Defacing Coins as a Form of Political Action:
Royal Canadian Mint Sues Dogwood Initiative over ‘Loony Idea’
By: Graham Sproule.
“No person shall, except in accordance with a licence granted by the Minister, melt down, break up or use otherwise than as currency any coin that is current and legal tender in Canada.” – Article 11, Currency Act Controversy brings media attention, and breaking the law for the sake of the ‘greater good’ is always controversial. The current legal fight between a British Columbia environmentalist group, Dogwood Initiative, and the Royal Canadian Mint has certainly brought public controversy and media attention. Although the stated mission on its web site www.dogwoodinitiative.org is to make British Columbia the global model for sustainable land reform, visit www.notankers.ca and the Dogwood Initiative looks like your typical environmentalist group. Although to their credit, they have not yet gone so far as to begin ramming ships into oil tankers as Greenpeace often does. Nonetheless, it is not their environmental advocacy but their anarchist tendencies that has gained them the most media attention of late. To gain publicity for their campaign, the group has produced at least two hundred thousand removable “oil slick” decals to stick on loonies. Their goal is to pressure British Columbia’s Legislature to ban oil tankers in the north coast of British Columbia has drawn the threat of legal action against them. And not from the usual suspects in the big oil industry but instead from the Royal Canadian Mint. The oil industry execs, successfully vilified for so many years by environmental groups, must be only too happy to have the federal government and numismatist take on their traditional foes for them.
“The Loonie Project” To protest the government’s support of oil tanker traffic along BC’s coast, the Dogwood Initiative applied decals to 450,000 $1 coins. Once in circulation, the message spread person-to-person. The website collected thousands of online petition signatures and allowed people to track their loonies as they travelled across the country. The protest was covered by every major media outlet in Canada.
When they decided to run the ‘No Tanker Loonie’ campaign, I doubt anyone at the Dogwood Initiative envisioned that their main foes would end up being government lawyers and coin collectors. Then again, it is doubtful that the environmentalist crowd could know that their zeal for the integrity of mother earth could be matched by the zeal of the numismatic community for the integrity of Canadian coinage. In fact, it seems that the group was genuinely surprised at the threat of legal actions from the Royal Canadian Mint.In response, Dogwood’s Communications Director stated, “We feel that the risk of an oil spill outweighs the risk of prosecution. There’s nothing to prevent people from using these coins and furthermore we encourage them to use them and continue putting them into circulation.” The truth is, the group could probably not be more pleased at the further controversy with the Royal Canadian Mint that their campaign has drawn. By threatening legal action against the group, the Mint has probably given them for more publicity than their decal campaign would have otherwise generated. The group says it plans to continue its decal campaign at least until the B.C. provincial election on May 12th. And why should they not? After all, defacing money has been used as a form of political protest for thousands of years. Considering the publicity, it’s not such a ‘loony idea’ after all.
The Dogwood Initiative issued these decals in various forms. One form (top left) consist of 3 decals with a bottom example of what the finished loonie will look like. The bottom of the stick reads “stick on a loonie to make a difference”. These small sticks were issued as giveaways to be given out for free to people on the street. The larger sheet (below) was produced as a fundraising medium for the campaign. For a $10 donation a person would receive 2 sheets of decals (42 in total), for a donation of $25 a person would receive 6 sheets of decals (126 in total) and for a donation of $100 a person would receive a “party kit” of 25 sheets (525 decals in total). The decals themselves use a simple static charge to apply themselves to the loonies. If applied to older circulated loonies the dirt and grime under the decal would cause it to fall off after only a few days in circulation.
Previously published in the ENS “The Planchet” Magazine Vol-56 Issue-05