UBC students block on-campus RBC branch entrances in protest of bank's investment in fossil fuels, Coastal GasLink pipeline

Two UBC students glued and chained themselves to the doors of the RBC branch in the Nest to demand the bank respect Indigenous land rights and divest from fossil fuels and the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Lukas Troni and Charles Gelman, both second-year students, blocked the branch’s two entrances from 9 a.m. yesterday morning until 4 p.m. in the afternoon. The protest was part of a nationwide movement called Glue Yourself To An RBC, planned to coincide with the bank’s annual shareholders’ meeting which was happening in Toronto.

The branch remained closed throughout the day.

“I am chained to this RBC because RBC will not divest from fossil fuels and I want a future I can live in,” said Troni.

“We’re all here today because RBC is Canada's biggest bank investing in fossil fuels, which means they’re investing in climate change and investing in the destruction of our future, and the future for our kids and the rest of humanity,” Gelman said.

RBC is the fifth largest investor of fossil fuels around the world — and the largest in Canada — lending $160 billion to the industry over five years. Additionally, the AMS uses RBC as its own bank — which it used to finance the Nest’s construction loan.

This is not the first time RBC has been criticized for its fossil fuel investments. Climate Justice UBC organized a march in late October 2021 to protest the bank’s investments and UBC student Isaac Schwein glued himself to an RBC branch downtown in February 2022.

Nathan Bawaan

Protestors were also blocking the entrances to the RBC branch to protest the bank’s investment in the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline project.

The pipeline — which is set to go through Dawson Creek, Alberta to the LNG Canada Facility in Kitimat, BC — has been criticized for its harmful environmental impact and violation of Indigenous land rights. The pipeline goes through the traditional, unceded territories of the Wet’suwet’en First Nations people, and has faced opposition from hereditary chiefs.

“RBC enables all of the violence that is happening currently on the yintah” — which means land in the Wet’suwet’en language — “and all of the violence that is happening at the behest of Coastal GasLink pipeline,” said Kílila Raine who came to the protest with their relatives to support the movement. Raine has Squamish ancestry on their mother’s side and English, Scottish and mixed European ancestry on both sides of their family.

RBC’ s Chief Executive Dave McKay defended the bank’s involvement with the CGL pipeline at today’s shareholders’ meeting which was moved online at the last minute after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs had traveled from BC to Toronto to oppose the bank’s financing of the pipeline.

“The Wet’suwet’en people have told us what they [want us] to do. They told us to divest from these banks, they told us to blockade these banks, they've told us exactly what we need to do to support them and to help them,” said Raine.

“So I guess what I would like to see from the AMS is some listening … instead of doing performative actions, performative green initiatives that we all know are taking place at universities and corporations.”

Elif Kayali

In an email to The Ubyssey, AMS President Cole Evans said the student society respects students’ right to peacefully protest and that it had shown its support for the Wet’suwet’en Nation through two public statements in 2020 and 2021.

“We will continue to show our solidarity with Indigenous communities across Canada and advocate for decolonial action to relevant stakeholders,” Evans wrote.

Additionally, Evans confirmed that the student society is using RBC for its banking and partners with the bank on different projects like AMS eHub’s RBC Get Seeded event.

“While the Society is unable to alter our banking relationship with RBC due to long-term loan agreements and much-needed financial infrastructure, we are currently re-evaluating our non-financial partnerships with them,” Evans added.

Rafael Ruffolo, director of corporate communications with RBC, declined to comment on the protest on campus.