Bank of Montreal Confronted on Indigenous Rights

By Brant Ran
Geraldine Thomas-Flurer. Photo by Amanda MacDonald.
Geraldine Thomas-Flurer

CEO Bill Downe’s unmistakable message at today’s Shareholder Meeting was that Bank of Montreal has changed. During his 10 minute speech, “change” showed up 14 times! The “world has changed” he declared. “Embrace change.” “If there’s one thing I hope you take away from these remarks,” he concluded, “it’s that BMO is changing.” I half expected him to break into his best David Bowie: “Ch Ch Ch Ch Ch CHANGE-ES!!

Geraldine Thomas-Flurer had a very different message. She came to the meeting representing the Yinka Dene alliance, a union of five First Nations of British Columbia resisting a $5.5 billion tar sands oil pipeline proposed to run directly through their traditional territory, threatening salmon runs that have defined her community for centuries. From Geraldine’s perspective, BMO looked as culpable today as it did in 2007, when the bank underwrote $286 million of credit to Enbridge, the company seeking to build the pipeline. (Check back soon for a link to her  speech to shareholders and those of Ann Ketlo and Jasmine Thomas, also from the Yinka Dene Alliance).

In fact a review of BMO’s public disclosures shows that the bank’s Indigenous rights standards are essentially the same today as they were when the bank was founded in 1817—non-existent.

So while BMO may be changing in some ways, it is falling behind in terms of its handling of Indigenous rights. Both TD Bank and Royal Bank of Canada have policies in place that affirm the right of First Nations to free, prior, informed consent over the use of their traditional lands and resources. It’s time BMO made the change to do the same.

Thanks to everyone who turned out to support the Yinka Dene, more than 50 of you by our count.  And thanks to Andrea MacDonald for her great photos of the rally.