Foundations, associations and aid groups belonging to Muslims in Canada came to a stalemate with the authorities given to banks under Canadian financial laws that initially aimed to prevent money laundering and financing terror groups, Anadolu News Agency reports.
Account closure decisions taken only by bank administrations without a court order negatively affect the Muslim organisations’ global humanitarian aid efforts.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, representatives of Muslim foundations and organisations voiced their concern over the excessive authority granted to banks and believe they are subjected to extrajudicial executions.
A detailed report titled “The Untold Story of ‘De-banking’ in Canada’s Muslim Community” by Steven Zhou from the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) revealed the way numerous Muslim organisations’ bank accounts were closed and embargoed and they experienced difficult times.
Zhou, who is also a journalist, told Anadolu Agency that five of the country’s leading banks closed the accounts of many organisations.
Saying that Canadian banks have the right to close suspected accounts, Zhou noted that the legal regulations made in recent years had given banks some excessive powers without a court order and without giving the other party the right to defend themselves.
“There has to be a lot more research done into this, but primarily, our country, Canada, has gotten more serious about stopping and preventing criminal money laundering using Canadian banks. So there have been laws passed to address anti-money laundering issues,” he said.
Emphasizing that all Canadian banks “have to be very serious about whether or not their clients are participating in any kind of illegal activities, such as money laundering”, Zhou said the banks must take this “very seriously because they have to comply with the new, strong anti-money laundering legislation and laws.”
“Often, that means the Muslim organisations get more scrutiny. They’re the clients of these banks. And if, let’s say, a Muslim humanitarian organisation in Canada does relief work in Syria, where there are a lot of bad entities and terrorist groups in that country, then they’re going to get more attention from the bank, where they keep their money,” he added.
Zhou stressed that Muslim institutions in Canada are under close surveillance and that they are subjected to great injustices.
Expressing that the perception of Muslim organisations following 9/11 continues to haunt Muslim Canadians everywhere, Zhou stated that many Canadian Muslims were subjected to unfair treatment by security agencies.
He urged Canadian financial institutions to “be aware that their actions, decisions and agendas are not biased towards Muslims.”
According to Zhou’s report, the aid sent by Canadian Muslim NGOs to the communities experiencing a humanitarian crisis in the world, the majority of which are located in the Muslim countries, was adversely affected due to the fact that some groups in these regions are on the Canadian Terrorist Organisations List.
Citing an incident in 2019 related to a “major Canada-based Muslim global relief organisation” without disclosing its name, the report said “one of the organisation’s managers in Pakistan” got accused by authorities there of using corporate funds to help terrorists.
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“The manager and his employers vehemently denied the charges and was acquitted in a Pakistani anti-terrorism court a year later,” wrote the report while adding that “Whether the organisation or their manager in Pakistan was guilty didn’t seem to factor into the decision. As with all these incidents of severing business ties, the banks and other financial services can simply decide to pull out whenever they want, with or without explanation.”
For his part, a leading figure in the Canadian Muslim community, Sheikh Alaa Elsayed, describes the incidents as “disheartening because it’s obviously racial profiling.”
“We don’t hear about any of these to any other organisations or any other religions for that matter,” Elsayed said, as he urged the Canadian government on the issue.
“The keep here all the time is that Canada is a mosaic, not a melting pot. So we are made of different genes, which makes us very unique indeed,” he said.
Saying that “it’s a sign of hypocrisy and double standard,” Elsayed said he has “worked with quite a few of them (the NGOs) and I know that they go to the right channels. And even if some mistakes were made in the past, nobody should be actually penalised for something that was done unintentionally in the past.”
“But it is, unfortunately, a way that can actually restrict the funds for Muslim aid, to be able to be used as an excuse and it’s obviously again, hopelessly naive to think that we’re not aware of what you’re doing (referring to the Canadian government),” he added.
The report done for the NCCM displays striking finds, including “banks telling mosques in Canada to clean out millions of dollars in reserves within weeks, as well as online fundraising services ceasing to process donations for large Muslim charities with little notice.”
Noting that all NGOs subject to the research are charitable organisations that comply with Canadian law and are registered, the report stated that the directors of these organisations “have never been charged with any crime or have any apparent links to nefarious entities.”
While some banks did not give any justification for account closing orders, others said they could only help by giving them additional time to withdraw funds, the report said.
Without disclosing their names, five major Canadian Muslim organisations, including mosques, community centres and humanitarian groups, shared their internal documents with Zhou “to paint a broader systemic picture of a problem that should alarm community in Canada.”
“The panic, difficulties and damage that results from being dropped and effectively banned by some of Canada’s biggest financial institutions have produced lots of fear and anxiety. And so all these organisations, most of which have shared with me their internal financial and organisational documents, have asked not to be named in this piece,” it added.
Meanwhile, some Muslim organisations that the Anadolu Agency tried to get opinions on the same issue refused the interview request over fears of facing new problems in case their names were published in the news.
Also, the banks at the centre of the incidents did not respond to Anadolu Agency’s request for comment.