Royal College’s deal with RBC an ethical lapse

My father is a retired Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada (FRCSC), plastic surgeon and a past-president of the Royal College. I shook his hand on stage in Vancouver when I received my Royal College certificate in 1991 after returning to Vancouver from my fellowship in Melbourne.

I am a plastic surgeon, and until this year also an FRCSC. I have paid my dues and donated to the educational fund every year, practiced at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and taught medical students, residents and fellows. I have been part of the resident training program as a teacher, mentor, examiner and committee member. I have served the national Specialty Training Committee as an advisor on data-collection-related, resident activity-documentation and evaluation.

I am a life-long cyclist, recycler and environmentalist. I grew up in Vancouver and spent my summers sailing, hiking and camping. I am grounded in these lands and waters.

In early 2021, during a series of seminars at the Vancouver General Hospital on “greening health care,” I was taking notes and asking questions (as is my habit and my “role”). I was approached and easily enlisted by my colleague and now dear friend Rashmi Chadha. I became a Doctor for Planetary Health – West Coast (D4PH-WC). Within a few months, I was helping with plans for a rally and on Nov. 4, 2021. I gave the land acknowledgement on the steps of the B.C. Provincial legislature at the start of the D4PH Code Red rally. This was a morning of great speeches and poetry, delivered to our government in the pouring rain and captured on video by a medical student, Matei Stojan. Our call went unheard until the atmospheric river flooded the Sumas Prairie. Two weeks later, B.C. declared a public health emergency due to a climate crisis.

At the same time as the province was mobilizing all possible help for people in the Fraser Valley, the Attorney General authorized the C-IRG, a branch of the RCMP made up of officers from various B.C. detachments, to take down protesters’ Coyote Camp, supporting the Coastal GasLink and helping to force a fracked gas pipeline through Supreme Court-acknowledged sovereign Wet’suwet’en territory using paramilitary violence.

Since then, I have seen the logo of RBC, Canada’s biggest bank, on my Royal College home page on the internet. It was next to a panel of rotating images celebrating my colleague Andrea MacNeill and her new planetary health lab at UBC, and another celebrating the Royal College’s collaboration with and support for Indigenous people.

RBC, the world #1 financier of fossil fuels, is offering free financial education to residents and fellows.

Since the Royal College is a “health” organization and my recent immersion in planetary health has taught me that fossil fuel=climate crisis, I decided to ask the Royal College about this relationship.

I emailed the CEO and the president in June of 2022 – no reply. Local discussions in Vancouver resulted in a letter signed by 175 physicians in July 2022 calling out the Royal College for its relationship with RBC.

The link on the Royal College home page leads to a page with the Royal College and RBC logos intertwined and extolling the benefits of the bank’s financial services, implying a contract. As a fellow of a non-profit organization without a shareholder structure, I should have the right to see this contract. I have asked – again nothing.

RBC has given the Royal College a $2-million unrestricted donation spread over five years.

Further research and communication reveal that RBC has given the Royal College a $2-million unrestricted donation spread over five years. In return, the Royal College is “shilling” for RBC. No doubt RBC is hoping to attract specialists to invest with its bank rather than with Scotia Bank, which with MD Management had provided financial advice for physicians over from the Canadian Medical Association.

Given that fossil fuel-CO2-driven climate change and pollution are the biggest threats to health, how can the Royal College, a health organization supporting planetary health and Indigenous rights, contract with a bank that invests in fossil fuels and does not respect Indigenous rights? Witness the events of segregation and racism at this year’s RBC AGM in Saskatoon.

The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC) is one of the last institutions involved in medical education to get to the planetary health table. Even after a campaign by college fellows and several conversations with the Executive Director, Office of Learning and Connecting, it took months to get a Zoom meeting and to get a disclaimer with details of the RBC grant and RBC RCPSC relationship posted on the college website. This disclaimer is not front facing.

In December 2022, a single item email was sent from the Royal College to all residents and fellows advertising the RBC services. It came over the signature of the person that had personally told me that this would not happen.

Finally, at the Zoom meeting on February 24, 2023, the executive member said that the RCPSC was just a small organization, that $2M was not very much money, that any changes at the Royal College would have little effect on climate change. On the other side of the Zoom screen, we felt this was a matter of ethics, leadership and integrity.

Since then, one of my colleagues has told the Royal College that he will withhold his dues until it disengages from RBC. I have decided not to renew my fellowship this year. I am still recognized as a specialist, but just hold my certification from the Royal College. I save $1,060 in dues and it only cost me $750 to have my local College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia vet my continuing medical education credits. At $1,060 per fellow, it would only take 400 fellows to resign to negate the annual financial benefit from RBC.

I have changed my email signature to read “NOT a fellow of the Royal Bank of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.”

A request for a follow-up meeting with the Royal College was declined because the new, interim CEO, Ian Bowmer, needs to get up-to-speed. He is a past-president of the Royal College, and no doubt knows its structure and function. And, ironically, there is an award for leadership in social accountability for medical students named in his honor. I suspect that once he is aware of this issue, he will want to be involved.

For now, I will have to wait and see how the story unfolds. I completed my training and passed my exams in 1989. I became a fellow when I returned to Canada to practice in 1991. After 31 years, despite a personal attachment to and a long professional relationship with the Royal College, I have become a CRCSC.

The comments section is closed.

  • Meite Moser says:

    Dr. Courtemanche ;
    Thank you for this insightful article, and your strong stance.

  • Donald C Cole says:

    Really good article, colleague. I wondered too when I saw the rotating logo, now with Indigenous Health of all things. I will stop my membership too.


Douglas Courtemanche


Douglas Courtemanche is a plastic surgeon with an interest in cleft and craniofacial surgery. He is a Clinical Professor of Surgery at UBC and works at Vancouver General Hospital and BC Children’s Hospital, where he is the Director of the Vascular Anomalies Clinic at BC Children’s Hospital. He is a member of Doctors for Planetary Health – West Coast, working for social and environmental justice and challenging colonial structures.

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