanded a partial ban on trade in items with both civilian and military uses to cover sales of all such technology to Iran.

  • <em>A street money exchanger, puts US dollars in a plastic bag, in Ferdowsi St. in downtown Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)</em><br><br> A Security Council resolution passed on June 9, 2010, called for measures against new Iranian banks abroad if a connection to the nuclear or missile programmes was suspected.

  • <em>Soldiers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard walk past a satirical drawing of Statue of Liberty on the wall of the former US Embassy in Tehran, Iran, Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)</em><br><br> It expanded a U.N. arms embargo against Tehran and blacklisted three firms controlled by IRISL and 15 belonging to the Revolutionary Guards. The resolution called for the setting up of a cargo inspection regime.