Interfaith climate activists arrested at RBC sit-in protest

Police arrest the Rev. Michael Van Dusen during a protest at a Toronto RBC branch against the bank's investments in fossil fuels. Photo: Martin Reis
Published April 19, 2024

Toronto police arrested nine interfaith climate activists, including an Anglican deacon, at a downtown Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) branch April 9 during a sit-in protest against the bank’s investment in fossil fuel projects.

Members of the Faith and Climate Action Network (FCAN)—which includes various Christian denominations as well as Muslims—read a statement at the “pray-in” saying they were engaged in non-violent protest to oppose RBC’s “leading role in the destruction of our planet.” A report from Banking on Climate Chaos, a coalition of environmental groups, found that RBC was the world’s largest financier of fossil fuel development in 2022 with more than $42 billion (U.S.) in funding.

“Protecting the planet that has been given us by our Creator is not just a matter of economics or the environment but is a matter of our faiths,” the FCAN statement said, adding, “We are here to disrupt Royal Bank’s business as usual. We will not stop until Royal Bank ceases its investments in fossil fuel extraction.”

The Rev. Michael Van Dusen, vocational deacon at the Church of St. Aidan in the Beach, said a bank manager immediately approached the protesters and threatened to call the police. The protesters sat in a circle, prayed and sang songs until police arrived 20 minutes later.

Faith and Climate Action Network members engage in their sit-in protest at a downtown RBC branch. Photo: Martin Reis

Van Dusen was among the nine charged and ticketed for trespassing and received a $65 fine. As of April 18, some had paid the fine with donations from supporters. Others, including Van Dusen, were waiting to learn more about the court process and whether there was any chance to make a statement.

“This is a campaign. This is not an event,” Van Dusen told the Anglican Journal.

“This won’t be the last time we target RBC,” he added, and suggested the group has its eye on other financial industry players also.

“There are still significant investments by virtually all the other major banks. There’s a lot to be done.”

FCAN members previously had written a letter to RBC senior vice president John Stackhouse Oct. 24, urging RBC to publicly commit to an immediate end to investment in new fossil fuel projects; to publish a plan for phasing out support for all existing fossil fuel projects, and to not lend to companies that operate in Indigenous territories without free, prior and informed consent.

When RBC did not respond, FCAN protested in front of its corporate headquarters in January. Continued lack of response led to the pray-in, part of a series of protests by First Nations and environmental groups leading up to RBC’s annual general meeting April 11.

A support team that explained the climate protest to people outside the bank included Canon Andrea Budgey (right). Photo: Martin Reis

Canon Andrea Budgey, priest-in-charge at St. Theodore of Canterbury Anglican Church, also in Toronto, attended April 9 as part of the support team outside, handing out leaflets and explaining their protest to passers-by.

“I’ve always seen protesting investment in fossil fuels as part of our our baptismal promises that we have, along with people of many other faith groups—a spiritual and an ethical responsibility to safeguard the creation we’ve been given,” Budgey said. “For people who are not in positions of power, civil disobedience is one of the tools we can use.”

In an Earth Day 2024 statement published April 16, Anglican and Lutheran leaders—Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada; National Bishop Susan Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop Chris Harper—called on church members to take concrete steps to address the climate crisis.

Suggested action included planning or joining community events for Earth Week; advocating for effective government climate policy; discerning how congregations could respond by drawing upon the Parish Engagement Resource for Social and Ecological Justice; learning about the carbon impacts of church buildings and how to reduce emissions; and praying for healing, solidarity and action for the earth and its inhabitants.

Author

  • Matthew Puddister

    Matthew Puddister is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Puddister worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Puddister has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He also supports General Synod's corporate communications.

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