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Hands off loonies, mint tells enviros

You might want to think twice the next time you use a loonie to scratch a lottery ticket.

According to the Royal Canadian Mint, “using Canadian coins for purposes other than as currency” can land you in jail.

The mint sent a sharply worded letter this week to the Dogwood Initiative, a B.C. environmental group, after the group launched a campaign to protest shipping Alberta oilsands oil along the B.C. coast. The campaign involves distributing black decals that, when applied to a dollar coin, make Canada’s iconic loon appear to be covered in oil.

The decals cling to the coins by static electricity, so there’s no damage to the loonies when they’re peeled off. But the mint says the campaign involves protesting, “communicating this protest to the public” and advertising the Dogwood Initiative.

“Protesting, communicating, and advertising all constitute uses other than use as currency,” the mint’s letter reads. “Contravention of this section of the Currency Act can lead to liability on summary conviction to a fine and or imprisonment.”

Section 11 of the Currency Act provides for a fine of up to $250, imprisonment for up to a year or both.

The mint also demands that the Dogwood Initiative stop using pictures of loonies on its website without the mint’s permission. The loonie is a trademark of the mint, the letter says.

Charles Campbell, communications director for the Dogwood Initiative, said the group realized it was taking a risk when it announced the campaign.

However, he said, the group disagrees with the mint’s interpretation of the law.

Section 11 is headed “melting down coins” and that’s clearly what it’s intended to stop, Campbell said.

People use coins for many things, such as making jewelry, without being prosecuted, Campbell said.

“There’s all sorts of potential things that are currently done with currency which would be illegal under this broad interpretation,” he said, adding that the mint appears to be selectively enforcing the law.

“Our question is, Why are they choosing to do that?” he said. “Is it because they work for a government that is obviously in favour of the Alberta tarsands?”

The letter gave the Dogwood Initiative five days to respond and the group is talking to lawyers, Campbell said.

Meanwhile, he said, there have been hundreds of requests for decals.

“I think people realize the power of money and that money talks,” he said. “Here it says, No tankers, which is a refreshing break because usually it’s saying exactly the opposite.

“Money and oil, they are mixed up in Canadian politics and this campaign goes directly to the heart of that.”

Tom Barrett is a contributing editor at The Tyee.

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