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Soudeh Ghasemi, a Canadian citizen, had her bank account closed by TD bank with little no notice. She’s relieved the sanctions on Tehran are being lifted.

Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

A Quebec student could not access the tuition money his father overseas sent him. A Toronto accountant discovered she was being stripped of her bank accounts. A bride in Montreal was told her grandmother could not get a visa to attend her wedding.

In routine ways affecting everyday life, Iranian-Canadians have been feeling the sting of Ottawa's sanctions against Iran in the past several years, like innocents caught in the crossfire of international politics.

As a result, Canada's large Iranian diaspora is voicing relief at the prospect of normalized relations between their homeland and their adopted land, seeing it as an end to an era of unfair discrimination.

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"Sanctions are an important tool, but you have to make sure you don't kill a fly with a rocket," said Eiman Sadegh, a Montreal lawyer who handled the cases of several Iranian-Canadians who were denied Canadian banking services. "People were just getting squeezed. They were the collateral damage to these policies."

While some Iranian-Canadians want regime change in Tehran and oppose Ottawa's shift to normalized relations, most expatriates endorse the Trudeau government's new policy, according to several observers.

They say Canada's Iranian community, estimated at more than 250,000 once recent immigration is factored in, includes a sizable number of newcomers who still have deep family and business ties to Iran. They felt unduly punished by the sanctions, which were meant to press the Islamic republic to suspend its nuclear weapons program.

In practical terms, Canada's decision to break off diplomatic relations with Iran in 2012 meant Iranian-Canadians had to travel to Washington, D.C., where Iran maintains an interests section, for routine services such as renewing a passport.

One of the sources of greatest frustration was the sudden closing of Canadian bank accounts due to Ottawa's economic sanctions against Iran. Bijan Ahmadi, a Toronto business owner who sits on the board of the Canadian Iranian Congress, said the move ended up targeting many ordinary Canadian citizens of Iranian descent.

"They felt discriminated against, and thought it was only because Canada was playing politics," he said. "All they wanted were the same opportunities as any other dual national in this country."

Soudeh Ghasemi, a Toronto accountant and a Canadian citizen, was told by her bank in Toronto in 2012 that it would "no longer continue to support your current accounts and/or services." She was stunned, and switched banks.

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"I have lived in Canada since 2005 and this was the first time I felt discriminated against," she said on Wednesday. "I felt like I was being treated like an alien, like this was not my home, because of the relationships between two governments."

Mr. Sadegh, the Montreal lawyer, says the regulations on the economic sanctions against Iran were vaguely written and left open to overzealous interpretation by banks, customs officials and others. One student in Trois-Rivièeres, Que., had to borrow money because he could not access the funds his father had sent him from Iran.

Often, Iranian-Canadian customers at banks were looked at with suspicion, and never told why they could no longer access their funds, he said. Some felt they were targeted merely because of their Iranian names.

"They were humiliated," said Mr. Sadegh, head of the Persian Law Association of Quebec. "It was the bank against the little guy, so [the customer] would often just suck it up and close their account."

Other problems arose from the souring of Canada-Iran relations, Mr. Sadegh said. His sister was unable to secure a visa for their grandmother in Tehran to allow her to attend her wedding in Montreal in 2014, even though the grandmother had visited Canada twice before.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion's announcement that Canada will move quickly to lift sanctions has left people such as Ms. Ghasemi optimistic. "I'm thrilled," she said. "It makes me feel hopeful for the future. It feels like a burden has been lifted."

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