Canadian bank BMO supports human rights due diligence statement, but finances pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory

Published by Brent Patterson on

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On April 21, the Investor Alliance for Human Rights released a statement that highlighted, “101 investors, representing over US$4.2 trillion in assets under management, believe that all business actors have a responsibility to respect human rights and that the process of continuously conducting human rights due diligence is a core requirement for companies in fulfilling that responsibility.”

The statement indicates that these investors “also believe that governments have a duty to protect against human rights abuse by business through effective regulatory measures, particularly where voluntary corporate measures continue to leave significant gaps in human rights protections.”

It then notes that those investors “call on all governments to develop, implement, and enforce mandatory human rights due diligence requirements for companies headquartered or operating within their own jurisdictions or, where appropriate, to further strengthen these regulatory regimes where they already exist.”

BMO Global Asset Management (BMO GAM) is one of the signatories of this statement.

The Toronto-based BMO Global Asset Management is the asset management arm of BMO (Bank of Montreal), one of Canada’s largest banks.

In February, Bloomberg News reported, “Much like their counterparts in the U.S. and globally, Canadian lenders are under pressure to show they’re doing their part in fighting carbon emissions and rising temperatures. They want to show they’re delivering on green promises they’ve made, yet they’re steadfast in supporting an industry that is key to Canada’s resource-heavy economy.”

That article adds, “Bank of Montreal more than doubled oil and gas lending in five years, peaking at $13.5 billion last year, driven up by the 2018 purchase of energy loans from Deutsche Bank AG and an overall corporate-financing surge.”

In March, the Rainforest Action Network, BankTrack, Indigenous Environmental Network, Oil Change International, Reclaim Finance and Sierra Club released this report that shows that 35 banks have poured a total of $2.7 trillion into fossil fuels in the four years since the Paris Agreement was adopted (2016-2019).

This financing included more than $481 billion from Canadian banks: the Royal Bank of Canada (at $140.6 billion), Toronto Dominion ($103.4 billion), Scotiabank ($97.7 billion), the Bank of Montreal ($82.1 billion) and CIBC ($57.7 billion).

More specifically, BMO is financing the TC Energy Coastal GasLink pipeline that lacks the free, prior and informed consent of the Wet’suwet’en peoples.

RAN has noted, “Bank of Montreal is the lead agent on a CAD$3 billion loan to TransCanada Pipelines Ltd. It’s also a lender on the two more recent loans and was a co-manager of the most recent bond issued by TransCanada Pipelines Ltd. in September 2019.”

As a result, the Edmonton Journal reported this past February, “At least 200 protestors raised fists, signs and voices in the lobby outside the Bank of Montreal at Enbridge Centre in downtown Edmonton.”

“About 50 young Indigenous people read aloud a joint statement attributed to the group Indigenous Youth for Wet’suwet’en, saying they will continue protesting and occupying financial institutions until Coastal Gaslink, being built to move natural gas from northeast B.C. to the west coast, and the RCMP leave Wet’suwet’en territory.”

In Nelson, British Columbia, people also occupied a BMO bank branch.

The Nelson Daily Star quoted Ali Christie who said, “Investors and corporations need to hear the message that colonial business-as-usual cannot continue. We will stay and put pressure on BMO for as long as we can.”

These protests came just months after this resolution from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

In December 2019, the Committee said it was “disturbed by forced removal, disproportionate use of force, harassment and intimidation by law enforcement officials against indigenous peoples who peacefully oppose large-scale development projects on their traditional territories.”

The Committee then called on Canada “to immediately halt the construction and suspend all permits and approvals for the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in the traditional and unceded lands and territories of the Wet’suwet’en people, until they grant their free, prior and informed consent, following the full and adequate discharge of the duty to consult.”

Due diligence requires adherence to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), most notably its fundamental principle of the right to free, prior and informed consent, as well as a recognition of the impact of climate change on a wide range of interrelated human rights.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has commented, “We call on leaders and governments to recognise that climate change and environmental degradation severely undermine the human rights of their people.”

While it is significant that BMO has signed a statement in support of due diligence, we call on it to align its investment practices with those principles.

For more, please also see: PBI-Canada supports the call for Canada to adopt due diligence legislation to protect human rights defenders.

To send a message to the Prime Minister asking him to take immediate action on a UN resolution in support of Wet’suwet’en land defenders, please go to this PBI-Canada Urgent Action.

Photo by Ali Christie of allies of Wet’suwet’en land defenders occupying the BMO branch in Nelson, British Columbia, February 12, 2020.

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