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What do You Think of an “Asian-Looking” Woman on Our Money?

21 August 2012

The Bank of Canada just can’t win. They try so hard to be politically correct and yet, they end up getting burned no matter what they do.

The BoC debate is surrounding the $100 bill that went into circulation last November – but that’s not when the debate began. That time came last week, when it became known that before those bills went into circulation, they had an image of an Asian-looking woman peering into a microscope. Once the bill was complete and (as the government thought,) ready to be circulated, it first went to focus groups located in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, and Fredericton. Many people in those focus groups said that the image portrayed wasn’t the right image of Canada, and they felt it should be removed.

After much consideration, the image was removed and replaced with a Caucasian-looking woman, also peering through the microscope. And that too, offended people. The Chinese Canadian National Council said that the move was “racist.” And a spokesperson at the Canadian Press said that the move was made in order to bring “neutral ethnicity” to the currency.

However, Mark Carney was quick to correct this, saying that Canadian currency cannot resemble any one person – with the exception of the Queen and politicians. After hearing the initial reaction from the focus groups, the Bank had asked the artist to draw another person, this time not resembling any one actual person. The woman now peering into the microscope does look like an actual person, although it’s probably not anyone you recognize.

After the debate was made so public this week, the Bank did release an apology statement. And this too, stirred up just as much controversy as the actual picture did.

“I apologize to those who were offended – the Bank’s handling of the issue did not meet the standards Canadians justifiably expect of us,” Mark Carney said during his apology. “Our bank notes belong to all Canadians, and the work we do at the Bank is for all Canadians.”

Sounds innocent enough, doesn’t it?

May Lui, director at the CCNC doesn’t think so.

“Saying, ‘I apologize to those who were offended’ is not really an apology,” says Lui. “There’s a larger systematic issue around how the Bank of Canada imagines who they are portraying as a real or genuine Canadian.”

But Ken Wong, a marketing professor at Queens University boils this problem down to what it really is. And it has nothing to do with currency.

“This is a case of political correctness run amok,” says Wong. “At some point someone said, ‘We can’t risk offending Asians’ and therefore struck the image.”

Little did they know that the controversy the Bank of Canada was trying to avoid would have happened anyway. No matter what they did.

What do you think? Was the Bank right to remove the image? Do you think they needed to issue an apology? What would you like our currency to look like?

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