A Montreal man is suing TD Bank because it closed all of his accounts five years ago, arguing the bank discriminated against him because he is Iranian.
Hossein Pourshafiey's mortgage, business and personal bank accounts were suddenly closed by TD in 2012. He says he was never given a written explanation for the bank's decision, but believes he was targeted over his Iranian heritage and what he says are unfounded concerns that his money-transfer business violated Canadian sanctions against Iran.
In 2012, Canada's sanctions law prohibited banks from providing financial services to, from or for the benefit of anyone in Iran. Non-commercial money transfers of $40,000 or less were permitted if the person providing the financial services kept a record of the transaction. Mr. Pourshafiey said in an interview that while his business provided personal money transfers to people in Iran, the transactions did not exceed $40,000. The government repealed that section of the sanctions law in February, 2016.
TD Bank Group said in a statement it does not comment on any matter before the courts. Global Affairs Canada, which oversees the government's sanctions laws, did not respond to a request for comment.
Five years after TD closed his accounts, Mr. Pourshafiey, 66, said his life is in financial ruin. Although he was able to transfer cash out of his personal account, he has drained all of his money trying to repay the $767,000 that was remaining on the mortgage. He said he cannot earn an income because other banks were not willing to provide him with the special money-services business account he requires to resume operating his money-transfer company, Moneywise Financial.
Mr. Pourshafiey, a father of five, moved to Canada from Iran 45 years ago. He is a Canadian citizen. He cried as he described to The Globe and Mail the toll the past five years has taken on his life. "In our culture, we always like to take care of the kids, but the situation that I have, when I go to see my grandchildren, I can't afford it because I don't have an income to buy them something. I have to go there empty-handed all the time. This is humiliating for me," he said through tears.
Mr. Pourshafiey's statement of claim says his experience with TD started in 2009, when the bank encouraged him to transfer all of his banking services, including the business account for his company, to the institution.
In a letter to Mr. Pourshafiey on Oct. 1, 2012, a TD representative said that after reviewing its customer relationships, the bank "can no longer continue to support your current accounts and/or services."
Mr. Pourshafiey's lawyer, Alan Stein, said his client has never received any written reasons for the closing of his accounts, even after repeated inquiries. However, he said a lawyer who represented Mr. Pourshafiey in a previous court action was verbally told why the accounts were closed.
"It was only when my client's former lawyer instituted proceedings that suddenly they [TD] raised this issue – the fact that, because of the federal government guidelines in regards to dealing with Iranians who were carrying on business in Montreal and Iran … they decided to close his accounts," Mr. Stein said.
TD was making national headlines at the time after some Iranian-Canadians complained their accounts had also been frozen or closed under the sanctions against Iran. Mr. Stein said he thinks Mr. Pourshafiey is the only Iranian-Canadian to sue TD for closing his bank accounts since the bank's response to the sanctions in 2012. His client is seeking $425,000, which includes $275,000 for loss of business and $150,000 for stress, legal fees and punitive damages. He is also demanding TD reinstate his banking services, including his business account and mortgage.
A five-day court hearing in the case started on Dec. 5 in Montreal. Mr. Stein expects a decision will be made in the months come.