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Letter to Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women, from Merna Forster
30 November 2015

Back 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. She has now appealed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the new Liberal government to get involved, and sent the following letter to the Honourable Patty Hajdu on November 30, 2015.

Canadian women on banknotes petition

The Honourable Patty A. Hajdu
Minister of Labour and Minister of Status of Women
Status of Women Canada
P.O. Box 8097, Station T CSC
Ottawa, ON
K1G 3H6

Dear Minister,

Congratulations on your recent election and appointment to the federal cabinet. I am writing to you regarding my Canadian Women on Bank Notes petition at change.org/CanadianHeroines. On behalf of petitioners, I call on you, as Minister of Status of Women, to ensure that all future series of bank notes will include women from Canadian history as well as men. Petitioners are extremely upset that, with the release of our new polymers, the only Canadian women ever to make it on our bank notes were erased and replaced with an icebreaker. Given that your department is responsible for promoting equality for women and providing strategic policy advice and gender-based analysis support for federal programs, we request that you provide input to the Bank of Canada to ensure an end to sexist bank notes.

From the Bank of Canada website, I note that the role of government departments in bank note design is explained as follows:

The Bank of Canada Act states that “the form and material of the notes of the Bank shall be subject to approval by the Minister [of Finance].” As such, the Minister of Finance is consulted throughout the process. In addition, the Bank consults with relevant experts, organizations and government departments to ensure that the chosen subject-matter elements are appropriately depicted.

As of today, 64,587 people have now signed my petition. I would like to point out there is widespread interest in the Canadian Women on Bank Notes campaign across Canada, and extensive media coverage. 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. 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 and the Minister of Finance.

While it was an important step to celebrate Canadian women on the back of the old $50 bill, 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 money certainly appears to demonstrate sexism as well as racism. 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.”

Canadians are angry 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, with your support and encouragement since government departments are consulted throughout the design process, to resolve this issue by committing to celebrating women from Canadian history on all future series of 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, make sure that at least one woman from Canadian history is featured 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.

I understand the plans are underway to issue a commemorative bank note in 2017 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Can Canadians count on you to ensure that, if the note depicts recognizable Canadians, female historical figures will be included along with males? Who and what is celebrated on our bank notes matters, as it reflects what we consider important in our culture and history and who we consider worthy of honouring for achievement. Women are not absent from the list of notable worthies in Canada, just notably absent or under-represented in many of the images that surround us and which contribute to our view of the world and our potential role in it.

I look forward to hearing from you and know that petitioners will be very interested in your response to this letter.

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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