02/10/2013 01:54 EST | Updated 04/12/2013 05:12 EDT

The Whitewashing of Canadian Currency


The news of the ethnic cleansing of Canadian c-notes by the Bank of Canada hit like a bombshell last summer. It was revealed that an Asian-looking female figure was gentrified by the federal institution to appease Canadians who expressed xenophobic views in a focus group. The news went viral around the world, with Canada's reputation as a magnificent multicultural mosaic coming into question.

The Bank of Canada's official explanation, that ethnically neutral images were the rule, did little to pacify Canadians of both neutral ethnicity and visible minorities. Neither did the weak, vague apology issued by Bank of Canada governor Marc Carney.

In a second, more appropriate apology, Carney admitted this whitewash was a mistake, adding that the next iteration of bank notes would reflect the diversity evident in the Canadian population. (Now that Carney has announced his departure, some speculate that promise could expire.)

Today, it was revealed that not only were Asian features deemed unworthy of appearing on bank notes, but also Black, Aboriginal, South-Asian and Gay ones, as well. A pattern of institutionalized xenophobia is emerging, and it ain't pretty. Not just bank notes, but other national emblems such as the Canadian passport (lacking women and diversity), the upcoming Museum of Canadian History (feared to follow suit), the Federal and Supreme courts, and even national editorial boards seem to foster this doctrine of achromatic exclusion.

Canada's history is full of double-speak on values of equality, fairness, diversity and inclusion. On one hand, Canada pats itself on the back for abolishing slavery before the U.S.A.. On the other, Canada treated blacks so poorly that 2/3rds of them ran back South of the 49th parallel as soon as Lincoln proclaimed emancipation (before banning black immigration outright). Canada named an Asian to the post of Governor-General in the 90s, but we often omit that Asians-Canadians were the backbone of the 18th century Canadian economy, building the Canadian Pacific railroad, while being barred from voting until the 40s. Canada woos South-Asian immigrants and investors with great fanfare, yet there has been no apology in parliament for refusing the Komagata Maru ship when tropical temperature-accustomed "East-Indians" were deemed unsuited for the cold Canadian climate.

The Bank of Canada fiasco is only the latest incident in a long chain of slights, and an enduring reminder that the utopian multicultural mosaic we claim to espouse is more like a "vertical mosaic" where some are deemed suitable, while others are left on the cutting room floor of opportunity, representation, and the symbols of the country they love.

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