Why Hollywood Celebrities Are Petitioning Against a Canadian Bank

Actors like Mark Ruffalo, Ben Stiller and Scarlett Johansson are backing Indigenous leaders to stop a B.C. pipeline
Mark Ruffalo is among the stars calling out RBC (photograph: Getty Images)

Royal Bank of Canada’s financial support for the Coastal GasLink pipeline is generating some star-studded opposition.

More than 65 celebrities, including award-winning actors, directors and musicians, have joined Indigenous climate activists in signing a petition calling on RBC and its subsidiary, Los Angeles-based City National Bank (CNB), to stop financing fossil fuel projects. The petition asks for the immediate defunding of the controversial Coastal GasLink project.

The petition, called No More Dirty Banks, includes signatures from Hollywood heavyweights Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Ava DuVernay, Robert Downey Jr., Leonardo DiCaprio, Jane Fonda, Taika Waititi, Michelle Pfeiffer and Edward Norton, among other clients of CNB, which has been dubbed the “Bank to the Stars” for its celebrity clientele. 

RBC has provided financing for the 670-kilometre-long pipeline, owned by TC Energy and estimated to cost a total of over $6.6 billion, which would deliver natural gas from northeastern British Columbia to a port facility in Kitimat, and would cut through the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. The activists behind the petition also called out other international banks for backing the project and loaning billions of dollars. 

The signatories accused RBC of “financing the climate crisis and disregarding the rights of Indigenous peoples.” Celebrities have threatened to pull their accounts if the bank doesn’t withdraw its support of the project.

Leading the celebrity charge is Ruffalo. During a recent virtual media conference with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief Na’moks and Sleydo’ Molly Wickham, spokesperson for the Gidimt’en checkpoint, which controls access into part of Gidimt’en clan territory (Gidimt’en is one of the five clans in Wet’suwet’en Nation), the actor and environmental activist said RBC is violating the core values of its clients who oppose the pipeline. Ruffalo accused RBC of contradicting its own stated values of working with Indigenous peoples and supporting climate action, and said that none of the signatories wanted to leave the bank, but didn’t want to be associated with the “brutalization and erasure” of First Nations.

“At this point, the most effective thing any of us can do is pull our money out of institutions that continue to fund the fossil fuel industry,” he said. “Today, there are options for clean banks. There are places we could put our money that don’t fund these monstrosities.”

RBC has provided $164 billion to fossil fuel companies since the Paris Agreement was signed, the National Observer reports—the most out of all Canadian banks. CB reached out to RBC representatives by email and the bank declined to comment on the petition. 

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have strongly objected to the pipeline being constructed under Wedzin Kwa river, or Morice River, in their traditional territory. They say the project is proceeding without their consent and infringes upon their rights. Hereditary chiefs and land defenders have issued multiple statements on the pipeline over the past few years—including issuing eviction notices to Coastal GasLink—and have also previously called on RBC to withdraw its support.

“We’ve been crystal clear: RBC must divest from this toxic project, which threatens Wet’suwet’en land, air and water and steamrolls Indigenous rights,” Wickham said in a statement

Coastal GasLink received an injunction in December 2019 against Wet’suwet’en land defenders who set up blockades to prevent the company’s employees from working along the pipeline route. Ruffalo says calling on RBC to take action is even more urgent given the RCMP’s violent enforcement of the injunction. Most recently, in November 2021, officers removed activists from the land at gunpoint and arrested two journalists.

In an email to CB, Coastal GasLink said it was “very concerned that important facts are not being shared with groups and individuals who are concerned about Indigenous rights and climate change issues.” The company pointed to the benefit agreements it signed with all 20 elected Indigenous communities as evidence the pipeline is supported by them. It also noted it signed equity option agreements with 16 First Nations along the project corridor earlier this month.

But the land defenders say the company only consulted with Wet’suwet’en elected band council, despite a landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 1997 that recognized the hereditary chiefs as the land’s rightful title holders. Ruffalo said during the media conference that RBC also hadn’t taken the time to consult the hereditary chiefs until early this year, and only after a “high-profile client” insisted.

Kelsey Rolfe
Kelsey Rolfe
Kelsey Rolfe is a Toronto-based business journalist who covers finance, tech, mining and work. Follow her on Twitter at @kelseyarolfe