A humanitarian relief organization that lost its charity status two years ago over its alleged support for Hamas said Monday it was suspending operations after the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce won court approval to close its accounts.
The CIBC gave notice in May that it intended to stop providing banking services to the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy — Canada. The Ontario Superior Court of Justice upheld that decision, which went into effect on Monday.
Without a bank, the Toronto-based relief group, which spent $9-million on charitable activities in 2009, said it could no longer transfer money abroad for programs that include the support of orphans in the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon and Sudan.
“IRFAN-Canada is choosing not to accept donations at this time because they are unable to transmit funds to the intended destinations,” the group’s lawyer, Naseer Syed, told the National Post. “Therefore, without donations, they will be forced to suspend their humanitarian relief programs.”
CIBC declined to discuss the matter. “We do not comment on client issues,” said Kevin Dove, head of external communications at the Toronto-based bank, where IRFAN-Canada had held two accounts for a dozen years.
Formed in 1998, IRFAN-Canada was mostly active in the Muslim world but it ran afoul of federal regulators, who revoked its charity status in 2011. The Canada Revenue Agency said an audit had determined the group was an “integral part” of an international fundraising effort that supported Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group.
“Our analysis of the audit information has led the CRA to believe that IRFAN-Canada provides support to Hamas,” the Charities Branch wrote. “Our findings indicate that IRFAN-Canada provided over $14.6-million in resources to operating partners that were run by officials of Hamas, openly supported and provided funding to Hamas, or have been listed by various jurisdictions because of their support for Hamas or other terrorist entities.”
In addition, the CRA said it had found IRFAN-Canada videos at the group’s Mississauga office that “demonize Israel, characterize the Arab-Israeli conflict as a religious war, appeal for all Arab and Muslim nations to join in the struggle against Israel and glorify martyrdom.”
In January, IRFAN-Canada appealed the denial of its charity status to the Federal Court. The case was expected to be heard in the fall. While no longer a registered charity, the group had continued to operate as a non-profit organization.
After CIBC decided to end its banking relationship with IRFAN-Canada, the group appealed in Ontario court, arguing the decision would damage its reputation, cause its donor base to erode and that “demise will come to the organization.” In particular, the group complained it would be unable to wire Canadian currency to the Palestinian Territories. The bank initially gave no explanation but it later explained the decision was related, at least in part, to the concerns raised by the Canada Revenue Agency. The bank gave the group four months’ notice.
On July 5, Justice Beth Allen dismissed the case against CIBC and ordered the relief group to pay the bank $10,000 in legal costs. The group had provided “little or no” support for its claims and CIBC was entitled to terminate a banking relationship on reasonable notice, she wrote.
In a letter to donors, IRFAN-Canada said it had “recently experienced problems with the bank we deal with because of concerns raised by the Canada Revenue Agency” and that it would “not be in a position to process any new donations.”
“This situation is expected to last until our appeal of the CRA decision is heard later this year at the Federal Court of Canada, at which time we hope and believe our case will be resolved successfully.”
Last December, Liberal leader Justice Trudeau was criticized for agreeing to speak an Islamic conference in Toronto that was sponsored by IRFAN-Canada. The relief group eventually withdrew as a “diamond sponsor” of the event.