On Thursday, Dec. 14, it was announced that civil rights activist Viola Irene Desmond, who challenged racial segregation in Hogtown in the 1940s, will be the first Canadian woman (also Black) to be featured on the country’s $10 bill, reports say.
Often referred to as the Canadian Rosa Parks, Desmond made her mark in history on November 8, 1946. It all went down after her car broke down in the small community of New Glasgow. After discovering it would be take a day before repairs could be made on her vehicle, the Halifax businesswoman opted to catch a film, The Dark Mirror, at a local hot spot, Roseland Theatre. Upon purchasing her ticket and claiming her seat on the main floor, she was soon notified by a manager that it was against their policy to seat Blacks on the main floor. Though attempts were made to redirect her to balcony seating, Desmond held her ground and remained in her seat.
Because she refused, Desmond was forcibly removed. According to Historica Canada, not only did bodily injury occur, but she was also jailed overnight, charged with tax evasion and fined the equivalent of $26. Oddly enough, the price difference between the balcony and main floor seating was one-cent. Later, Desmond attempted to fight the case, but it was at a loss. Though clearly an offense birthed by the color of her brown skin, opposing attorneys shifted the case from being a civil rights issue to tax evasion — allowing them to enforce a local statute to convict her despite her attorney and later Justice of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia Frederick William Bissette’s best efforts.
It wasn’t until April 2010 that Desmond was posthumously granted an official free pardon by the Canadian government by way of invoking the Royal Prerogative – the first instance of such action in Canadian history. The pardon, accompanied by a public declaration and apology from Nova Scotia Lieutenant-Governor Mayann Francis, recognized that her conviction was both a miscarriage of justice and that charges should never have been laid.
While Canada has certainly made a few strides ahead of the U.S. with their recent banknote, let us not forget the bigger picture. Desmund’s courage will continue to serve as a beacon of hope, inspiration, and progression for women and minorities everywhere. Meanwhile, the Land of Opportunity is close on their heels with the release of our $20 bill. Previously reported, escaped slave turned leading abolitionist Harriett Tubman will be replacing Andrew Jackson on the dub — a much-needed mark of advancement in equality and justice for all.