I was reading an article article which outlines a Pizza Shop owner in Canada who is refusing to take $10 Bills with John A. MacDonald on them. For context John A. MacDonald(the first Prime Minister of Canada) was on all $10 bills until 2017, when the new series had the obverse replaced by Viola Desmond, of bills currently in circulation I would say roughly half are of the old variety, just based on my experience.

Forgetting all nuances and subtleties of current events and why this man made his decision; is this allowed? The bills are recognized as Canadian Currency, and as a business operating in Canada is there not an obligation to serve all Canadians fairly regardless of the person on the face of their currency, since they definitely did not make that choice themselves?

Of course many places do not accept $100 bills, but that is because of forgery. It seems to be that being able to deny someone business based on when their money was printed is awfully shakey ground, what if something terrible happened to me in 2020 and I refuse all coins minted that year?

  • The shop owner may argue that he only accepts bills newer than 2018 because there are a lot of old fake notes around. This is the same argument as for $100 bills. Jul 14, 2021 at 16:25
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    The shop owner would have to notify you that those notes are not accepted before you place your order otherwise they are wasting pizza.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Jul 14, 2021 at 18:24

3 Answers 3


Canada may have specific different laws, but in most countries any legal tender must be accepted for payment of a debt. There are subtleties; in the UK for example more than 20 one penny coins are not legal tender. Old coins or banknotes may cease to be legal tender at some point and can only be exchanged at a bank; it seems Canada's $10 bill is nowhere near that point.

The biggest "loophole" is that a business owner doesn't have to allow you to create a debt. Say you go shopping in a supermarket for $40. You take your shopping, you now have a $40 debt. You take four $10 bills and hand them over, your debt is paid. At that point this $10 bill must be accepted. However, the shop owner could refuse to let you take the shopping if he doesn't like your bills. So you have no debt, so he doesn't have to accept legal tender as a debt.

In a restaurant, where you typically eat your food, creating a debt, then he cannot refuse the $10 bill. And in a shop, this will not be good for his business. If my $10 bills are not accepted, then I will take advantage of my right to shop elsewhere.

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    I had a cab driver in Scotland "pretend" to not know what an English 5-pound note was. I think he saw the Bank of Scotland one as I pulled the money out of my pocket. He probably would have taken the English one, but he saw he had a choice (and I was thankfully partially aware of the distinction). The English money was given to me by the Bank of Scotland. The Scottish notes were given as change for English ones.
    – Yorik
    Jul 14, 2021 at 16:38
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    Also, be careful with what is implied by "legal tender", which means it has to be accepted in settlement of a debt. If the shopkeeper has big signs saying "this money doesn't spend here", he may be effectively adding a condition to his contract with the customer, in which case, there's no debt to be settled and "legal tender" becomes irrelevant. IANAL Jul 14, 2021 at 17:18
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    The supermarket example would be dubious in the US. In a retail store, the act of "shopping" does not oblige payment, i.e. create debt. When you pay for items before leaving a store it amounts to a legal exchange of property ownership between you and the store with transaction settlement at the point of sale. Likewise, failure to pay before leaving a store's premises is not debt default but rather simple property theft. A restaurant is different since served food is not considered property but service fulfillment, and ordering of service is an express agreement subject to debt obligation.
    – dhinson919
    Jul 15, 2021 at 5:37
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    try spending at £50 in ANY corner shop in the UK, and then re-write your answer lol
    – PeterH
    Jul 15, 2021 at 9:09
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    Is there any reference describing shoppers as taking on debt that's then settled at the counter? My impression was that shoppers performed transactions where the items become theirs as the payment is accepted.
    – Nat
    Jul 15, 2021 at 11:20

CBC, the public Canadian broadcaster, quotes the Bank of Canada:

Even though it is legal currency, the Bank of Canada says it is not mandatory for Canadian businesses to accept cash.

According to the Bank of Canada, retailers don't have to take bills or coins "because both parties must agree on the payment method."

I find that surprising because it undermines the value of legal tender. There is, of course, a principle conflict between freedom of contract on one hand and the interest of societies (via their governments) to maintain the value and usability of their domestic currency on the other hand. Canada resolved it favoring freedom of contract. In the European Union the conflict is still not uniformly decided (see Report of the Euro Legal Tender Expert Group (ELTEG), undated, p. 6). The recommendation of that paper is about the opposite of the Canadian regulation: A business must accept cash unless both parties agree to use a different form of payment.

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    The value of "legal tender" is to set a uniform standard for satisfying existing financial obligations, not to force parties into contracts they don't want to agree to.
    – Sneftel
    Jul 15, 2021 at 11:58
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    @Sneftel A host of laws "force parties into contracts they don't want to agree to", especially the business in business to customer relationships. Jul 15, 2021 at 12:00
  • Exactly. And they do so very carefully, in order to balance individual rights against the public interest. The importance of legal tender is to establish an official currency in a state, not to force a gas station to take your $100 bill or your sack of pennies.
    – Sneftel
    Jul 15, 2021 at 12:08
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    @Sneftel The obvious issue is that the $100 bill is only good to wipe my behind if nobody accepts it. Paper money's value is pure faith, and sometimes a little threat helps the faith ;-). Jul 15, 2021 at 12:09
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    That's where the invisible hand of the market comes in. Someone with a $100 credit card debt will gladly buy your $100 bill for 50 $1 bills, since they'll come out $50 ahead on the deal. But then someone else would give you 60 $1 bills to compete, etc. As long as there's debts, there's a market. Friction in the details of monetary exchange is a matter of market realities, and not something the state usually has a compelling interest in interfering with (but see various jurisdictions that have banned "credit card only" retail, to avoid marginalizing people without a bank account).
    – Sneftel
    Jul 15, 2021 at 12:19

The Canadian Human Rights Act states

5 It is a discriminatory practice in the provision of goods, services, facilities or accommodation customarily available to the general public

(a) to deny, or to deny access to, any such good, service, facility or accommodation to any individual, or

(b) to differentiate adversely in relation to any individual,

on a prohibited ground of discrimination.

And the "prohibited ground of discrimination" is your usual fare of sex, race, national origin, ex-cons, or pregnant women. Can't refuse service to any person for those reasons.

But after searching Canadian laws for other reasons someone may refuse service, I couldn't find any. At the end of the day, the shop keeper owns the merchandise, and as such he and he alone determines the conditions under which it leaves his possession. If he doesn't like your money, then he doesn't have to accept it. Legal tender in Canada is simply regarded as notes printed by the Bank of Canada, and 'In legal terms, it means “the money approved in a country for paying debts.”', but contains no obligation in its definition to be accepted by Canadian citizens if a debt isn't owed.

  • The Canadian Human Rights Act doesn't apply in any case, it is a federal act that cannot apply to restaurants etc. under exclusive provincial jurisdiction (even if on First Nations land). But I would assume Nova Scotia's equivalent is similar and doesn't prohibit this specifically either.
    – xngtng
    Jul 15, 2021 at 11:26
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    The scenario in the question isn't about refusing service, it's about refusing a particular form of payment.
    – Barmar
    Jul 15, 2021 at 14:34
  • Which may result in denying the sale, thus service. Jul 15, 2021 at 15:15

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