A group of protestors of different genders, ages, ethnicities stand in front of a RBC Bank in Toronto. Three of them are holding a banner that says, "Faith and Climate Action Toronto" on one line and on a second line, it says, "RBC Stop Funding Fossil Fuels!"
A group of interfaith climate activists protest in front of RBC in Toronto. (Photograph courtesy of Martin Reis)

Topics: Environment | Activism, Church News

Toronto religious leaders organize a ’pray in’ to protest RBC’s funding of fossil fuels

Nine protesters were arrested after urging the bank to prioritize the planet's future over profits.


Toronto Police charged nine religious leaders from different churches in Toronto with trespassing after organizing a “pray in” at the Royal Bank of Canada’s (RBC) Yonge and Gerrard St. location to protest the bank’s funding of fossil fuel projects.

The group — made up of leaders and members of United, Catholic, Anglican, Unitarian and Baptist congregations — arrived at the RBC branch on April 9 around 10 a.m. Ten of the protesters entered the branch, sat down and began to sing and pray together. The rest of the group remained outside.

Rev. Cameron Watts, the minister at Fairlawn United Church in Toronto, was part of the group there to support the leaders conducting the pray in. He says that within 40 minutes of the group’s arrival, Toronto Police removed the leaders conducting the pray in from the branch and hand-cuffed them outside.

“I’m not entirely pleased with the fact that one of our largest banks is not divesting of all the investments that it’s putting into fossil fuel production and development,” said Watts. “Any organization, including a financial institution that purports to be talking about guaranteeing people’s futures, doesn’t get it about guaranteeing life on Earth.”

RBC does have a climate strategy listed on its website, which includes a commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent as well as facilitate $500 billion in sustainable financing by 2025. But according to Banking on Climate Chaos’s 2023 Fossil Fuel Finance Report, which assessed how much money major banks have used to finance fossil fuel projects since the Paris Agreement was created in 2016, RBC is one of the industry’s top funders. The report says that in the last eight years, RBC has contributed over $250 billion USD to financing fossil fuels — the most of any bank in Canada. Banking on Climate Chaos also placed RBC fifth on its “Dirty Dozen” list, which ranks the top 12 banks financing fossil fuels globally.

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Scotiabank and TD are also included in the Dirty Dozen, ranking ninth and tenth, respectively.

“RBC is fueling a climate disaster,” said Sister Mary-Ellen Francoeur in a press release.

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“We are calling on RBC shareholders to think of future generations, and to vote to immediately end funding for new fossil fuel projects, and wind down existing funding as soon as possible.”

Since the beginning of April, RBC has been under fire from several environmental advocacy groups for its financing of fossil fuels, as well as its tense relations with Indigenous communities. The pray in was organized ahead of RBC’s annual general meeting on April 18 as a way to put pressure on the bank to commit to a tangible plan to phase out of fossil fuel investments. None of the protesters were taken to a police station, but they were ticketed on-site for trespassing.


Olivia Vaughan is a Broadview intern.

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