Activists occupy offices in Toronto's financial district ahead of anti-pipeline solidarity rally

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Protesters occupy RBC office in Toronto. Image: Anna Bianca Roach

This morning, approximately 30 activists occupied corporate offices in Toronto's financial district to protest the companies involved in financing the Coastal GasLink pipeline project.

Protesters first went to the Royal Bank Plaza, where they occupied the space outside the office of RBC CEO David McKay for around fifteen minutes while activists from the group Artists for Climate and Migrant Justice and Indigenous Sovereignty put on a satirical play in the building's lobby. After building security escorted activists from the building, the group occupied the nearby offices of the Alberta Investment Management Corporation, or AIMCo.

"The actions today were to focus on how Toronto's financial district is complacent with and fuelling the attacks on the Wet'suwet'en people, and the invasion of their unceded territory for the CGL pipeline," Vanessa Gray, a land defender from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation who organizes with the Porcupine Warriors in Toronto, told rabble.ca.

"The climate is breaking down before our very eyes," Climate Justice Toronto organizer Cricket Cheng said in their speech outside of McKay's office. "On the other side of the world, scorching mega-infernos are racing across Australia, … and here on Turtle Island, the RCMP are gearing up with military grade weapons this very moment to forcibly push Wet'suwet'en people off of their land and clear way for the Coastal GasLink pipeline."

The pipeline, which would transport gas from eastern British Columbia and western Alberta to the Pacific coast, has garnered heightened attention in 2019 from Indigenous rights activists and environmentalists. One year ago today, the RCMP brought lethal force to the unceded territory of the Wet'suwet'en Nation to enforce an injunction obtained by CGL. The injunction effectively cleared the path for the pipeline's construction on unceded Wet'suwet'en territory, despite lack of consent. The pipeline made headlines again in December 2019, when The Guardian published an article revealing that RCMP commanders instructed officers to "use as much violence toward the gate as you want" to ensure CGL's access to the Unist'ot'en camp.

Since then, the government of British Columbia has passed a bill to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). Weeks after adopting UNDRIP, on December 31, 2019, the province's Supreme Court extended the injunction. Following the extension of the injunction on New Year's Eve, the Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs issued an eviction notice to CGL contractors and employees on January 5. For now, the company has complied with the notice, but there is no guarantee that that will last.

"[The extension of the injunction] gives full access for [CGL] workers to start building the pipeline itself," said Gray. "Before the invasion last year, there was always a gate up on the bridge, so the Wet'suwet'en had full jurisdiction of who was on their territory." After the first injunction, police have entered the territory at will, periodically arresting land defenders and their allies if they did not clear a path through the Unist'ot'en camp.

Gray also stressed the ecological damage that the pipeline would do. "[It] would run beneath the Morice River, a critical river system for several communities, irreversibly alter ecology in the region and incentivize gas companies to further exploit the land along the pipeline."

"It's in everybody's best interest for land defenders to be on the land," she said. "It's shocking, because we all understand that we're in a climate crisis, when water needs to be treated as the important resource it is. And Canada is willing to put Indigenous people in danger, put children in danger, put keepers of the land in danger for a pipeline."

"Toronto is the beating heart of Canadian capitalism," said Cheng. "This is where the banks are, the financiers, those who directly finance and profit from the climate crisis. This is where they're headquartered, this is where their homes are."

RBC and AIMCo, the targets of today's direct actions, are key players in the pipeline's construction. RBC served as the sole advisor for TransCanada Corporation, now TC Energy, as it sold a part of the pipeline project in 2019. "This means they were responsible for finding the money required to construct this pipeline and accelerate fossil fuel extraction," Cheng explained.

AIMCo, an investment management agency, has invested in the pipeline. Under Premier Jason Kenney, the Alberta government recently passed Bill 22, which moved the pension assets of public sector workers under AIMCo's management, including $18 billion in assets from the Alberta Teachers' Retirement Fund. On November 9, 2019, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney also announced that he would consider moving nearly $40 billion from Canada Pension Plan assets to AIMCo.

"The actions today were to focus on how Toronto's financial district is complacent with and fuelling the attacks on the Wet'suwet'en people and the invasion of their unceded territory for the CGL pipeline," said Gray.

After the actions, Rising Tide, one of the grassroots collectives that organized today's actions, led a rally at the Royal Bank Plaza, which was attended by Winnipeg Centre NDP MP Leah Gazan and former MP Romeo Saganash. "It was really amazing to see hundreds of Torontonians come out to support Indigenous sovereignty," said Niklas Agarwal, a member of Climate Justice Toronto.

The rally brought together speakers from a number of different social justice groups in Toronto, including the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network, Black Lives Matter Toronto, Idle No More, and No One Is Illegal. After the speeches, protestors shut down one of the financial district's major intersections and participated in a round dance. "It was a strong community," said Agarwal.

Throughout the day, organizers from the Porcupine Warriors, Rising Tide, Climate Justice Toronto, and the Artists for Climate and Migrant Justice and Indigenous Sovereignty spoke about the necessity of acting against in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en people against the CGL pipeline.

"We've been fighting the same thing from a different side for a long time now," Gray explained, referring to the Aamjiwnang First Nation's experience in Sarnia. "The ways that the industry impacts us on the daily are countless, the number of chemicals, the number of incidents that happen right beside our homes… It's hard to keep track of. This is why we're fighting so hard to prevent this from happening to the Wet'suwet'en."

Anna Bianca Roach is a freelance journalist who covers social movements, labour, and environmental justice.

Image: Anna Bianca Roach

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