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Canada has a new passport and nobody seems to like it

I love my Canadian passport. It is both a part of my own identity and my ticket to the rest of the world. And as much as I also love technology, I hope that we never do away with old fashioned passport stamps administered by grumpy customs officials. I don’t care if the data is being stored on a blockchain somewhere — which will likely be the case — I would really like a barely legible and awkwardly placed stamp inside of my personal paper folio.

Of course, now there’s a new passport.

This week, Canada unveiled a new design featuring enhanced security features (presumably all of which are vitally important) and a lot more images of nature. Perhaps not surprisingly, it has received a lot of criticism. But it doesn’t seem to be the usual, “this is new and I just don’t like change” kind of criticism. It seems to be the “this is objectively bad” kind of criticism.

Supposedly, many of the visual changes were done because they were thought to better represent who we are as Canadians. Really?

Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould, who helped announce the changes, and who oversees Service Canada, said that the redesign – including images of polar bears, people jumping in a lake, and birds in winter – capture the “spirit of who we are as Canadians.”

At the highest level, I think it is clear from this redesign that we are struggling with our own sense of national identity. Who are we? And what kind of nation do we aspire to become? This is evident through at least two features of this new passport:

  1. The way we are communicating the monarchy of Canada
  2. The iconography that we believe captures the “spirit of who we are as Canadians”

The current passport design — which I have in front of me right now — features the Arms of Canada prominently in the middle of the cover. The new design (pictured above), moves the Arms of Canada to the bottom left, though it appears to remain the same size as before. However, this move makes room for a partial maple leaf to tuck behind the Arms in the center of the cover.

Ignoring that these two objects feel visually incongruent with one another, I generally hate both designs simply because I hate the fact that Canada is a constitutional monarchy. However, I will give credit to the previous design and say that at least it was decisive. It had one visual image in the center of the cover that clearly communicated something: our monarch is first and foremost.

Now what we have done is decided to timidly introduce a partial (and minimal) maple leaf behind it. It is perhaps the softest way we could have done it: “Sorry, mind if I just insert this here?” But rather than assert brand Canada, it merely signals that we’re shy, and we don’t really know who we are.

If it were up to me (and it isn’t), the Arms would come off the cover completely (it can go somewhere inside as part of our history), and I’d place a single small red maple leaf under the word “Passeport.” Nothing on the back cover. Ironically, I think this would be infinitely more impactful — and confident — than what is shown here.

The next problem has to do with the iconography that we believe captures the “spirit of who we are as Canadians.” As of 2021, it is estimated that over 82% of Canadians live in an urban center, and this number continues to increase. So while I appreciate that we have a very large land mass and that our natural environment is precious, it does not actually reflect the current reality of how the majority of Canadians live.

Perhaps the argument is that deep down inside we all secretly wish that we were living in the woods next to nature (or at least in a luxury “cottage” in Muskoka). This is the true “spirit of who we are.” I don’t know, maybe it is for some. But there’s something to be said about recognizing the reality we live in today and the importance of our cities in driving the Canadian economy forward.

Equally important is recognizing the people, moments, and symbols that form part of our history. Much of that was stripped from this new design. So is it time to go back to the drawing board? I think so. Our visual symbols tell the story of who we are and who we want to become. If we can’t get these right, then how will we actually get to where we want to go?


  1. I don’t mind it, even though it isn’t very pure from a design perspective. Maybe it just accurately captures who we are as a people now – someplace between a forward-facing future republic, and a not yet ready to shed our royal ties colony.

    Liked by 1 person

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