There’s no mistaking Wilfrid Laurier for anything but a Canadian icon. Our seventh prime minister was also our first francophone one, the fourth-longest serving having enjoyed four full majority governments; his dream of national unity and essentially Canadian freedoms echo still, to this day. In 2011, this very magazine named him number 1 in a ranking of the prime ministers. “Passionate, charismatic, and an intellectual force in both languages,” the Canadian War Museum’s Tim Cook said at the time, “Sir Wilfrid was the full package.”
But there’s just something about Wilfrid Laurier’s dignified features and noble nose that happen to make him an ideal canvas for Canadians armed with a ballpoint. For years, a pair of Facebook groups have quietly served as home bases for those who engage in “Spocking Fives,” that is, the act of using Laurier’s face as a base for profiles of the starship Enterprise’s sharp-eared second-in-command from the Star Trek franchise. (Snape, the devious potions master from Harry Potter portrayed in the films by the arch Alan Rickman, is another favourite sketch.) The minds behind it have been doing it for so long, there’s digital proof of older $5 bills—the Birds of Canada series in circulation from 1986-2002—that have been so edited. (Never mind that Laurier looks much more like Sarek from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, but that’s neither here nor there.)
That all changed, of course, when our bills went from a paper construction to a slick plastic in 2011 and Laurier’s portrait was replaced by a version with a fuller-faced mien. But that hasn’t stopped creative Canadians from finding ways to make it happen, as the Huffington Post wrote in 2013. And there’s been a renewed interest in it since Leonard Nimoy, who played the iconic half-Vulcan lieutenant, died on Friday.
The Canadian Design Resource tweeted a call to pens:
“Spock” your $5 bills for Leonard Nimoy pic.twitter.com/bKdKyC3l4q
—Design Canada (@The_CDR) February 27, 2015
Doodling on bills is not, however, an essentially Canadian habit. One enterprising American has turned Andrew Jackson into Johnny Depp’s Edward Scissorhands; Abraham Lincoln can also be morphed into Harry Potter’s Hagrid. Yer a wizard, America.
That said, though it’s all in good fun, Canada’s laws on defacing its bills are tougher than America’s. Section 11(1) of the Canadian Currency Act says that a fine of no more than $250—or imprisonment for no more than 12 months!—is the penalty for anyone who would “melt down, break up or use otherwise than as currency any coin that is current and legal tender in Canada.” Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code says it’s illegal only if there is the “intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued.” Hagriding your Lincolns, in that way, appears safer than Spocking your Canadian fives.