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Confusion over sanctions keeps Iran aid money in Canada
The North Shore Persian community is still looking for ways to help people in Iran after two deadly earthquakes hit East Azerbaijan province last week, killing 306 people and injuring another 3,000.
But Canadian sanctions against Iran, coupled with the fear aid might not successfully reach the area, have left many confused about what to do.
“A lot people want to donate money but aren’t sure exactly how to do it and are scared what may happen if they do,” Nassreen Filsoof, president of the North Shore-based Canadian Iranian Foundation, told The Outlook.
Money desperately needs to get to the survivors of twin earthquakes that hit the towns of Ahar, Haris and Varzaqan in a region along the borders of Azerbaijan and Armenia on Aug. 11, she says, which reportedly affected 300,000 people by leveling villages and heavily damaging roads.
The foundation has set up a fund at VanCity, raising around $3,500 already, but confusion over how to send money to Iran has kept the funds in Canada.
Canadian sanctions against Iran were heightened in November 2011 in response to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s assessment of the country’s nuclear program. Under the sanctions, Canadians are forbidden from providing money to anyone in Iran or for the benefit of Iran.
But financial donations can still be sent to Iran for humanitarian reasons, said Canada’s department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in a press release on Aug. 21. Up to $40,000 can be sent in a transaction to family members in Iran, provided that it is for non-commercial use.
Another exemption for “activity that has as its purpose the safeguarding of human life, disaster relief, or the proving of medicine or medical supplies” can also be used to help victims of the earthquake. In both cases, it is up to the person sending the money to prove to the financial institution it is for non-commercial use and for disaster relief.
“[The exemptions] make our work much easier. We can send the money directly to Iran ourselves,” says Filsoof.
Donations will likely go through the Red Cross, says Filsoof, adding that many people are hesitant to help because they feel money raised for the survivors of a 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran — which killed 26,000 people and injured 30,000 — wasn’t used properly after it left the Canadian Red Cross’s hands.
Helping people in Iran has been difficult because of the adverse relations between the Canadian and Iranian governments, said West Vancouver MP John Weston, who is also the government liaison to the Persian community.
“We don’t have the freedom to respond in the way we responded to the earthquake in Haiti, and the way we Canadians respond to disasters in other countries, because of the tension between the governments,” he told The Outlook.
“[Sanctions] are an uncomfortable and awkward tool, but they are essential as an alternative to military action,” said Weston, adding the Canadian government has a problem with the Iranian government, not its people.
Even with strict restrictions on sending money, Weston said the sanctions will not stand in the way of helping victims of the earthquake.
“We have no quarrel with Iranian people, and we’ll be there shoulder-to-shoulder to work with them and help them in their time of need. It’s the government of Iran which Canadians have a quarrel and we hope that will not impact Canadians’ efforts to help afflicted people in Iran at this difficult time.”
The Canadian Iranian Foundation’s goal of raising $20,000 will be difficult, said Filsoof, but it could easily be met if all Iranian-Canadians on the North Shore donated.
“We have many thousands of Iranians on the North Shore. If each person gave only $5 or $10, that would be a huge amount.”
And any amount really does help, said Filsoof, mentioning she recently talked to a man who said he didn’t have much money, but wanted to donate $6, a dollar for each person in his family.
The Canadian Iranian Foundation is coming up with other ways to boost their donations, including hosting the Shanbehzadeh Ensemble at Centennial Theatre on Sept. 22. All proceeds of the Iranian folk band performance, which will feature traditional music from the Person Gulf, will go towards victims of the earthquake.
Donations are being accepted at VanCity bank (ask for the Canadian Iranian Foundation’s account 53470) or at the foundation’s office at 145 West 1 St., North Vancouver.