Experts consulted by the Bank of Canada discussed including a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement on the new $10 bill featuring civil rights activist Viola Desmond.
Documents obtained by HuffPost Canada through the Access to Information Act show the idea came up on Nov. 2, 2016 in a design workshop. A little over a month later, it was publicly announced that Desmond would be the face of the first bill in a new series of vertical banknotes.
According to meeting notes, experts discussed the impact of the activism led by Black Lives Matter: “Many of Desmond’s concerns are still issues in Canada and people are still protesting and still dying for this.”
Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013 by three women in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida. Organizers Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi have since inspired international chapters, including in Toronto, to draw attention to systemic barriers and violence that abet anti-black racism.
During the workshop, it was suggested a security element in the bill be used to convey the message that the racial profiling Desmond faced still continues today.
“Use the hologram to capture some lines from the Black Lives Matter movement,” meeting notes read. “Emphasize the connect between the past and present.”
The hologram is a security feature of Canada’s polymer bills using a metallic foil image that changes colour depending on its angle to light.
The 249 pages of Bank of Canada documents obtained by HuffPost show records collected from the onset of the design process to ministerial approval of the bill’s final look. No subsequent mention of the idea suggests it wasn’t further discussed.
It’s unclear who attended the workshop or who made the suggestion. Information about the participants, names and the number of people, is listed as “xxxx” in the day’s meeting notes.
No reference to the Black Lives Matter movement made it onto the final banknote design.
Experts warn of ‘disingenuous’ portrayal of Desmond’s story
Desmond gained recognition as a civil rights activist in 1946 when she tried to buy a downstairs seat ticket to watch a movie at a segregated theatre in New Glasgow, N.S. She was told by the attendant, “I’m sorry but I’m not permitted to sell downstairs tickets to you people.”
The 32-year-old Nova Scotia black businesswoman took a seat downstairs to protest the policy. She was arrested after refusing to move upstairs at the manager’s request. The amusement tax difference between balcony and downstairs tickets was one cent. Desmond was charged by police for attempting to defraud the provincial government.
She died in 1965 and was given a posthumous apology and pardon by the province in 2010.
During the 2016 workshop, experts pitched ways to extend Desmond’s legacy to the present day. “To end with the pardon is a little disingenuous,” a line in the nine-page document reads.
The purpose of the meeting, according to a presentation deck shown to participants, was to settle on a theme for Desmond’s banknote.
This theme, and how Desmond is portrayed on the bank note, must resonate with Canadians, be widely appealing, meaningful, and evoke pride.Bank of Canada Nov. 2, 2016 consultation meeting notes
“This theme, and how Desmond is portrayed on the bank note, must resonate with Canadians, be widely appealing, meaningful, and evoke pride,” reads a presentation slide.
Participating experts were asked by the bank to share what kind of values they thought Desmond embodied. Records show they shortlisted attributes including courage, fairness, strength, vision, as well as resistance. “She wasn’t going to take any more crap,” the notes read.
The Bank of Canada announced on Dec. 6, 2016 that the theme for the new $10 bill featuring Desmond would be social justice and the struggle for rights and freedoms.
Previous series of Canadian banknotes have only included members of the royal family (King George V, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth II) and four former prime ministers (Wilfrid Laurier, John A. Macdonald, William Lyon Mackenzie King, and Robert Borden).
Desmond is the first Canadian outside this group to be featured on a Bank of Canada note.
The bank consulted Desmond’s sister, Wanda Robson, prior to final approval of the design. And when the new bill went into circulation in mid-November, she attended a launch event at the Canadian Museum For Human Rights to celebrate.
“The Queen is in good company,” Robson said at the time.
Bank machine software across Canada is currently being upgraded to recognize and authenticate the new bill as official currency.