Canadians see Twin Towers, pornography in $20 bill design
Richard Madan and Field Producer Philip Ling, CTV News
Published Sunday, May 6, 2012 10:57PM EDT
OTTAWA - Many Canadians don't know that the Vimy Memorial in France even exists, with many mistaking the monument -- shown on Canada's forthcoming new $20 bills -- for the Twin Towers, new documents show.
Others add that the initial design of the new polymer banknote, which was officially unveiled last Wednesday by the Bank of Canada, was "too pornographic."
As part of the plastic makeover, depictions of Canadian artist Bill Reid's sculptures Raven and the First Men and The Spirit of Haida Gwaii on the back of the $20 bill were replaced with the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.
The Bank says the new design is intended to "(evoke) the contributions and sacrifices of Canadian men and women in military conflicts throughout our history."
"The Bank is proud to memorialize this pivotal moment in Canadian history and to feature the inspiring Canadian National Vimy Memorial on the new $20 bank note," Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney said at the unveiling.
The iconic monument located in Vimy, France, commemorates the Battle of Vimy Ridge and honours those who fought and gave their lives in the First World War.
But the results of Bank of Canada focus groups show that many Canadians don't know such a memorial exists.
"Most of those who participated in the focus groups did not appear to recognize the Vimy Memorial upon first being exposed to the note," an internal report said. "Many did not seem to be aware that the Memorial exists."
The report noted, however, that "most appeared to be aware of the name ‘Vimy'" and its "significance as it related to Canada's military history."
The Bank hired Toronto market research firm The Strategic Council to hold focus groups with Canadians across the country to give their opinion on the new banknote. CTV News obtained the September 2011 "final check" report under the Access to Information Act.
Memories of 9/11
The design of the Vimy Memorial was one of a number of "potential controversies" identified, the report noted, because some of those surveyed said the monument reminded them of New York City's World Trade Center.
"I wonder if the monument here could conjure up memories of 9/11 or the Twin Towers," one person in Toronto said. Another added, "When you quickly glance at it, and if I didn't know any better, it looks like the Twin Towers."
"My first thought when I looked at the back of this bill was the Twin Towers because I've never seen this monument, ever," said a person in Vancouver.
Others questioned why Canada's banknote design is associated with war and military issues.
"Why the war?" a cash handler from Vancouver asked. "It should be a symbol of some peace."
"Given the climate domestically and around the world, I wonder if war is too much of a statement. . . . Canada used to have the label of peacekeeper," added someone from Halifax.
Participants from every focus group also raised red flags about "naked characters" on the memorial.
"It's too pornographic," said a cash handler in Toronto. "What is the woman on the top holding?"
"The naked women are going to offend someone," said one person in Toronto.
The characters are true to the actual Vimy Memorial; sculptures represent the virtues of truth, faith, justice, charity, knowledge, and at the highest point of the monument, the figure of peace.
But for a few people in the focus group, the characters on the memorial seem anachronistic.
"It doesn't look like a Canadian memorial," a cash handler from Vancouver said. "It looks Greek!"
The new banknote features an updated portrait of the Queen Elizabeth II, who is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee this year.
Her face is placed squarely in the centre of the note, her brow slightly furrowed, staring the money holder in the eye.
But the Bank of Canada refused to release details on the focus groups' thoughts on the portrait. Dozens of pages titled "overall concerns" and "design issues" were blacked out.
Discussions between the Bank, the Governor General's office and Finance Canada regarding the portrait were also not released.
The new $20 bills will begin circulating in November, joining polymer versions of the redesigned $100 and $50 bills already in use.
Similar focus groups were conducted regarding the designs of those banknotes. Some participants mistook the depiction of a strand of DNA on the $100 bill for a sex toy; another saw skull and crossbones on the new $50; and most people thought the see-through window on the polymer notes was shaped like the contours of a woman's body.
The remaining bank notes in the series -- the $5 and $10 -- will be issued by the end of 2013. The bank says specific designs and detailed images of those notes will not be released until their official unveiling.
With files from The Canadian Press