by Librarian Karen
In July 2013, Passport Canada introduced a re-designed passport containing new security features and watermarks, which Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird claims “tells the world who we are: a nation built on freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
While I also have some concerns about the security features, I’d like to share some of my observations about the watermarks, which certainly offer a fair depiction of Canada’s history, geography and industrial growth. But they depict a historical Canada, not a modern, diverse country rich in culture. There are no pictures of modern cities (was Toronto, Canada’s largest city, intentionally omitted?).
Even more concerning, there is a lack of representation of the people of Canada. Specifically, the new passport lacks images containing indigenous people, visible minorities and women. Out of the twenty-five individual images (on sixteen pages), only one clearly contains a woman, (which is not even a photograph of a person, it’s a photograph of a statue.)
Passport Canada paid $53,290 on a focus group to collect feedback on the images and the conclusion was: “Participants routinely suggested that the set of images should be more representative of Canada, with emphasis on including more women and better reflecting Canada’s multicultural character and heritage.”
If any changes were made to the line-up of images after the focus group, I wonder what the original selection was, because the final set of images is not reflective of the Canada I know.
Pier 21, Halifax, historic gateway to Canada, “was one of the most significant ports of entry for newly arrived immigrants,” and yet there are no images anywhere in the passport representing these immigrants, many of which worked on building the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Last Spike 1885, is a photograph depicting a group of men on the train tracks, most of which appear to be Caucasian; why not include some of the workers? (To note, the contributions of Chinese workers is mentioned in the description of this image on Passport Canada’s website.)
Another image I find questionable is the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, France, a Canadian war memorial which is in a different country. I understand the significance of this particular memorial, but why not use a picture of a war memorial in Canada, of which there are plenty to choose from? (Veterans Affairs has a list of Canadian war memorials located in Canada).
Most disappointingly however, is that there is only one image containing a woman: Nellie McClung, from the statue of the Famous Five is a photograph of the statue of Nellie McClung, in front of a print of the Famous Five (Henrietta Muir Edwards, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney and Irene Parlby). Where’s Laura Secord? Emily Carr? Pauline Johnson? And why use a picture of a statue rather than an actual photograph?
Considering Canada has more women than men, there is no reason not to have better representation in the passport. The omission suggests that females are not valued, haven’t contributed to the growth of Canada, and have no place in Canadian society. It’s a missed opportunity to promote gender equality.
Overall, I’m disappointed in the choice of images. I’ve done a bit of travelling, and some of the people I’ve met I’ve kept in touch with, so I asked them for their feedback on the new passport. I also asked for feedback from some of my Canadian ex-pat friends who are now living elsewhere. The consensus seems to be that it doesn’t accurately reflect their image of Canada, there is a lack of connection with the images, a lack of relevancy.
When comparing passports with other travelers, there is an opportunity for us to share the story of our country. If John Baird is suggesting that the images in the new passport are a way to tell the world who we are, how do we explain the lack of diversity in the people represented?