Canada's central bank governor apologized Monday for provoking a racial row after purging an image of an Asian-looking scientist peering into a microscope from new $100 bills.
The image of the woman scientist, alongside an insulin bottle, was meant to celebrate Canada's medical innovations.
But the polymer bank note was changed before it began circulating last November to show instead a woman with neutral ethnic features after focus groups objected to an Asian-looking researcher being portrayed. She now appears Caucasian.
The revelation last week provoked a public outcry, with Chinese-Canadians chiding the central bank for capitulating to the so-called racist feedback.
According to the last census, more than 1.4 million Canadians trace their ancestry to China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia or Laos.
The feedback from eight focus groups in four Canadian cities found that the original image presented "an inappropriate stereotype, i.e., Asians have an affinity for the sciences."
For some, according to a bank report obtained by AFP, the brown and yellow color of the money also reinforced the perception that the person is Asian, which was "perceived to 'racialize' the note."
Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney apologized for the controversy, saying the focus groups were shown a "photoshopped image based on an original photograph of a South Asian woman."
In the actual design of the bank note, however, the woman was drawn so as not to resemble an actual person yet still appeared "to represent only one ethnic group."
"That was not the bank's intention and I apologize to those who were offended -- the bank's handling of this issue did not meet the standards Canadians justifiably expect of us," Carney said in a statement.
In light of these events, the central bank will be reviewing its design process, he added. "Our bank notes belong to all Canadians, and the work we do at the bank is for all Canadians."
Queen's University marketing professor Ken Wong in Kingston, Ontario, reacted: "Personally, as one of Asian heritage, I find this entire discussion silly."
"The person on the bill is a Canadian regardless of ethnicity: it should never have been changed," he said. "If Carney needs to apologize for anything it is for being overly sensitive to political correctness run amok."
The focus groups also complained that the microscope was "outdated" and that Canada should not tout its healthcare on a bank note as it does not provide "a high enough standard of care."