Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage – Arts and culture help to integrate refugees
By Sergio Martinez – mtltimes.ca
Everybody is talking about the Syrian refugees who have already started to arrive in Canada, including a good number of them in Quebec, of which the majority will most likely choose to settle in Montreal. Of course, in a case like this of a massive arrival of people, most of the talk focuses on the economic and social aspects of their presence. But there is an aspect that should not be neglected: these are families that besides their basic survival needs must also have other needs that are not of a material nature, there are also the cultural needs, the satisfaction of reading, attending a concert, watching a play, or seeing a movie. And everyone who has moved to a new country must know: one of the main ways to learn about a new society is through the cultural and artistic products of that society. Thus, the initiative announced by the CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Minister of Canadian Heritage, with the support of Sun Life Financial comes to help in solving two important aspects regarding the new refugees that Canada is about to welcome. On the one hand, to provide these Syrian families access to artistic products because they, in turn, will give them back a sense of humanity that during all the time they were displaced could have been damaged. And on the other hand by giving them access to books, movies, and plays created or interpreted by Canadians the new arrivals will also acquire a sense of what being part of this society means. In other words, integration into the Quebec and Canadian culture and society should be helped by this initiative.
Simon Brault, Director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts put it this way: “We know the welcome and integration of refugees is a highly complex and multifaceted process, and this initiative is one modest piece of much broader collective and national efforts. We also know that arts and culture can be a refuge, a celebration of diversity, and source of inspiration and connection. Our message on behalf of the arts community to newcomers is ‘welcome, we are so happy to have you in our communities, we welcome you to our spaces, performances and events when you are ready.'”
For her part Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, stated: “All Canadians are encouraged to join in the efforts to help Syrian refugees flourish in their new communities. I am pleased to support this initiative that will allow newcomers to discover Canadian culture through enriching cultural and artistic experiences.”
According to the Canada Council for the Arts communiqué “for 2016-17, the Canada Council is committing $150,000 to support the arts initiative. This is new money added to the existing granting activities of the Council. Sun Life Financial will contribute $50,000 through its Corporate Social Responsibility and Philanthropy Branch. More details on the initiative will be released in March 2016, as will a list of collaborators and resources in the resettlement sector in communities across Canada.”
The initiative is certainly a laudable one since it may serve the two purposes that I already mentioned. During the question period that followed, however, I addressed some questions to Mr. Brault regarding the role of the Council and its relation with ethnic communities in the past. I pointed out that the support of that Canadian institution for people from the ethnic communities hasn’t been good since it tended to favour those coming from old-stock English and French-speaking communities. Then—even if this is a good initiative—it would primarily benefit established cultural and artistic institutions whose works and plays may be paid for by the Council for the consumption of the newcomers. But what about those writers, musicians, and other artists that for sure might be coming among the 25 thousand refugees? Would they be able to get any support?
Mr. Brault replied that the issue of diversity is becoming now a priority for the Council. The time for creators from the ethnic communities may have then come to get recognition and support from the Canada Council for the Arts. I hope that will be the case from now on.