Whitehorse city council endorses women’s return to Canadian currency

Dene Moore
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
Whitehorse city council endorses women’s return to Canadian currency

Whitehorse city council would like to see a Canadian woman on Canadian currency, joining Montreal council and tens of thousands of members of the public in voicing support for the long-fought campaign.

Whitehorse councillors voted earlier this week in favour of the motion. Montreal was the first city to champion the cause with a vote last month.

“If we can get a lot of councils across the country bringing this to the attention of their cities and the media, and hopefully politicians, maybe we can finally get some action,” says Merna Forster, an author and historian who has waged a three-year battle to have women put back on the banknotes.

In 2012, the Bank of Canada unveiled its new $50 bill, which replaced images of the Famous Five women who fought a legal battle to be recognized as persons under the Constitution and of Therese Casgrain, the first female leader of a political party in this country, with the image of an icebreaker.

Though the Queen still graces the country’s currency, she is not Canadian, Forster says.

She launched an online petition that has drawn more than 56,000 signatures and started a website where more than 300 women have been nominated to appear on the banknotes. 

She’s appealed to the Bank of Canada and to the finance minister. She’s written individual letters to each member of parliament and spoken to those involved directly with women’s issues.

So far, to no avail.

“There’s a lot more prejudice against the inclusion of women than one would have thought,” Forster tells Yahoo Canada News. “It’s shameful and embarrassing.”

Whitehorse city council will petition the Bank of Canada for change. Forster says several other cities have contacted her and she hopes they will pass similar motions.

A member of the Cambridge, Ont., city council plans to submit a similar motion this fall.

“It’s not something that’s complicated. Just say we’ll commit to including Canadian women on the next series.”

Many countries do feature women on their currency, including Colombia, Peru, Turkey, Venezuela, Mexico, Syria, Serbia, Japan, News Zealand, the Philippines, Norway, Argentina, Sweden and South Korea.

Australia features an Australian woman on one side and an Australian man on the other.

It took just a few months of a similar campaign in the United States for the U.S. Treasury to announce it would feature an historic American woman.

Mark Carney, the Bank of Canada governor when the Famous Five were forsaken, arrived for his new job as the governor of the Bank of England to find the same controversy. The bank had axed social activist Elizabeth Fry in favour of Winston Churchill.

Carney quickly announced that women would return to British currency.

But in Canada that decision is not up to the bank governor.

“The Minister of Finance is responsible for approving any new bank note, in accordance with the Bank of Canada Act,” says a spokesperson for the Bank of Canada.

Josianne Menard says the icebreaker bank notes were part of a series depicting the country’s exploits and accomplishments, “endeavors in which Canadians women and men have contributed.”

It was not the only blunder by the bank, which issued an apology in 2012 after an Asian-looking woman was dropped from the design of the $100 bill.

A review of the design process completed last fall recommended the bank seek more input in developing future currency.

“Ensuring that the diversity of Canadian society, culture and achievements are celebrated on bank notes, including the recognition of women, is an issue the Bank of Canada takes seriously,” Menard tells Yahoo Canada News.

The bank now has a set of principles to guide future currency design.

“These principles, along with feedback received from Canadians, will guide our recommendations to the Minister of Finance when it is time to develop and select visual content for future bank note series,” Menard says.

But there is no commitment to ensure a female face on the next series of currency, Forster says.

“It’s getting a bit frustrating,” she says.