The recent outpouring of support for asylum seekers, fleeing war in Syria and in other parts of the Middle East, has brought the plight of refugees in Canada to the fore of public consciousness. Images of children drowning at sea, emaciated families fleeing carnage, and towering cities reduced to rubble, have captured the hearts and minds of Canadians. Sixty-five percent of Canadians believe that their government should take steps to welcome refugees in the country.
As a result, ordinary families are opening their doors to newcomers escaping danger in their host countries. Faith communities are raising money to help settle women, children and men fleeing the ravages of war. Governments of all levels—federal, provincial and municipal—are also playing their part to make the transition to life in Canada as smooth as possible.
The Michaëlle Jean Foundation recognizes that the arts have a critical role to play at many levels in the settlement process of newcomers, particularly when they are fleeing war zones and persecution. We also acknowledge that many young people have a unique grasp of the newcomer experience and are using a variety of tools, including the arts, to tell their stories, to overcome trauma, to mobilize their peers, and to engage broader society in integrating refugees, immigrants and migrants into Canadian society.
We are proud to collaborate with Immigrant Settlement Services of British Columbia (ISSBC) and the Vancouver Foundation (VF) on a unique arts for collective impact project, designed to empower youth to use arts to mobilize their community around better integrating newcomers in the province. Over the next four years, the Michaëlle Jean Foundation will be collaborating with ISSBC and VF on a collective impact initiative that will use arts exhibitions, community mobilization and multi-sector planning to improve the integration experience for refugees, immigrants and migrants in Vancouver and throughout the province. Support this initiative.
The terrorist attacks unleashed on Paris, in December 2015, and the fatal hostage takings in Mali and Burkina Faso, in January 2016, have placed the issue of violent extremism at the forefront of Canadian consciousness. Few have forgotten the violent attacks that shook the national capital, in 2014, when the downtown core became the stage of a gunfight, as a lone gunman, apparently inspired by extremist ideology, sought to bring the carnage of war right to Canada’s doorsteps.
In the uproar over the incidents of violent extremism, minority communities have raised the alarm, claiming that they are being blamed for actions they overwhelmingly deplore. A suspicious fire at a mosque in Kitchener, Ontario, reports of violent assaults committed against Muslim women in Toronto and Montreal, and the pepper spraying of Syrian refugees at an Islamic Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia, all point to serious challenges posed by this backlash. Young Canadians, who are either of the Muslim faith or who are perceived to be so, are increasingly raising concerns about being unfairly targeted and, even excluded, from employment and housing opportunities.
To assist in preventing the rise of violent extremism in Canada while combating the proliferation of social exclusion, the Michaëlle Jean Foundation is excited to join forces with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Institute for Research and Education on Race Relations, and the City of Montreal, on a groundbreaking project for young people in the Greater Montreal Region. The Foundation will be working over a four year period in the region to empower young Montrealers, aged 15 to 30, from Muslim, as well as, Arab, Syrian, Maghrebi, Farsi, Kurdish and Sahelian communities. They will have a unique opportunity to use the arts to work with their communities and government, business, social service, health, law enforcement and labour leaders, to foster their full integration into the social, economic, cultural and political life of the city. Support our project.
Canada’s first Truth and Reconciliation Commission has provided Canadians of all backgrounds with an unprecedented opportunity to learn about the sordid history of the Indian Residential Schools. Opened at the beginning of the 20th century and closed as late as the 1990s, the schools saw thousands of Indigenous youth taken away from their families and placed in boarding schools. There, many were stripped of their ancestral languages and cultures, and even physically and sexually abused.
The legacy of the residential schools has included high rates of suicide, violence, disappearing women, and substance abuse plaguing many Indigenous communities across the country. It has also fed a criminal justice system, which witnessed, over the last ten years, a dramatic overrepresentation of Indigenous women and men in federal and provincial penitentiaries. As a result, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has recommended a series of measures to tackle the overrepresentation of Aboriginal peoples in Canada’s criminal justice system, as part of the broader effort to reconcile with Indigenous communities across the country.
Inspired by the Commission’s recommendations, the Michaëlle Jean Foundation has joined forces with the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and Halifax-based Youth Art Connect to launch the second edition of its Justice, Art & Youth Project. The project empowers underserved youth to work with their communities in the province to build lasting solutions to justice-related issues, from the vantage point of Indigenous peoples, the African Nova Scotian community, LGBTQ communities as well as women and teenage girls. The five-year project builds on a collaboration with the art gallery, initiated in 2015, which saw over 100 artists engaged in creating an exhibition that focused on raising awareness about justice-related issues in the province. Support this initiative.
Despite figuring among the world’s top economies, Canada is not sheltered from the scourge of hunger and food insecurity. Statistics Canada reports that at least 8% of Canadian adults and 5% of Canadian children live in households that do not have access to a sufficient variety or quantity of food due to lack of money. That represents at least 8.3% of Canadian households. When one considers families that depend on government benefits, as the main source of income, the rate of food insecurity increases to 21.4%. Similarly, lone-parent families with children under 18 have a 22.6% rate of food insecurity. A 2013 Angus Reid Public Opinion survey, commissioned by Food Banks Canada, reported that at least 25% of Canadians, that year, had worried about being able to afford to buy food for themselves and/or their families.
Canadian food banks have been struggling to alleviate the problem. Food Banks Canada estimates that every month, close to 1 million Canadians turn to food banks for assistance. This as food banks across the country are experiencing dwindling stocks. The situation is likely to become more dire, as Food Secure Canada warns that the drop in the value of the Canadian dollar will lead to higher grocery bills, particularly for fruits and vegetables, which are overwhelmingly imported.
The Michaëlle Jean Foundation is excited to join forces with the National Art Gallery of Canada and the Commission scolaire de l’Est de l’Ontario on a national effort to empower young people to develop strategies to fight hunger through the power of the arts. As part of the campaign, school boards in the National Capital Region, and across Canada, will come together to provide their students with an unprecedented opportunity to tackle the issue of hunger and food insecurity in their communities. Support this initiative.