The Bank of Canada purged the image of an Asian-looking woman from its new $100 banknotes after focus groups raised questions about her ethnicity.
The original image intended for the reverse of the plastic polymer banknotes, which began circulating last November, showed an Asian-looking woman scientist peering into a microscope.
The image, alongside a bottle of insulin, was meant to celebrate Canada’s medical innovations.
But eight focus groups consulted about the proposed images for the new $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 banknote series were especially critical of the choice of an Asian for the largest denomination.
“Some have concerns that the researcher appears to be Asian,” says a 2009 report commissioned by the bank from The Strategic Counsel, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
“Some believe that it presents a stereotype of Asians excelling in technology and/or the sciences. Others feel that an Asian should not be the only ethnicity represented on the banknotes. Other ethnicities should also be shown.”
A few even said the yellow-brown colour of the $100 banknote reinforced the perception the woman was Asian, and “racialized” the note.
The bank immediately ordered the image redrawn, imposing a “neutral” ethnicity for the woman scientist who, now stripped of her “Asian” features, appears on the circulating note. Her light features appear to be Caucasian.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Canadian National Council slammed the bank on Friday for bending to racism.
“The Bank of Canada apparently took seriously … racist comments and feedback from the focus groups and withdrew the image,” said May Lui, interim executive director of the group’s Toronto chapter.
“That was upsetting simply because of the history and longevity of Chinese-Canadians in this country.”
Ms. Lui demanded the bank “acknowledge their error in caving to the racist feedback.”
Victor Wong, the group’s national executive director, called on the bank to amend its policy of not depicting visible minorities.
“You’re erasing all of us,” he said from Toronto. “Your default then is an image with Caucasian features.”
The Strategic Counsel conducted the October 2009 focus groups in Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Fredericton, at a cost of $53,000.
The Toronto groups were positive about the image of an Asian woman because “it is seen to represent diversity or multiculturalism.”
In Quebec, however, “the inclusion of an Asian without representing any other ethnicities was seen to be contentious.”
One person in Fredericton commented: “The person on it appears to be of Asian descent which doesn’t rep(resent) Canada. It is fairly ugly.”
Mu-Qing Huang, a Chinese-Canadian who has peered into microscopes for biology courses at the University of Toronto, called the bank’s decision a “huge step back.”
“The fact that an Asian woman’s features were introduced to the bill … I think itself is a huge step forward in achieving true multiculturalism in Canada,” Huang, 24, said in an interview in Ottawa.
“But the fact that the proposal was rejected represents a huge step back.”
She said the “overly sensitive” decision to remove the Asian features suggests prejudice against visible minorities persists in Canada.
“If Canada is truly multicultural and thinks that all cultural groups are equal, then any visible minority should be good enough to represent a country, including (someone with) Asian features.”
They should either have featured, along with the insulin, its discoverers Frederick Banting and Charles Best, or should have just gone back to using animals, who cause no controversy…