Joaquin Phoenix, Julianne Moore among celebs protesting RBC's TIFF sponsorship

TIFF says it welcomes the bank's "openness to engaging in dialogue as a first step."

The 76th Cannes Film Festival - Photocall for the film
The 76th Cannes Film Festival - Photocall for the film "May December" in competition - Cannes, France, May 21, 2023. Moore is among more than 200 signatories to a letter protesting RBC's sponsorship of TIFF. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

Hollywood stars are protesting Royal Bank of Canada's (RY.TO)(RY) sponsorship of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Joaquin Phoenix, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Adam McKay, and Edward Norton are among more than 200 signatories to an open letter condemning the bank's actions on climate change.

Bell, a subsidiary of BCE (BCE.TO)(BCE), announced in August that it will end its 28-year partnership with TIFF after 2023, including naming rights on the festival's headquarters in downtown Toronto. RBC has sponsored TIFF for 16 years.

Known as one of the most prestigious public film festivals, TIFF's organizers say its mission is to "transform the way people see the world through film." According to the letter addressed to TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey by a group called RBC Off Screen, the bank is an "unfortunate sponsor" for the event.

"RBC is one of the most polluting companies in our country, because of its colossal 'financed emissions,'" the letter states. “Multiple leading Indigenous and BIPOC organizations and nations have denounced the bank's indiscriminate enabling of projects on their lands, which they argue fail to respect their fundamental rights."

Canada's largest lender has faced sustained pressure from activists over its financial ties to the fossil fuel industry, as well as allegations of "greenwashing" in its advertising.

A report released in April found the bank overtook JPMorgan Chase (JPM) as the top lender and financial services provider to the oil and gas sector in 2022. At the same time, RBC is under investigation by the Competition Bureau of Canada over allegedly deceptive advertising related to its climate action.

In April, protests erupted outside RBC's annual meeting of shareholders in Saskatoon.

"The bank's reaction to this has been dismissive," the letter states. "With senior leaders of Indigenous nations being denied access to its AGM despite having the proper paperwork."

RBC spokesperson Andrew Block says the bank understands "more action" at a "faster pace" is needed to address climate change.

"We appreciate the concern for our climate expressed by members of the film community, and would welcome the chance for dialogue," he wrote in an emailed statement on Tuesday. "We are also working to engage with Indigenous communities in collectively advancing reconciliation."

Last month, the bank announced plans to hire for a new executive job titled Head of Climate Transition.

A TIFF spokesperson says the festival organizers appreciate the filmmaking community bringing this issue to their attention.

"We are committed to environmental sustainability, and recognize the importance of addressing climate change quickly, and collaboratively," Judy Lung, TIFF's vice-president of public relations and communications, stated in an email.

"We are in active discussions with RBC, and welcome their openness to engaging in dialogue as a first step."

Correction: A previous version of this story indicated RBC was lead sponsor of the 2023 TIFF festival.

Jeff Lagerquist is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jefflagerquist.

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