Behold the plight of federal agencies who can’t seem to think for themselves.
In August, Canadian Press writer Dean Beeby reported that the Bank of Canada modified the image of a female scientist on the back of the new $100 bill because focus groups didn’t like the fact she looked Asian. Beeby got access to documentation from a number of focus group sessions held across Canada in 2009.
Last month, Beeby got his hands on more survey material, this time assessing the depictions of Canada on new passports unveiled with great fanfare last week by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
This time, it appears Passport Canada decided to ignore the advice it was getting.
Here’s what Baird said about the imagery: “It tells the world who we are: a nation built on freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
The watermarks on the passports include mostly historic images such as the Bluenose schooner, the Last Spike, Niagara Falls and the Parliament Buildings. But as Beeby found out, focus groups had some problems with them.
“Participants routinely suggested that the set of images should be more representative of Canada,” said the report by Phoenix Strategic Perspectives Inc., “with emphasis on including more women and better reflecting Canada’s multicultural character and heritage.”
A watermark depicting the RCMP came under particular criticism: “What tended to elicit most critical reaction in this image was the absence of a woman in the picture depicting the RCMP. Part of this evolution surely includes the introduction of female officers.”
Beeby notes many of the images that reference ethnic diversity are devoid of people, such as an empty Pier 21 in Halifax representing immigration.
“The image of the Last Spike, completing Canada’s transcontinental railroad, may show some Chinese labourers in the background, though the picture is unclear,” he writes. “And a totem pole and Inukshuk refer to aboriginal cultures.”
While historical heritage is important, the passports clearly fail to depict modern or even historical Canada demography. On a whole, wrote Beeby, the focus groups felt the images were “exclusionary.”
As a Telegram editorial noted in August, the Bank of Canada came under fire for taking a handful of raw remarks from across the country and treating them all as sound advice. Now, Passport Canada is getting grief for ignoring focus groups.
It’s true that depicting diversity can get a little ridiculous. Some agencies go out of their way to depict at least one of every colour, race, gender and age group imaginable.
But sometimes a little common sense goes a long way. Here’s a rule of thumb: if your government-issued material is practically devoid of women and non-Caucasians — you just may have a problem.