Government swag for Syrian refugees includes toques, a copy of the Charter of Rights and a Buster Keaton film. The Department of Heritage said the freebies were intended to “provide all refugees with a physical culture kit to introduce them to Canada.”
“The goal is to provide the new arrivals with entertaining and educational items providing a first glimpse of Canadian culture,” said Tim Warmington, department spokesperson; “The kits contain items that reflect Canada’s rich culture.”
The gift bags were compiled from federal agencies and private book publishers as part of a “cultural welcome strategy”, according to a cabinet memo obtained through Access To Information. “The strategy will assist newcomers in adjusting to their new country,” the memo said.
Syrian refugees, numbering more than 27,000 to date, received family kits comprised of tote bags with a maple leaf, a Parks Canada tuque and a bilingual copy of the Charter. Free books included Sidewalk Flowers, an illustrated children’s book that won the Governor General’s Literary Award. “In this wordless picture book, a little girl collects wildflowers while her distracted father pays her little attention,” said a publisher’s summary. “Each flower becomes a gift, and whether the gift is noticed or ignored, both giver and recipient are transformed by their encounter.”
Refugees also received a collection of National Film Board DVDs of “great silent short films offering a taste of our country’s diverse stories,” Warmington said. Titles featured The Railrodder, a 1965 production starring silent film star Buster Keaton as a visitor who crosses the country in a stolen CNR crew car. The production was one of Keaton’s last film roles, released a year before his death at age 70.
Other DVDs for refugees included The Boy And The Snow Goose; the classic animated short The Log Driver’s Waltz; a 1980 short The Juggler depicting a street busker; and Meltdown, a 2012 animated short film in which “a polar bear must try his luck finding a job in the big city when the last of his Arctic ice environment disappears,” according to an NFB review.
“The intention is to provide all refugees with a physical ‘culture kit’ to introduce them to Canadian culture,” said a memo to Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly; “The department worked with portfolio organizations and arts and culture stakeholders to source culturally-appropriate materials with an emphasis on existing materials that don’t require extensive knowledge of English or French.”
Cabinet budgeted $743 million to settle Syrian refugees this year. All the gift bag items were donated or drawn from surplus government gift shop inventory, the department said.