The Exchange

New Canadian $20 Bill Too Provocative for Some

The Exchange

If there was ever a need to confirm how badly U.S. currency needs a makeover, this is it. Our neighbors to the north just introduced a new $20 bill in Ottawa, and the redesign has garnered a bit of controversy.

The bill features Queen Elizabeth II, who is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee this year, on the front of the note. The back pays tribute to the sacrifices of Canadian men and women in military conflicts with an image of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. (Watch the Bank of Canada's video introducing the new bill and the significance of Vimy here.)

However, some people have called elements of the bill "pornographic," while others have noted a resemblance to the Twin Towers that used to stand in lower Manhattan.

The main reason for issuing a new $20 is to prevent counterfeiting threats, said the bank. The new polymer notes are also cheaper and have a smaller environmental footprint. (An image of the back of the $20 note is below.)

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Images of 9/11?

The bank hired a research firm to hold focus groups with Canadians to get their opinion on the new currency. They found that not only did most Canadians not know of the Vimy Memorial's existence, but that some of those surveyed said the monument reminded them of New York's World Trade Center that was attacked and destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001, according to an internal report cited in a CTV article.

The memorial, in Vimy, France, commemorates the Battle of Vimy Ridge and honors those who fought and died in the WWI in France and have no known grave. One focus group respondent was critical of the banknote's war imagery given the "climate domestically and around the world" -- as well as Canada's reputation as a peacekeeper. Perhaps a symbol of peace would be better, the participant suggested, according to the report.

This isn't the first time a new product or campaign called to mind the Twin Towers. Earlier this year, the poster for season 5 of "Mad Men," which showed a single figure tumbling as if through the air against a stark white background, evoked for some the gruesome images of Sept. 11 victims jumping to their deaths. And last December, a Dutch architecture firm got flack for its design of apartment towers in South Korea, named "The Cloud" that many thought were reminiscent of the World Trade Center buildings exploding.

Naked Women

The part of the memorial apparently causing some Canadians to blush is a depiction of some of the most senior figures, a group of women — sans clothes — known as the chorus. One person said the naked woman is going to "offend someone." Here's a close-up of the provocative image, depicting the Vimy figures:

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Julie Girard, a spokeswoman for the Bank of Canada's currency department, said a lot of time and thought went into all the banknotes' makeover. Additionally, she pointed out that the monument was unveiled in 1936. What's more, the bank conducted focus groups near the beginning of the five-year redesign process, asking the Canadian public what they wanted to see on their new currency. They "gave us the idea for Vimy," Girard says. The bank uses specific criteria to decide what themes will be depicted on the new notes; it must be something distinctly Canadian and something Canadians will be proud of.

For instance, the new $100 banknote celebrates Canadian medical innovations, and references the discovery of insulin and the cardiac pacemaker, both of which were done by Canadians.

"A lot of people don't know the pacemaker was invented in Canada," Girard says.

The $20 notes will go into circulation in November. The remaining bank notes in the series, the $5 and $10, will be issued by the end of 2013. The specific designs and detailed images of these notes will not be released until their official unveiling dates, the bank said.

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