Concerns prompted removal of Asian-looking woman from $100 banknotes

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.


By Dean Beeby

OTTAWA—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.

“The original image was not designed or intended to be a person of a particular ethnic origin,” bank spokesman Jeremy Harrison said in an interview, citing policy that eschews depictions 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.”

Harrison declined to provide a copy of the original image, produced by a design team led by Jorge Peral of the Canadian Bank Note Co.

Nor would he indicate what specific changes were made to the woman researcher’s image to give her a so-called “neutral,” non-ethnic look. He said the images were “composites” rather than depicting any specific individual.

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.”

Huang, now pursuing an MA at the University of Toronto, came to Canada from China with her family at age 12, living in Toronto and Ottawa.

The 2006 census found that Canada’s population included more than five million people from visible minority groups, of which 1.2 million were Chinese and another 240,000 with ancestry from southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Laos.

The Bank of Canada introduced the new series of banknotes largely to thwart counterfeiters, though they are also expected to last much longer than the old versions. New $50 notes went into circulation in March, with $20 notes still to come in November.

The $50 and $20 banknotes feature a research icebreaker and the Canadian National Vimy Memorial respectively, with no images of ordinary Canadians. Some members of the focus groups said the Vimy memorial looked disturbingly like New York’s twin towers, brought down by terrorists in 2001.

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Concerns prompted removal of Asian-looking woman from $100 banknotes

  1. It’s sad that many people still don’t see Asians as representing Canada. For myself, I was born in Canada, am of Asian descent, and only speak English, with high school knowledge of French. I’m glad that my parents already paid the price for me in racism for acceptance in the country, but it seems that even that was not enough.

    • I agree with you. I don’t understand why this is an issue. I also don’t get why the stereotype that Asian people excel at Technology and science is considered a negative…..

    • Perhaps they are waiting for more Asian Canadians to buy North American cars. It couldn’t hurt.

    • We Canadians are hypocrites that is the easy answer .As a veteran i saw fellow veterans who wer natives denied entrance to a pub after serving their country because they were not lily white like me.

  2. This has got to be a joke, I mean seriously? Who cares if the person on the bill looks “asian”. Apparently making her “ethnically neutral” just means make her look white.

    This is a good example of how focus groups are often useless

    • Hmm, if we still have a census next time one is due (doubtful?) perhaps I should put my ethnicity down as “ethnically neutral”…

    • People criticised about the ethnic they are probably racism to begin with…. the lady on the note doesn’t looked Asian to me, she looked a mixed , oh,.. *Ethnically Neutral* to me!

  3. I think they removed it for fear of Asians painting this as racist. With the banknote being yellowish would be strike one, the fact that Asians seem to be “only” in technology/science would be strike two. Even when the bank had good intentions, ethnic groups get all bent out of shape for the smallest of stereotypes.

  4. How pathetic and xenophobic some so-called ‘canadians’ are (lower case used for emphasis and disgust). Grow up! Who do you think our future is … all old white europeans whose kids often don’t seem to be too interested in hard work, focus, results, success and community?

    We ARE the world, we (more and more) look like the world and need to welcome the world.

    History is sometimes a millstone … seems to be in this sad example!

  5. As always, not picture…
    Also, could the government please consult us before issuing plastic money? I never know what to do with the notes, pay for groceries or wrap my fish in it.

  6. There is no doubt that Canada is a multicultural society and
    the sentiment of representing this in our currency is commendable. Similarly,
    the discovery of insulin was a major milestone in Canadian medical research
    history. Too bad then that the Bank of Canada was unaware that the Canadian scientist (Dr. Saran A.
    Narang), who invented synthetic insulin,
    used daily by over 350 million people worldwide, was of East Indian origin.
    This is also known as “killing two birds with one stone”.

  7. …and if the note had featured a white male? I suspect that few of the critiques would have had much to say. Remember, we are a country of immigrants. Don’t believe me? Ask any Aboriginal Canadian.

  8. A poll to see A) How many people noticed before this article? B) Who actually cared? C) How many didn’t know because they only deal with cards?

  9. I think people are missing the point – I read this as some people objected to the stereotype of “asians good at science”, or as “racialized”, those in Quebec said singling out just one ethnic group was not representative – meaning if you’re going to put one, put more – not just Asians, but Blacks, etc. as well…So ‘the authorities’ decided to go with a Caucasian…seems they’re the ones who assumed “Caucasian” was “neutral” rather than a particular ethnicity, which is of course not so…Seems you can’t win – there is no way you can out a person on there without offending someone – just avoid people then, stick to animals and landscapes….much safer!

  10. All of our previous notes have had images of Caucasians on them, it is about time we showed our wonderful ethnic diversity. P.S. I am a white Canadian male.

  11. Hypocrisy and political correctness at its best..No wonder our country will end up in the garbage dump of history. The biggest hypocrites live in B.C lead by Libby Davies and Hedy Fry. Aren’t Chinese Canadians as good as French Canadians .they are trying to get in while the others want out. a picture says a thousand words.

  12. Take a good look at back of the currrent 5 dollar bill that has been in circulation for years. In the bottom left corner – the girl on the sled is Asian. Why didn’t they withdraw these notes?

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