Canadians still demanding female representation on banknotes

“An all-male line-up on bank notes is not acceptable in Canada.”

by: Obert Madondo  | Jan 2, 2015

Kenojuak Ashevak, the famed Inuk artist from Cape Dorset, Nunavut, is one of the hundreds of notable female figures Canadians want included on official banknotes. (Photo: womenonbanknotes.ca)

Kenojuak Ashevak, the famed Inuk artist from Cape Dorset, Nunavut, is one of the hundreds of notable female figures Canadians want included on official banknotes. (Photo: womenonbanknotes.ca)

In July, 2013, a Canadian historian started an online petition demanding that the Bank of Canada (BOC) include women on Canadian banknotes.

The petition is still live and has opened 2015 with more than 52,800 signatures. Canadians are still calling for more diversity, gender equality and female representation.

Merna Forster, based in Victoria, B.C., started the petition after the BOC eliminated women from its recently-issued polymer banknotes.

The bank’s new $50 bill replaced the statue of the Famous 5 women from the Persons Case, and Thérèse Casgrain, a prominent feminist who led the women’s suffrage movement in Quebec prior to World War II, with an icebreaker.

“It is unacceptable that female historical figures are not featured on the Polymer Series or another series – just male prime ministers and the Queen,” Forster says on her petition.

“Being a modern nation, we’re a world leader in the promotion and protection of women’s rights and gender equality,” Forster told the Canadian Geographic in December. “In my mind if we really want to be a leader, the federal government and its various agencies, including the Bank of Canada, should act accordingly. To me, it clearly shows to me prejudice against Canadian women; it’s discriminatory, insulting and offensive.”

Forster’ petition calls on the BOC “to add women from Canadian history to our bank notes as soon as possible, and announce that all future series will feature females as well as males.” That’s exactly what a majority of Canadians engaged on the issue want.

According to the Bank of Canada’s own poll, conducted last fall, respondents “said greater emphasis should be put on representing gender equality, multiculturalism and aboriginal culture” on future banknotes.

Forster’s petition has also received dozens of suggestions to help the BOC decide who to put on the $100 bill. According to the website http://womenonbanknotes.ca, the suggestions include:

  • Kenojuak Ashevak, a celebrated Inuk artist from Cape Dorset, Nunavut
  • Anne Cools, the first black female senator in North America also recognized as one of 100 greatest Canadians
  • Beverley McLachlin, the first woman and current Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Canada
  • Adrienne Clarkson, the first visible minority and second woman to serve as Canada’s Governor General
  • Mary Two-Axe Early, an aboriginal rights activist
  • Lucy Maud Montgomery, the famous Canadian author of the beloved Anne of Green Gables series
  • Carrie Best, a Nova Scotia poet, writer, journalist and activist
  • Hazel McCallion, the former mayor of Mississauga, who was first elected in 1978 and became Canada’s longest serving mayor (36 years) when she retired in 2014
  • Sindi Hawkins, a lawyer, nurse, politician, humanitarian and first Indo-Canadian woman to hold a cabinet post in the B.C. government
  • Léa Roback, a Canadian trade union organizer, social activist, pacifist, and feminist
  • Alice Munro, an acclaimed short story writer and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature
  • Deepa Mehta, a filmmaker and recipient of the Order of Canada and Order of Ontario
  • Naomi Klein, an award-winning Canadian author, social activist and public intellectual
  • The women who started the Idle No More movement

The call on Canada to liberate itself from backward-looking male-centered institutions and traditions and join the 21st century has never been louder.

So far, the BOC has made no commitment to introduce diversity and gender equality on future bills. The duds running that institution seem oblivious to its non-so-subtle prejudice against women in particularly and diversity in general.

As I blogged earlier, the BOC engaged in ethnic cleansing when it nixed the image of an Asian-looking female scientist from a proposed $100 bill a few years ago. It carved to the wishes of “focus groups” that “raised questions about her ethnicity.”

The focus groups, consulted at a cost of $53,000 in Toronto, Fredericton, Calgary and Montreal, “were especially critical of the choice of an Asian for the largest denomination.” One really ugly Canadian, from Fredericton, reportedly commented: “The person on it appears to be of Asian descent which doesn’t rep(resent) Canada. It is fairly ugly.”

In response to the racist feedback, the BOC replaced the Asian women with someone from a “neutral ethnicity” – a Caucasian.

The BOC had also “considered celebrating gay marriages, black hockey players, and turban-wearing RCMP officers on its new plastic bank notes,” only to change its mind after receiving the focus groups’ feedback.

In early 2013, The Canadian Press reported that the BOC had nixed the images of non-whites and gays from it’s new series of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 polymer bills as well.

Which brings us to the question: is there something incurable about the duds who run our previously male-only national institutions? Why aren’t were following the example of sister parliamentary democracies, especially those that sired our system?

Authorities in the United Kingdom had planned to turf from that country’s banknotes social reformer Elizabeth Fry, the only other British woman after the Queen. 35,000 people signed a petition against the plan. The authorities bowed to public pressure. They did the right thing.

The Bank of England announced that famed Pride and Prejudice author Jane Austen would replaced Charles Darwin on the next £10 note, out probably in 2017.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand recently unveiled a new $10 bill featuring Kate Sheppard, that country’s famous suffragist. The country’s other bills honour Sir. Apirana Ngata, a notable Maori politician and lawyer.

Now is the time to act for a more inclusive and tolerant Canada. Sign and share Forster’s petition today.

But don’t stop there. The Bank of Canada has asked the public to suggest themes, subject matter and images for a special banknote commemorating Canada’s 150th anniversary, to be released in 2017. You have until Jan. 8, 2015 to submit your big idea.

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Obert Madondo

Publisher and editor
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, activist, photographer, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. He's the founder and editor of these independent publications: The Canadian Progressive, a political blog dedicated to progressive Canadian journalism; The Zimbabwean Progressive, a political blog dedicated to producing fearless, progressive, adversarial, unapologetic, and activism-oriented Zimbabwean journalism; and Charity Files, a publication dedicated to journalism in the charitable public's interest. Follow Obert on Twitter: @Obiemad
  • I believe who is on the face of the bill female or male is irrelevant. I believe the concern should be with the Fiat currency itself No?