Bank of Canada bans image of Asian-looking woman from new $100 bills over ethnicity criticism

The backside of a Canadian $100 banknote The first version of Canada's new $100 banknotes featured the image of …The Bank of Canada altered the intended design for the new polymer $100 bill after focus groups criticized the image of a woman on its reverse side, the Canadian Press reports.

The concern? The woman appeared to be Asian.

The image, a woman peering over a microscope, drew concern from eight focus groups conducted in the fall of 2009 across the country.

While the Toronto groups gave positive feedback — the bill "is seen to represent diversity or multiculturalism" — the Quebec groups felt that "the inclusion of an Asian without representing any other ethnicities was seen to be contentious," the Canadian Press reports.

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A criticism in Fredericton was that the image didn't represent Canada.

Other criticisms included that the yellow-brown colour of the bill "racialized" the note, and 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," a report commissioned from The Strategic Council, a market research firm, stated.

"The original image was not designed or intended to be a person of a particular ethnic origin," Bank of Canada spokesman Jeremy Harrison said, citing policy in place that avoids the depiction of ethnic groups on banknotes.

"But obviously when we got into focus groups, there was some thought the image appeared to represent a particular ethnic group, so modifications were made."

The image was redrawn to give the woman "neutral" ethnicity, although with her stripped Asian features and light skin tone, it's arguable that she now appears Caucasian.

For a country proud of its multiculturalism, the move is a confusing one.

According to Statistics Canada, more than 16 percent of Canada's population was comprised of visible minorities in 2006. By 2030, that number is expected to almost double.

Why is an Asian-looking individual considered misrepresentative of Canada? (Hong Kong-born Adrienne Clarkson was our Governor General. David Suzuki's grandparents immigrated here from Japan. The list goes on.)

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The danger of eschewing any representation of ethnicity on Canadian money is that "neutral" images all look Caucasian. And that's not Canada.

Maybe the Bank of Canada should have modeled the woman in question on a significant scientist in Canada's history. Perhaps giving her a name would silence the critics.

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