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New government initiative will allow Syrian refugees to enjoy cultural activities for free

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MONTREAL — Starting April 2016, Syrian refugees will be able to enjoy free access to local entertainment.

The Canada Council for the Arts with the help of Sun Life Financial have set up a $200,000 fund. The fund will support Canadian arts organizations affiliated to the council that wish to provide newcomers with free access to their plays, performances and different arts events.

The council will front $150,000 and Sun Life Financial will contribute $50,000.

“We want to make sure that refugees understand the importance of arts, the Canadian values and more than that, also the culture that they will be living in,” said Heritage Minister Melanie Joly.

The program starts April 1, to give newcomers time to tackle primary issues such as housing and job hunting. The initiative is open to organizations that receive operating funding through the council.

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“Clearly for us, diversity, the diversification of contribution of newcomers and all that, are front and centre and will continue to be,” said Simon Brault who runs the council.

Arts organizations like Theatre D’Aujourd’hui will be able to apply for reimbursement of the tickets they give away, which is welcome news for its artistic director, Sylvain Belanger.

“It’s not a question of the amount of money that’s into it, I think it’s a symbol, it’s the gesture,” said Belanger.

Joly says it’s just one of the initiatives to help newcomers integrate into our society.

Cultural welcome kits are being distributed as soon as the refugees land.

“There’s going to be the Charter of Rights and Freedom in French, English and Arabic,” Joly said enthusiastically.

The kit will also feature children’s books that were short listed by the Government General Awards as well as a set of short films coming from the National Film Board.

Details on guidelines and how organizations can apply for funding will be released in March 2016.

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