Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Viola Desmond to Grace the $10 Bill

Viola Desmond, known as the Canadian Rosa Parks, will officially grace the front of the $10 Canadian bill in 2018.

In 1946 Nova Scotia, Ms. Desmond refused to sit in a movie theatre balcony designated for people of her race, and went to the main floor instead. She was forcibly removed from the theatre, injuring her hip and then arrested. As if that wasn't enough, she was charged with tax evasion over the 1 cent difference between the balcony and main floor tickets and fined $20, which she paid.

Instead of backing down, she fought the charge with lawyer, Frederick William Bissett. The government’s argument at the time was that she had evaded this 1 cent tax. Bissett argued that she was wrongfully accused of tax evasion, not racial discrimination and was unsuccessful.  

In 2010, she was granted a posthumous free pardon and the government of Nova Scotia apologised to her family.

An interesting fact about Ms. Desmond is that she began the Desmond School of Beauty Culture in Nova Scotia to allow black women who were rejected from white only training, a way ahead - many went on to open businesses. 

It may be just a face on money, but it is a widespread visual reminder that rejecting what was once ‘legal’ and ‘socially acceptable’ is no longer.

- Rachel Spence, Law Clerk

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