TORONTO—More than 150 people gathered outside the RBC Annual General Shareholder Meeting today to protest the bank’s leading role in funding the contentious Alberta tar sands. People concerned with the impact of tar sands projects on First Nations, water quality and the climate came from every corner of Canada to ensure that the bank heard the message: ‘stop bankrolling the tar sands.’
Outside the shareholder meeting school children, bank customers of every age, First Nations community representatives and leading environmental groups rallied with brightly colored signs and chants. Inside the shareholder meeting, Chief Al Lameman of Beaver Lake Cree Nation of Alberta, Vice Chief Terry Teegee of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council of BC, and Hereditary Chief Toghestiy (Warner Naziel) of the Wet'suwe'ten First Nation of BC addressed RBC CEO Gordon Nixon directly about the way tar sands extraction projects have jeopardized their health and their rights.
“RBC has a decision to make. They can continue to align themselves with the tar sands, a project that is single-handedly compromising the climate, drinking water and the health of First Nations,” said Brant Olson of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which has been running a campaign to clean up RBC since its shareholder meeting last year. “Or they can lead Canada’s economy toward clean energy and socially responsible development.”
RBC is clearly feeling the public pressure over their tar sands financing. Recently, the bank convened a high-level meeting with more than a dozen international banks for a “day of learning” about the reputational risks associated with the tar sands. In addition, according to information the bank provided to RAN during a February meeting in San Francisco, RBC is currently evaluating new lending criteria that would apply to the oil and gas sector, in particular to the tar sands. However, the bank has been reticent to include Free, Prior and Informed Consent in its policy, which would ensure that First Nations communities are respected in lending practices.
“RBC’s significant financial relationship with companies pursuing tar sands development activities within our traditional territory and without consent warrants close attention,” said Chief Al Lameman of Beaver Lake First Nation. “RBC should update their policies to include a recognition of Free, Prior and Informed consent for Indigenous communities; this globally recognized concept was adopted by TD Bank Financial Group in 2007 and is endorsed by Indigenous communities across the political spectrum.”
Internationally, tar sands financing is gaining tremendous negative attention. An increasingly vocal group of shareholders and environmentalists turned last month’s BP, Shell and Royal Bank of Scotland annual meetings into a referendum on the oil extraction projects.
"It is unacceptable that RBC is a major financier of the Alberta tar sands, one of the most environmentally destructive projects in the world," said Maryam Adrangi, a member of Rainforest Action Network Toronto and a lead organizer of today’s rally. “We will not stop until RBC adopts a socially responsible banking policy that includes respect for Indigenous rights and the phasing out financing for dirty fossil fuels like the tar sands.”
According to Bloomberg, since 2007, RBC has backed $16.9 billion in loans to companies operating in the tar sands and has earned more than $132 million in underwriting fees. As a result, RBC has enabled the production of the world’s dirtiest oil. Oil extraction from the tar sands generates three times the CO2 emissions as conventionally extracted oil, and will soon make Canada the biggest contributor to global warming.
Mining oil from tar sands requires churning up huge tracts of ancient boreal forest and polluting so much clean water with poisonous chemicals that the resulting waste ponds can be seen from outer space. The health impacts to Alberta’s First Nation communities are severe, with cancer rates up in some communities as much as 400 times its usual frequency. In addition, communities living near oil refineries face increased air and water pollution from tar sands oil, which contains 11 times more sulfur and nickel and five times more lead than conventional oil.
The Rainforest Action Network campaign to Clean Up RBC has been demanding that RBC take responsibility for its lending in the tar sands by meeting basic standards set by other leading banks on Indigenous rights, water and habitat impacts, and climate change.
For more information on RBC and the tar sands, visit: http://understory.ran.org/tag/rbc/
To see how RBC stacks up to other banks on financing in the tar sands see: http://understory.ran.org/2010/01/31/banks-ranked-and-spanked-on-tar-sands/
Rainforest Action Network runs hard-hitting campaigns to break North America’s fossil fuels addiction, protect endangered forests and Indigenous rights, and stop destructive investments around the world through education, grassroots organizing, and non-violent direct action. For more information, please visit: www.ran.org