On March 3rd, 140 people gathered outside the RBC Annual Share Holders' meeting to protest the company's role in financing the Alberta the tar sands. They called it “the biggest protest against the tar sand in Toronto so far”. The protest is part of a rising ground swell of opposition to the tar sands across Canada and around the world. Indigenous leaders from Northern communities down stream from the extraction attended the meeting to express their grievances, before they addressed the crowd outside.
"I pleaded with the Board of Directors, the CEO and the Shareholders, to pay attention to their investments and lending. It's destroying our planet, its destroying us as human beings." said Warner Naziel hereditary Chief from the Wet'suwet'en First Nation. On lookers with placards and banners cheered on as he told them his community was going to resist the tar sands and the pipelines that come with them.
The day long meeting of RBC Shareholders, Canada's largest bank, took place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, on the edge of Toronto's financial district. The protesters say that while all the major banks in Canada and many others from around the world have been financing the tar sands, they have specifically targeted RBC because it is the largest financier of tar sand extraction.
"These business people in suits are financing the destruction in Alberta." Said Eriel Deranger a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, and a member of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), the group that organized the protest, "People's lives are being broken, literally and figuratively. One way is that families are being fragmented as people leave home to find work. Another way is to through illness, Sickness, cancer and death."
“RAN worked to get the message from communities in Northern Alberta.” She listed three major demands of those communities: free prior and informed consent before projects are under taken that will effect indigenous communities, a moratorium on extraction and an end to exploitation.
Five members of indigenous communities from Northern Alberta attended the share holders meeting and spoke to the delegates. We were successful at making the tar sands a major issue at the share holders meeting said a RAN spokesperson.
In the afternoon a loud and boisterous rally was held across the street from the Metro Toronto Convention Center. Several speeches were made, and a samba band played music. The crowd then marched through the streets chanting. They made their way to two nearby RBC branches.
This large rally was only the most visible part of what took place that day. Starting a 7am activists met to hand out flyers to shareholders entering the meeting, and to anyone else who was passing by. They also set up a pirate radio station, holding up a banner with an FM frequency on it, so motorists passing by could hear a broadcast message about why they were protesting RBC and the tar sands.
A member of RBC's communications department, was asked for an interview but he was not able to speak on the issue in time for the article. He did provided some written material to the Toronto Media Co-op on the corporations environmental excellence. “[RBC] is one of the planets greenest companies” said one brochure, another explained that the company had given “$4.6 Million to fresh water initiatives in 2009.”
RAN started their campaign against RBC in 2008. In February 2009, when they protested at last years RBC shareholders meeting, which took place in Vancouver, less than 25 people took part. Since then the campaign has steadily grown.
"It's night and day," said RAN spokesperson Josh Kahn Russell, referring to how the campaign against the tar sands has built momentum over the last year. “It hit a turning point in Copenhagen...the international community's eyes were on climate change and Canada became a pariah state because of the tar sands.”
“Canadians really started to feel we need to do something about the tar sands. RBC is an easy target,” said Deranger, “We don't have to go to Alberta to challenge the people who are destroying the planet, there is an RBC in every corner of Canada.”
RBC was one of the biggest sponsors of the Olympic Games “They were using it to green wash.” she said, “but the Olympic Resistance Network were able to show these connections to the tar sands and there was strong pressure against the tar sands in Vancouver.”
Deranger also said we can expect to see “RAN Toronto” among the groups organizing against the G20 summit which will take place June 26th and 27th, in the same building that the RBC shareholders meeting was held in. “Tar sands issues will certainly be discussed during the summit.”
Warner Naziel invited the crowd to come his community in Northern Alberta for an Environmental Action Camp which will take place from July 12th to 16th, two weeks after the G20 protests. to an the camp and ask them to spread word on the protest. “It is an opportunity for Wet'suwet'en to host our friends and allies, and mobilize to protect all our lands and waters.”
Deranger said that looking forward we can expect to see the movement against the tar sands continue to grow. “There is going to be an even more concerted effort to shutdown the tar sands.”
To View more Photos by Allan Lissner visit: http://allan.lissner.net/rbc-agm-tar-sands-protest