Maxwell Smart and the Canadian Quarter

OK, neither Don Adams nor Maxwell Smart actually figure into this story, but the actual story reads like the screenplay of a lost episode of Get Smart, so I thought the title might be appropriate. My Canadian readers will probably remember the joint promotion in 2004 between Tim Horton’s and the Canadian Mint that produced a Canadian quarter with a red poppy in the middle, in honour of Remembrance Day … there was actually a fair bit of controversy in Canada at the time the coins were released, because people were concerned that they were initially only given out through Tim Horton’s locations.

However, apparently the controversy about a Canadian coin honouring Canadian War dad being specifically distributed by a commercial entity like Tim Horton’s wasn’t the only controversy to surround the quarter. According to today’s Toronto Star, when some US defense contractors in Canada received a few of the coins in change, it sparked a “U.S. Defense Security Service warning that mysterious coins with radio transmitters appeared to have been planted on American army contractors as they traveled through Canada during 2005 and 2006.” Apparently, the first use of colour on a coin was enough to cause concern amongst the contractors, and when they examined the coins more closely, the protective coating the Canadian Mint had applied to the poppy to protect the colour (apparently, early strikes of the coin, pre-coating, had problems where smudging occurred) was mistaken for “nano-technology.”

Only recently has the misunderstanding been cleared up, although some Canadian experts worry that it may become a part of the lexicon of urban myth. Stories like this tend to take on a life of their own in many cases, and this one has had at least a year to grow and fester. As Patrick Basham of the Democracy Institute said, “Two, three, four years from now I can see the (ambassador) Michael Wilson of the day earnestly explaining to some congressman that those coins were not really a security threat.”

As an aspiring comedian, these are the sorts of stories that I both love and hate. On the one hand, there is clear comic value in the story … the whole notion of spy-coins seems pulled straight from the pages of a Get Smart script, as I said off the top, so there is clear comic value to be had. But thats also the problem with it … like the Mark Foley case in the States a wile ago, there are certain levels of parody that only Mother Nature can go to believably, and this story falls into that category. Comedians love to see stories they can make fun of, but there’s a certain point, like the Foley case, and here, where you just have to sit back and marvel at the natural parody. There really are cases where you simply can’t “make that shit up” … Canadian spy-quarters seems to fit that bill nicely.

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