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Climate protest at RBC scrubbed out

A girl stands with a sign that reads, "Dear banks, stop funding climate failure," while a scrubbing vehicle scrubs out a chalk message with the same message from the side walk.
Sophie Krouse was surprised to see Niagara Regional Police officers show up at Grimsby’s Royal Bank branch, told her sidewalk chalk messages were vandalism and she could face charges. Minutes later, public works showed up in a sidewalk sweeper to wipe away the messages. Marks – Photo

By Tristan Marks

The Town of Grimsby sent in the big guns to ensure a public Grimsby sidewalk was clean and clear – of chalk.

Sophie Krouse stood outside RBC last week to raise awareness of Canadian banks investments in the fossil fuel industry.

The bank responded by calling the Town’s bylaw department which called the Niagara Regional Police (NRP) who ordered the Town to send a scrubbing vehicle to clear chalk messages left on public sidewalks in front of the St. Andrews Ave. branch.

Krouse, a Grimsby Secondary School student, was protesting billion dollar investments made by banks such as RBC into fossil fuels, when she was threatened with a Mischief charge for graffiti on public property.

She said she arrived at the branch around 1:45 p.m. to close her account with RBC and began to set up her protest.

She said this involved holding up signs and chalking slogans on the nearby public sidewalk while handing out fliers to pedestrians.

Within 30 minutes, two NRP vehicles and a Grimsby bylaw truck arrived at the scene.

“They said I vandalized town property and were threatening to charge me,” said Sophie, who later
described the interaction as an example of “police intimidation”.

Thing is, Sophie said she did her due diligence to ensure everything she was doing that day was perfectly legal. She followed all social distancing rules, made sure she was the only protester as per social gathering rules, and made sure where she could legally put up posters and slogans.

“I double and triple-checked that I was on public property,” Sophie said. She also noted that, although she only put up posters around the RBC branch where she knew it was legal, she saw bank employees going around tearing them down.

“They took them all down, I have a video of it,” she said.

The NRP officers first spoke to RBC staff, then to Sophie. Shortly after, a street scrubber vehicle arrived at the scene to thoroughly scour the sidewalk of chalk.

Sophie’s mother, Melissa Krouse was also on the scene and watched it unfold. She said that, as a long-time Grimsby resident, she was shocked at how the police and Town employees reacted.

“I was so surprised, to be honest,” said Melissa.

“We researched the legality. We considered very carefully to make sure Sophie wasn’t doing anything wrong. I’m just shocked that the bylaw officer thought it was worth sending out a scrubber just for chalk.”

Later on, the Krouses reached out to the Town about the incident.

“My Dad and I took it upon ourselves to contact bylaw to see if there were any laws relating to chalking, and there is absolutely no regulation or bylaw condemning such acts on public/city sidewalks,” said Sophie.

Grimsby director of planning, Antonietta Minichillo said the NRP Officers, “warned the individual because the writing on the sidewalk was considered ‘mischief’ under the Criminal Code of Canada.”

A spokesperson for RBC, Cheryl Brean, said, “When a protest is occurring at or near one of our branch locations we follow an established process to protect the well-being of everyone involved which includes notifying local police services.”

Sophie’s protested on behalf of ‘Banking on a Better Future’, an organization that raises awareness of how much money Canadian banks pour into fossil fuels while also claiming to support “green initiatives”.

She explained that Canada’s five biggest banks: RBC, TD, BMO, CIBC, Scotiabank have invested more than $700 billion into the fossil fuel industry altogether.

“By convincing people to take their money out of these banks, we can hopefully convince the banks to pull their money out of fossil fuels,” she added.

This confrontation may prove to have only strengthened Sophie’s resolve.

“Next week I’m going to show up again with a bigger sign,” she said.

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