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Canadian Muslims Dollar Accounts Frozen

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    Stand up to U.S. on banking restrictions, Muslim groups say DON MACDONALD The Gazette
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 6, 2007
      Stand up to U.S. on banking restrictions, Muslim groups say
      The Gazette

      Prime Minister Stephen Harper should stand up to the U.S. government
      and make it stop pressuring Canadian banks into denying U.S. dollar
      accounts to customers of certain nationalities, Muslim groups said

      The groups decried as discriminatory a Royal Bank decision to deny
      U.S. dollar accounts to citizens of six sanctioned countries -
      including Iraq, Iran and Sudan - even if those customers also hold
      Canadian citizenship.

      Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said that
      the Royal Bank and other banks should refuse to comply with U.S.
      regulations, and he called on the prime minister to fight Washington
      for infringing on Canadian sovereignty.

      "It's unacceptable," he said in a telephone interview from Waterloo, Ont.

      "It seems the Americans are blackmailing Canadian banks to follow
      their policy.

      "We will ask the prime minister to intervene to protect Canadian
      citizens, immigrants and visa holders from intimidation by Americans."

      Elmasry added that the Royal Bank should "not succumb to Americans
      dictating what we can and cannot do in Canada."

      But Royal Bank spokesperson David Moorcroft said the bank has no
      choice but to comply with U.S. government regulations aimed at
      fighting terrorism financing
      and money laundering and at enforcing sanctions.

      The rules apply to citizens and/or residents of Iran, Iraq, Sudan,
      Cuba, North Korea and Myanmar who want to use

      U.S. dollar chequing accounts. The same rules apply to banks around
      the world, Moorcroft said.

      He said cheques drawn on U.S. dollar accounts for transactions outside
      Canada are processed in the United States and therefore must comply
      with that country's laws.

      "Clients open (accounts) in U.S. dollars primarily to make payments
      into the U.S. or in other countries that will be processed through the
      U.S.," Moorcroft said.

      "If you want to use their currency, in their country, through their
      clearing-and-payment system, they want you to obey their rules."

      Moorcroft said the United States has been stepping up its enforcement
      of the long-standing rules over the past year and any bank that
      doesn't comply faces fines and even the loss of access to the U.S.
      payments system. A pair of European banks have already been assessed
      fines running into the millions, he said.

      "If we didn't apply this policy properly, we could lose the right to
      provide this service to over 600,000 people."

      Moorcroft said a couple of dozen people have been denied U.S. dollar
      accounts while a small number of clients have had their accounts taken

      Several other banks take a different view on the issue. Spokespersons
      for the TD Bank, the Bank of Montreal and the Bank of Nova Scotia said
      they don't deny U.S. dollar accounts to citizens of countries on the
      list as long as they meet normal requirements.

      A National Bank spokesperson said the bank does comply with the U.S.
      regulations, although it has never had occasion to refuse an account
      to a client for that reason.

      Salam Elmenyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal, called
      the enforcement of U.S. regulations in Canada discriminatory, racist
      and a denial of the presumption of innocence.

      "Take an Iranian, for example, who is a good Canadian citizen or
      landed immigrant, why would he be prevented from having an account?"
      Elmenyawi asked.

      "How can this advance any cause?

      "How can another country come to interfere with us and say: 'I will
      force you to act against your constitution and I will force you to
      discriminate in such a way'?"

      He said banks enforcing the rules should reverse their policy and the
      federal government should get involved to "ensure our institutions
      aren't bullied."

      But a spokesperson for the federal Finance Department said wire
      transfers, cheques and drafts drawn on U.S dollar accounts pass
      through U.S. institutions to be processed and are subject to U.S. law.

      "At the end of the day, the Canadian government does not have the
      legislative authority to change U.S. law," said Eric Richer, a
      spokesperson for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. "It's up to the
      Canadian banks to determine how to comply with U.S. law with respect
      to their U.S. dollar accounts."

      Richer declined to comment on the possibility of a diplomatic effort
      to get the rules changed.

      dmacdonald @ thegazette.canwest.com



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