RBC – Get out of the Tar Sands!!!

By Becky Ran

RBC is Canada’s largest bank and a premier sponsor of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. They’re also Canada’s largest financier of the Alberta Tar Sands – one of the most environmentally destructive projects on earth.

Today in Vancouver was RBC’s annual general meeting for shareholders, the one time when the officers of the company are obliged to meet shareholders face-to-face and to answer questions about their activities. We were there to meet ’em on both coasts.

We sent three reps into the meeting. Our own Brant Olson, the director of our Clean-up RBC Campaign and two awesome activists from First Nations communities that are being directly affected by the tar sands developments. Below are written versions of the statements they gave in front of shareholders.

Statement of Brant Olson, Rainforest Action Network

My name is Brant Olson.  I am a recent RBC shareholder and am also here today representing Rainforest Action Network.  RAN has been meeting with RBC for more than four years on various environmental performance issues, and I want to start by recognizing the progress that our collaboration with RBC has achieved.

The carbon offsets announced at the beginning of Mr. O’Brian’s remarks are just one example of how we have seen RBC move to adopt more environmentally responsible practices.  Another significant development worth noting is RBC’s progress toward adopting a more responsible paper purchasing policy including reducing paper use while the use of paper certified to the high standards of the Forest Stewardship Council. Finally, RBC’s recently announced Blue Water Project demonstrates that the bank is taking seriously its commitment to environmental philanthropy.

But the case we have made to RBC staff, and that we will make again today, is that these initiatives are a mere drop in the bucket compared to the power and influence of the bank to shape global markets toward ecological and social accountability.

I must also thank RBC staff for the openness and spirit of healthy dialogue that I have seen consistently demonstrated by the bank. I thank you for your willingness to allow us to distribute literature prior to the meeting that many in the room have now seen. The relationship we have built with RBC staff during our four-year dialogue has also benefited from a high level of transparency and openness. In my personal experience, and in the experience of others in my organization Sandra Odendal and Shari Austin have shown a commendable capacity for frank and honest dialogue.

It is in this spirit of openness that we ask you to consider the lessons of the current economic downturn in the context of current social and ecological challenges currently facing RBC.

Our view is that the same short-sighted, myopic business strategies that caused the current crisis in global financial markets are producing a parallel crisis in social and ecological terms. When banks chase short term profits, they risk overreaching the long range carrying capacity of the planet. Today, you’ll hear two examples of how RBC is doing just that.

First is Lionel Lepine from Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, a Northern Alberta community downstream from Tarsands projects financed by RBC that a Health Alberta study recently showed to be experiencing elevated levels of cancer.

Melina Laboucan-Massimo is from the Lubicon Lake First Nation—a Northern Alberta community fighting development of a tarsands pipeline financed by RBC.

I appreciated your comments, Mr. Nixon, about finding solutions, and that’s what we’re promoting today.  We’re asking RBC to meet and beat the best practices set by your competitors.

First, we’re asking RBC to follow the lead of Toronto Dominon bank by adopting a policy that recognizes the rights of indigenous communities to free, prior and informed consent  to industrial projects affecting their traditional territory.

Second, we ask that RBC adopt a policy related to financing in the tar sands now in place at Dexia Bank—a bank with which RBC currently has a significant joint venture.  This includes performance based due diligence procedures that would phase out client relationships with tar sands operators that are unable or unwilling to reverse adverse impacts on water quality and regional ecology.

Third, we’re asking RBC to take a leadership role on fighting climate change by committing to measure and reduce its financed emissions over time.  Accounting for CO2 embedded in RBC’s client portfolio and reducing the bank’s exposure to these emissions over time would go a long way toward preparing the bank for the inherent risks related to current and future demands posed by a changing climate.

Thank you.

Statement of Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Lubicon Cree First Nation.

Dear fellow shareholders,

I come from a community where the very issue of having access to water is an issue. To this day, my community still does not having running water.  From my community’s traditional territory, 13 billion dollars have been made in profit despite the fact that my community of Lubicon Lake receives no compensation or royalties. Instead what we have received is contaminated water in nearby lakes, higher rates of cancer and still to this day no running water.

With RBC’s declaration of supporting a ‘Blue Water initiative’ as a way to help safe guard water and its claims to support communities in raising awareness towards issues regarding water. I pose the question: where will this support be seen in my community? The very projects that RBC has financed have been responsible for contaminating our lakes and rivers.

With RBC’s claim to reduce your environmental footprint and promote environmentally responsible activities, it is hard for me to understand why then would RBC finance such destructive projects such as the tar sands as well as the building of the North Central Corridor pipeline that is will extend into our territory again in a intrusive path towards to tar sands.

In regards to conventional oil and logging taking place on our traditional territory, we are facing the onset of a new development by TransCanada pipeline called the North Corridor Pipeline, which is partially being financed by RBC.

The United Nations has condemned the treatment of my family and community on four different occasions. Now, not only is the government not respecting existing treaty rights in Alberta for communities that are in the dealing of tar sands development, but the financing of RBC in the construction of the NCC pipeline directly infringes upon our inherent rights as Indigenous peoples.

This pipeline is set to cross through the traditional territory of my family and community which will continue to wreak havoc on the land and displace even more wildlife. We already have logging and conventional oil exploitation taking place on our territory, how much more can the land or our people handle? The UN Human Rights commission as well as many national and international organizations have already condemned the situation in my community, this is just another statement that there are definite and valid concerns that need to be addressed in my community and it is up to RBC and fellow investors to really question the types of projects they put their shareholders’ money into.

Statement of Lionel Lepine, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation:

My name is Lionel Lepine and I am a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. I live downstream from what has been dubbed as the most destructive project on the planet in a town called Fort Chipewyan.

The elders from my community have shared knowledge with me in terms of the destruction to the environment from the developments happening south of us. They saw the changes in the last 30-40 years and it is only now being recognized. With RBC financing the tar sand industry, they are really financing the death of our land, air, water, our traditional way of life and also assisting in cultural genocide.

There have been numerous reports released acknowledging the fact that our water has been contaminated with cancer causing agents.
Water, being the life line of this planet, is crucial to us to sustain our traditional way of living. My friend, 28 years old, hunted, fished, and trapped on our traditional territory and also worked at one of the tar sand plants. He was later diagnosed with a cancer that ultimately took his life. Cancer has since become a normal topic of discussion in our town; not so long ago, it was rare to hear of anyone having cancer or any other unexplained sicknesses. Today I wonder how many more of my friends, that are my age, I will be bringing back home in a casket that I believe shouldn’t be there at all.

Our children are now aware of the problem that exists in our community. This past January, a group of kids aged 10-12 took matters into their own hands and did a march down the streets of Fort Chipewyan in -32c weather on a Friday afternoon after school.

During this march the children chanted “enough is enough, enough is enough” “stop the pollution, stop the pollution” over and over until they got to their destination. Our children know, unwillingly, that this is a slow form of assassination amongst our people and this has to stop. I would like to invite Gordon Nixon to come to Fort Chipewyan and visit the people who live there. He will see the faces of the people suffering and the ones still alive today with cancer. Then he should reconsider financing the tar sand industry and start looking at alternative resources instead of relying on fossil fuels. As far as I’m concerned, the day for fossil fuel reliance is over. Thanks.