In Toronto today, RAN appealed directly to Janet Nixon – the wife of Royal Bank of Canada’s CEO, Gordon Nixon – to help us end her husband’s company’s massive bankrolling of the Alberta tar sands.
During rush-hour commute this morning, two Indigenous Canadian women – RAN’s own Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, and Heather Milton-Lightening – scaled flagpoles in front of the main entrance of Royal Bank of Canada’s (RBC’s) headquarters in Toronto, dropping a banner reading “Please Help Us Mrs. Nixon.com”. On the streets below, they were joined by dozens of Toronto RAN supporters, spreading the same message to every RBC employee they could talk to: an appeal to Mrs. Janet Nixon, the wife of RBC CEO Gordon Nixon, to lend her strong and influential voice to those fighting to protect Canada’s clean water and respect Indigenous rights by pushing RBC to phase out its investments in Alberta tar sands projects. They handed out flyers, held banners, and even circled the building on bikes with “Please Help Us Mrs. Nixon.com” flags.
And at the same time as the banner was being unfurled, RAN supporters and allies began emailing a video to key RBC executives – in which RAN’s Michael Brune appeals to Mrs. Nixon to help RBC regain its environmental leadership by withdrawing its funding for the tar sands. Over 3,000 people sent over 12,000 emails to these top RBC execs. (If you haven’t participated in this online action yet, it’s not too late! Click here to view the video and email it to RBC executives.)
You can also view the video on YouTube (be sure to go to PleaseHelpUsMrsNixon.com and take action when you’re done watching):
The banner was up for about two hours, and a large crowd of people gathered to watch. (I heard a lot of remarks like “hey, that banner says ‘Please Help Us Mrs. Nixon’ like all those posters I’ve seen all over town”.) Several RBC public relations executives also joined us, and expressed their displeasure with what we were doing (“we support the right to public protest, but we are also proud of our environmental record”). In the end, the police let the two valiant climbers go without making any arrests; the climbers were given citations.
This action is also the culmination of a month-long guerrilla advertising campaign by RAN Toronto, who have covered the city with hundreds of posters bearing the message “Please Help Us Mrs. Nixon” – leaving people in Toronto wondering what these posters are all about. (But in case Janet Nixon herself was unsure who she was being asked to help, we had a letter from RAN delivered to her home address yesterday.)
While Janet Nixon is the wife of RBC’s CEO, we are appealing her today because she is also a committed environmentalist, and has been instrumental in shaping RBC’s Blue Water Campaign. But while pledging $50 million to help fight water pollution over the next ten years, RBC has served as the ATM for the the dirty tar sands, loaning $2.3 billion to tar sands companies in the last two years alone.
Tar sands oil extraction has been called ‘the most destructive project on Earth,’ and its expansion is devastating the regional environment, contaminating Canada’s precious water supply, endangering wildlife, threatening First Nations’ health and preventing Canada from meeting its climate commitments. Indigenous First Nations communities downstream have experienced polluted water, water reductions in rivers and aquifers, increased cancer, and declines in wildlife population that threaten to destroy their traditional ways of life.
RBC has a critical role to play in investing in Canada’s clean energy future. RBC must require clients to provide evidence of free, prior and informed consent from First Nations on projects affecting their communities, as the first step of a phase-out of financing and advisory services to all tar sands projects which have adverse impacts on the environment. The bank must develop an action plan to reduce ‘financed emissions’ related to all lending activities that impact the climate.
Tar Sands extraction and processing is one of the greatest social and ecological injustices of our time. Unless they’re stopped by grassroots pressure, oil companies will transform a boreal forest the size of Florida into an industrial sacrifice zone – complete with lakes full of toxic waste that are so big that you can see them from outer space.
We know that Mrs. Nixon cares deeply about clean water, and so we’re appealing directly to her to help us push RBC to make a meaningful commitment to clean water, by ending its financing of the tar sands – rather than giving fistfuls of cash to Big Oil’s dirtiest project ever, while donating its spare change to clean water projects.
Mrs. Nixon, will you help us? (And Mr. Nixon: if you want to help us stop the tar sands too, there’s no need to wait for your wife to take the lead.)