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Letter to Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz from Merna Forster
12 February 2015

In July 2013, historian and author Merna Forster began a petition calling on the Bank of Canada and the Minister of Finance (who approves bank note designs) to celebrate female Canadian historical figures on Canadian bank notes. This is one of her letters to Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz. It was sent to the Bank of Canada on February 12, 2015.

Canadian women on banknotes petition

You can read & sign the petition at change.org.

Mr. Stephen Poloz
Governor of the Bank of Canada
234 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario

Dear Mr. Poloz:

I am writing to provide you with an update on my petition and again call on the Bank of Canada to make a firm commitment to include women from Canadian history on our bank notes.

My petition at change.org/CanadianHeroines has now been signed by more than 53,500 concerned Canadians. Many of the men and women who’ve signed the petition also posted comments about their reasons for signing, and I hope that you and your staff will seriously consider them while planning for new bank notes. For your convenience and to save trees, I have downloaded the complete list of petitioners (583 pages) and their remarks (373 pages) and am attaching these documents to the electronic version of this letter. Using an interactive website at womenonbanknotes.ca, people have also provided hundreds of suggestions for female historical figures who could be honoured on our bank notes. I hope that you will have a look.

I would like to point out there is widespread interest in the Canadian Women on Bank Notes campaign across Canada, and there has been extensive media coverage as a result. You will see from the petition page that the campaign has been featured on television broadcasts, including the CTV National News, as well as in The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Huffington Post Canada, CBC News Online, Canadian Geographic, and Canadian Business. Numerous radio stations (including Radio Canada International) have interviewed me about the campaign, and one day I was interviewed by 12 different CBC radio programs across Canada. Many Members of Parliament as well as notable Canadians such as authors Margaret Atwood and Charlotte Gray, activist Judy Rebick, and journalist Shelagh Rogers are supporting the campaign – and demanding action from the Bank of Canada.

Should Canadian women be honoured in the most prestigious places on the front of our bills, or on the back with secondary importance? You mentioned in a previous letter that Canada has “never featured recognized individuals on the back of its notes,” and I am a bit puzzled by this statement. Given that an image of the Famous 5 monument and volunteer award depicting Thérèse Casgrain previously appeared on the back of the $50, does the Bank not consider these as recognizable individuals? Is it official policy of the Bank of Canada not to include recognizable individuals on the back of the notes? Or tradition?

In any case, while it was an important step forward to celebrate Canadian women on the back of a bill, I believe that in an egalitarian nation like ours the Bank of Canada should move forward and depict female Canadian historical figures on the front of our bills. Equality is important, especially in a country where we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms which, under Clause 15, guarantees freedom from discrimination based on gender. A federal program, such as bank notes, which celebrates four white men (and no female Canadians) on the front of its bills certainly appears to demonstrate sexism as well as racism. While I applaud the Bank of Canada for launching some public consultations to solicit input on bank note design, petitioners strongly believe that the inclusion of Canadian women on our bills should be a design principle – not an optional outcome determined by surveys or other forms of consultations. As petitioner Hans Rollman from Toronto pointed out on the petition page, “It’s ridiculous that this even requires discussion and petition in the 21st century. It’s a national embarrassment for Canada.”

I would also like to ask you about another statement from one of your letters. You indicated that Canadians “want designs that symbolize the collective, rather than individual, features and achievements of the country.” If this is indeed the case, and I question the validity of the findings based on the feedback I’ve received from more than 53,500 Canadians, then why is the Bank of Canada honouring the achievements of four men and the Queen – all portrayed as individuals, not as part of a collective – on the front of our bills? Despite your statement about this aversion to celebrating individuals, I assume that the Bank of Canada is committed to continuing to celebrate the individual achievements of five people on the front of our bills, Though I could not find a reference to this in your new design principles, I assume this is a tradition that the Bank wishes to follow? In which case, on behalf of petitioners, I would like to advise you that a significant number of Canadians wish to see Canadian women as well as men honoured on the front of our bills. A recent article in The Ottawa Citizen (http://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/john-boyko-the-best-faces-for-canadian-banknotes) focused on this approach and offered suggestions for replacing the prime ministers.

Canadians are extremely upset about the absence of Canadian women as well as the lack of diversity of people honoured on our notes. As Alexandra Pittiglio from Ontario remarked on the petition page this week, “Our colourful money is a representation of the diversity, beauty and inclusiveness found in Canada's people and landscapes. It's time for the faces on the front to match that representation. Women also live here. And on that note, so do people who are not white.”

Canadians want the Bank of Canada to resolve this issue in the near future by committing to celebrating women from Canadian history on all future bank notes, and proceeding with a selection process. In a modern nation that claims to be a world leader in promoting and protecting women’s rights and gender equality, there are no excuses for sexist bank notes that don’t honour even one Canadian heroine. Countries around the world – from Turkey to Peru, Columbia, Mexico and South Korea – celebrate at least one or two heroines from their respective nations, and Australia honours four notable Australian women. Please, feature at least one woman from Canadian history on the front of these bank notes which supposedly belong to all Canadians – and preferably more than one. Women hold up half the sky, and many believe that in an equalitarian country they should hold up half the bank notes.

Sincerely yours,
Merna Forster

Petition: Change.org/CanadianHeroines
www.heroines.ca, A Guide to Women in Canadian History
Author of 100 Canadian Heroines, and 100 More Canadian Heroines

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