The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) has been actively supporting homosexual organizations and events for years through corporate donations and sponsorships. It publicly trumpeted its sponsorship of Toronto’s gay pride parade and a number of gay and lesbian groups list RBC as a benefactor. Yet the bank’s support of homosexual causes seems to go beyond donations. It made the news a couple of years ago when it actually refused to open an account for a Quebec-based pro-family organization after the said group voiced opinions critical of “the Gay Games” – a sporting event restricted to homosexual athletes which is to take place in Montreal in 2006. RBC, in essence, disagreed with the group’s opinions on the subject and opted not to have it as a client.

The bank’s activism did not stop there and it has made the news again. It appears that the RBC attempted to impose its pro-homosexual activism on its employees. Recently, clerks and other staffers were asked to display rainbow triangles at their desks and cubicles in order to “promote a safe work environment for gays, lesbians and bisexuals.” According to the Canadian Press, the three-month pilot project, called “rainbow space,” was meant to promote gay pride at the bank and to identify the institution as a “safe space” for homosexuals to work and do business. This, of course, begged the question: was the bank unsafe for homosexuals prior to this program? David Moorcroft, a bank spokesman, was quick to point out that the program was voluntary and “employee-driven” but, according to the Canada Family Action Coalition, employees were being pressured to display the signs. Literature given to staff suggested that those refusing to participate were “homophobic” and would not be tolerated.

Fortunately, in mid-October, the RBC appeared to relax its policy, saying that it was only a proposal and not actually a policy. It also denied that its decision to suspend the “rainbow space” project had anything to do with the activism of religious and pro-family groups.

Being a private enterprise, the RBC should, of course, have the right to promote whatever causes it chooses. That said, the “rainbow space” project didn’t seem like a good idea and may be evidence that the bank went too far. The initiative was no doubt tied to an RBC marketing strategy designed to attract affluent professional homosexuals as customers. While the program may or may not have achieved this objective, it certainly risked repelling customers who don’t agree with the homosexual lifestyle due to religious, moral or cultural beliefs. It would surely have been more prudent for a financial institution to simply stick to its core business and steer clear of issues of morality altogether. One would think this would be the optimum way to offend the least number of people. After all, the RBC surely wants to attract the greatest number of customers without regard to whether they are heterosexual or homosexual, religious or atheist, liberal or conservative, doctors or construction workers, men or women. Why would a financial institution risk alienating any community? This would not be in its self-interest.

The RBC should also be aware of the potential legal liability of such a campaign. Making donations to groups and events is perfectly legal and legitimate. Even refusing to open accounts to organizations or individuals on the basis of morality or politics may arguably pass the legal test. However, when you deal with employees, things become a little more complicated. If, in fact, the RBC were to somehow discriminate against employees who did not wish to participate in the “rainbow space” campaign, it would open the door to complaints against the institution to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The commission (a governmental body that enforces the Ontario Human Rights Code) clearly states that “discrimination because of religion (creed) is against the law.” Moreover, it specifies that, “Everyone should have access to the same opportunities and benefits, and be treated with equal dignity and respect, regardless of their religion,” and that “religion includes the practices, beliefs and observances that are part of a faith or religion.” Certainly, it is a religious belief of many, if not most, Christians, Jews and Muslims that homosexuality is a sin – a belief rooted in Scripture and not simply a matter of moral opinion. It logically follows that forcing or pressuring people of faith in your employ to endorse homosexuality, in spite of their religious convictions, may be construed as discriminatory and in violation of the law.

It is inconceivable that a respectable financial institution would want to back religious employees into a corner, forcing them to protect themselves through legal means. Not only would that be reprehensible, but the risk to RBC’s reputation, both in Canada and in the U.S. where the bank has increased its presence, could be significant.

A smart adviser might tell RBC to permanently shelve its ill-advised “rainbow space” idea, chalk it up as the product of an overzealous mind, and just move on.