Some snow had fallen overnight in Vancouver, and though the streets were clear by morning the chill of it remained, penetrating painfully into hands and feet. A group of us were standing opposite the monolithic Vancouver Convention Center, the faux white sail roof standing as a striking architectural tribute to the power of wind and wave… fitting, considering the morning’s mission to protest Canada’s top financier of oil, gas, and coal: Royal Bank of Canada (RBC).

This was the morning of RBC’s 2009 annual general meeting (AGM). The protest, organized by Rainforest Action Network, carries forward a campaign introduced in the last satisfACTION blog and supported by Dogwood, whereby the global warming contribution of Canada’s big banks are laid bare.

We greeted people with placards calling out RBC’s role as #1 financier of Alberta’s tar sands, an industry that’s been called “the most destructive project on earth.”

We marched through the convention centre itself, chanting: “RBC, Get Out of the Tar Sands”, “Climate Friendly Bankers Don’t FundTankers”, and “Finance the Future, Not Fossil Fuels”.

Glossy flyers that put a satirical spin on RBC’s Annual Report were distributed both inside and outside the meeting.

And through it all an RBC mascot (Arbie) drunkenly stammered around the premises, covered in tarry stains, ‘having lost all his money in the risky business of financing the tar sands’.

We drew more than our fair share of bewildered and openly condescending looks from passersby and neighbouring restaurant patrons.  But we also drew gestures and comments of appreciation; from construction workers, from people in suits, from security guards who ushered us off private property with a twinkle in their eye.

Inside the meeting LionelLevine, a resident of Fort Chipewyan, and Melina Laboucan-Massimo from the Lubicon Lake Cree Nation addressed the assembled executives, board members, and investors from the floor. Lionel spoke from a place of somber experience in the heart of the tar sands industry, where deformed fish and relatives in coffins make for a life of anxiety and sadness.

Melina spoke from the growing edge, where TransCanada pipelines is proposing to build a gas pipeline to feed the industry. “If RBC is serious about supporting clean water … why are they financing projects that are contaminating the lakes and rivers around my community?” she asked.

The action was covered in the following day’s Vancouver Sun and Financial Post.

Royal Bank is #1…Financier of Fossil Fuels

RBC is Canada’s largest bank, and is estimated to be the top financier to Canada’s oil, gas, and coal industry, including Alberta’s tar sands, and the #2 financier to Enbridge Inc, the company hoping to bring oil tankers to BC’s north coast. From 2004 to 2007 Enbridge has financed an estimated $486 million in loans, equity offerings, and bond underwritings to the company (compiled from this Rainforest Action Network report).

RBC has also recently launched a new public relations campaign to position the company as champions of water conservation and protection (Royal Bank is blue, water is blue…what PR match could be better?). The concept is laudable, and part of good corporate citizenship; but the reality is that RBC’s financing activities do more harm to water than their meagre donations and programs will do good.

It may be the case, as RBC’s CEO Gordon Nixon proclaims, that “water is the problem of the ages”…but a single oil spill from an RBC-financed tar sands pipeline or tanker could make that problem of the ages much, much worse.

What You Can Do Today

Dogwood’s involvement in this campaign is associated with our efforts to secure a ban on oil tankers through BC’s north coast. The proposal of Enbridge Inc. to bring tar sands tankers to northern BC can only succeed if the company secures adequate project financing from big banks. Our goal is to raise awareness of the financing decisions that could support tanker traffic, at this time specifically targeting Royal Bank. Would you be interested in organizing a demonstration in your community? Contact Eric at

The satisfACTION blog is about activism in BC – themes, theories, and stories of how people are working together for more perfect communities . Ever felt a need to change things, but don’t know where to start?  I’ll showcase opportunities for personally satisfying and meaningful actions. Read the intro to the blog here.