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The Queen’s Finance Association (QFA) hosted RBC’s CEO at Grant Hall on Nov. 5. Outside the event, a small group of protesters from Kingston Youth and Climate Action voiced their concerns with RBC’s large-scale financing of fossil fuels.
“We’re here today as part of an international move to shed light on the biggest banks and insurance companies funding fossil fuels worldwide,” Emily Červenka, MSc ’22 and one of the protestors, said in an interview with The Journal.
“RBC is Canada’s #1 funder of fossil fuels and they rank fifth in the world. They are key players in the threat to Indigenous lands in Canada.”
Červenka pointed to the bank’s recent investment in the Coastal Gaslink (CGL) pipeline being built “without the free prior informed consent of five Wet’suwet’en clans”.
“RBC is directly oppressing Indigenous people and disregarding their rights. RBC is funding fossil fuel expansion and global warming and the climate crisis at a time where we have to be divesting and going net-zero, if not totally zero.”
READ MORE: Students walk out in support of Wet’suwet’en
Prior to the start of ‘Road to CEO’, The Journal caught up with RBC CEO David McKay. When asked about climate action as well as reconciliation, McKay said RBC is “very supportive, obviously”.
“We have a defined program and commitment for Canadian Indigenous reconciliation. We can’t move forward as a country without it, and as we move to a new climate agenda, a new energy agenda, a new economic scenario, it’s in partnership with our Indigenous communities,” he said.
“I’m as horrified as anybody to understand and learn more about the injustices under our residential school system […] the best way to make amends for that is to build a better and more inclusive future together.”
On whether RBC’s investments in the CGL pipeline conflict with these values, McKay said “not at all.”
“[The pipeline] was approved by all 40 nations […] while there is only one dispute, it’s between the elders of one nation and the elected officials. So it has prior informed consent and approval under Canadian law,” McKay said.
“It’s a very valid infrastructure play under all Canadian standards, including Indigenous standards.”
McKay was “disappointed” in Canadians protesting against the project without, as he put it, understanding there was prior informed consent by 40 nations for the CGL pipeline.
When asked if he had a message for the protestors just outside his event, McKay recommended they “get informed”.
“I don’t think those protestors recognize that we’re on a journey of transition and that we don’t have a plan to move off fossil fuels yet but we will have a plan […] fossil fuels have a role to play in the short-term.”
In response to McKay’s call, Červenka said “if he says people need to get informed then I wholeheartedly agree.”
Červenka added RBC has “a lot of greenwashing initiatives to make their bank look more responsible” and warned this can shield the damage being done by RBC from the public eye.
At the top of the event, McKay briefly referred to RBC’s climate action, reiterating the importance of a gradual transition to renewable energy. The moderated Q&A session at the end of McKay’s speaking event saw zero questions approved on RBC’s investments in the CGL pipeline or on climate action in general.
“We’re just trying to bring attention to [RBC’s inaction on climate change] and really call on RBC to invest their money in renewable energy projects instead,” Samantha Lin, member of Youth and Climate Action and ArtSci ’25, said in an interview with The Journal.
Lin, one of the organizers of the protest, hopes more students will become aware of RBC’s lack of climate action.
“Our ideal would be for RBC to take notice of what’s happening. Not only us, but many, many people across the country have also been doing similar actions and really calling on RBC to divest from fossil fuels and start making big investments in renewable energy—to really protect our futures instead of continuing to disrespect Indigenous rights and polluting the earth.”
With files from Rida Chaudry.
This story is developing and will be updated with more information.
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