Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney apologized Monday for the way the image of an Asian woman was removed from the initial design for new $100 banknotes, promising to review the bank's internal processes.
"I apologize to those who were offended - the Bank's handling of the issue did not meet the standards Canadians justifiably expect of us," Carney said in a statement. "Our banknotes belong to all Canadians, and the work we do at the bank is for all Canadians."
The Canadian Press reported last week that the image of an Asian woman was purged from the original design after some focus groups in October 2009 raised questions about her ethnicity. Some of the participants said the Asian woman did not represent Canada; some said other ethnic groups should be shown as well, says a report obtained under the Access to Information Act.
The small groups were based in Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Fredericton, and were queried for the bank by The Strategic Counsel in a $53,000 contract.
By the end of 2009, an image of a Caucasian-looking woman was substituted in a move bank spokesman Jeremy Harrison said was to restore "neutral ethnicity." The original design never went into circulation.
Spokespersons for the Chinese Canadian National Council called the move "racist," and demanded the bank change its policies to stop "erasing" visible minorities from Canada's money.
On Monday, Carney called Victor Wong, the council's executive director, to discuss the apology.
"This is a win-win," Wong said, noting that the council appreciated Monday's statement. "I had a brief and cordial telephone conversation with Governor Carney ... and CCNC has offered to give input into the Bank of Canada review process."
Carney did not clarify whether the central bank intends to change its policies to allow so-called ethnic groups or visible minorities to appear on Canada's currency.
"It's too early for us to give details on what that would entail," said spokeswoman Dale Alexander.
Not everyone was satisfied with Carney's response, however.
"What's this 'apology' for?" asked May Lui, speaking for CCNC's Toronto chapter. "For the appearance of the Asian-looking individual on the draft note that circulated to focus groups? Or for the final image that appears on the note that we see today?"
Carney acknowledged that an early design for the new $100 polymer banknote, which began circulating last November, was a Photoshopped image based on an original photograph of a South Asian woman looking through a microscope."
"South Asian" normally refers to people from India, Pakistan and neighbouring countries, while "Asian" refers to China and other countries in that region. It was unclear why the focus groups referred to an Asian when Carney claimed the photo was of a South Asian.
The bank said while that image was shown to eight focus groups in 2009, designers were already altering it electronically to ensure it did not resemble an actual person - suggesting the focus-group input had no bearing on the decision.
"The purpose of the focus group was for the basic conceptual model - the actual design of the note had not yet happened," said Alexander.
The bank has declined to say what specific changes it made to the image. Critics have said the Caucasian-looking woman does not have "neutral ethnicity," as the bank claims, but merely represents the dominant group in Canada.