As part of the Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour (IBPOC) delegation to RBC’s 2023 AGM, I was there as a registered proxy holder. Registered proxy holders who also happened to be white settlers were welcomed into the main conference room.
The IBPOC delegation was never allowed to set foot in the AGM conference room. Instead, we were shunted to another room, our only “attendance” at the AGM watching it unfold on a television screen.
It was pretty dehumanizing and degrading.
Unlike other registered proxy holders, we were not allowed to raise questions in person about RBC’s operations or vote in person on resolutions. RBC’s C-suite — CEO Dave McKay, VP John Stackhouse and managing counsel Martin-Pierre Boulianne — did not have to look us in the eye and answer how their “unwavering determination to progress as a bank that stands for Indigenous inclusion” squares up with financing a fossil gas pipeline that destroyed numerous ancient Wet’suwet’en archeological sites and most recently caused an enormous sediment spill into our sacred headwaters, Wedzin Kwa (Morice River), damaging sensitive salmon spawning grounds. That’s on top of the pipeline’s multiple infractions and stop-work orders from the British Columbia government.
RBC is among the top banks providing the Coastal GasLink project with working capital, including $275 million in project finance, a co-financed $6.5-billion loan, a $40-million corporate loan, and $200 million in co-financed working capital.
Coastal GasLink has never received free, prior and informed consent from Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who stand staunchly opposed to the project as they have from Day 1. The Supreme Court of Canada recognized our people’s sovereignty, which RBC repeatedly ignores and dances around.
At the AGM, Canada’s biggest bank (and the world’s worst fossil bank) chose to replicate structures of colonial racism. Reminiscent of the reserve system, supported by the Indian Act, the colour-coded passes given to us at the AGM created a two-tiered system, labelling us second-rate, so we could be sorted into a separate holding room, stopping us from the right to speak and vote directly like the rest of the shareholders. They claimed the main room was full but if that was the case, why the colour-coded system?
RBC also enlisted the help of the Saskatoon police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to enforce this segregation. The cops came bearing arms and the threat of violence, doing exactly what they were historically created to do: force Indigenous Peoples in Canada to fall in line while our land was stolen and our natural environment destroyed. Trying to make your voice heard while facing men with guns — this is not reconciliation. But it is all too familiar: Wet’suwet’en people face ongoing RCMP harassment and intimidation on our own unceded territory.
I’m not the only person who finds the bank’s actions at its AGM atrocious. Over 2,000 signatories (and counting) of both individuals and organizations including lawyers, doctors, businesses and civil society organizations have signed an open letter demanding a formal acknowledgment of wrongdoing in the exclusion of Indigenous Peoples into a segregated room, an apology and a commitment going forward that RBC will respect Indigenous participation, demonstrated by equitable treatment for Indigenous shareholders and proxy holders, including full participation without segregation.
@RBC’s tactics to silence and cast aside Indigenous Peoples are not new to us, writes @EveSaint8 #ShareholderShowdown #WetsuwetenStrong #DefundCoastalGasLink
RBC’s tactics to silence and cast aside Indigenous Peoples are not new to us. We’ve been fighting structural racism since the inception of this colonial state, long before RBC was a household name.
Unless RBC changes how it does business, people across our unceded and ancestral lands will see through the bank’s veil of PR spin to what it really is — another racist structure that upholds and profits from a colonial system of oppression of Indigenous Peoples.
Eve Saint is a Wet’suwet’en land defender and mom of two. She is a lead organizer in the campaign calling on RBC to stop financing Coastal GasLink and the continued extraction and expansion of fossil fuels.