A hundred Iranians who wish to become business immigrants to Canada have written to Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson complaining that his office delayed their applications for up to two years because of economic sanctions against Iran.
The applicants had been selected as immigrants under programs run by Manitoba, British Columbia and Quebec that require them to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in those provinces.
However, because of sanctions under the federal Special Economic Measures Act, the applicants cannot transfer money from Iran without a permit from the office of the Foreign Affairs Minister.
Canada has banned financial transactions with Iran since November, 2011, and diplomatic relations between the two countries have been suspended since September, 2012.
In two lawyers' notices sent this week to Mr. Nicholson, the applicants said they will take legal action if their files remain in suspension after 30 days.
"Some of these applications date back 24 months, without any word or decision being taken on [the part of the minister]," one of the letters said.
"It is hard to understand why no decision has been reached regarding these … demands which represent a substantial investment in the Canadian economy," the other letter said.
The minister's inaction "is in law equivalent to an abuse of power … which the courts have not hesitated to sanction," the first letter said.
This issue also existed under Mr. Nicholson's predecessor, John Baird.
In January, 41 of the 54 applicants to Quebec received their ministerial permits after they wrote to Mr. Baird threatening to turn to the courts, and after The Globe and Mail asked the government about their situation.
The latest legal letters come from 59 applicants to the Quebec Investor Program and 44 applicants who were selected by Manitoba and British Columbia as part of their provincial nominee programs.
Depending on the program, the applicants were required to make minimum investments ranging from $200,000 to $800,000 once they were accepted.
One applicant previously interviewed by The Globe and Mail, a Tehran accountant named Keihan Pouresmaeili, applied to immigrate to Manitoba in 2013.
He said his application has been stalled at the minister's office for more than 16 months. Meanwhile, he said his family's finances are paralyzed because he had to liquidate his savings in Tehran to have enough money to deposit in Manitoba.
"Even if immigration is a privilege, not a right, in this case, this future immigrant was selected by the Manitoba authorities and it is the Foreign Affairs Minister who is neglecting his own rules without justification," said Vincent Valaï, a lawyer for the Pouresmaeili family.
In an e-mail, François Lasalle, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, said the department cannot comment on the status of individual applications. "The issuance of such a permit is not automatic; it is an exceptional action at the discretion of the Minister of Foreign Affairs," Mr. Lasalle said.
Mr. Valaï and other lawyers representing Canadians of Iranian origin or Iranians who want to immigrate, say the sanctions have been applied in arbitrary, overzealous ways that hurt individuals rather than Iranian institutions.
Mr. Lasalle said: "Canada has held a clear position on Iran's support for terrorism, its nuclear ambitions, and its abysmal record on human rights."
Last week, speaking in Vancouver on the Iranian new year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada is a place for "those who seek refuge from the Iranian regime."