Surrey will be Canada’s first City of Refuge

October 17, 2016

By Jennifer Saltman, Vancouver Sun |

Aislinn Hunter, award-winning B.C. poet, author and creative-writing instructor, has never had to worry that her life or liberty were in jeopardy because of something she wrote.

The freedom she enjoys living in this country is not something she takes for granted, because there are writers and artists all over the world who don’t have the same opportunity to freely express themselves.

“It’s easy to be smug,” she said. “There’s a lot of freedom in Canada to be who you are.”

Soon, Surrey will be a safe haven for those who are persecuted because of their creative endeavours.

On Monday, it was announced that the city is Canada’s first International City of Refuge, which means that Surrey will offer temporary sanctuary to writers and artists, giving them an escape and a platform to continue their work.
Working with the Norway-based International City of Refuge Network, a candidate will be chosen to settle in Surrey for two years. Funds will be raised to support the writer or artist and their family during that time.

The project is the result of a partnership between Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Simon Fraser University, the Surrey Public Library and PEN Canada.

Surrey is now one of more than 60 cities of refuge worldwide.

“I love that Surrey is doing this — I’m delighted,” said Anne Giardini, author and chancellor of SFU. “It’s a great initiative for Surrey and really shines a light on what’s becoming and is a fabulous community.”

Coun. Judy Villeneuve, who chairs the city’s cultural committee and is co-chair of the Local Immigrant Partnership Table, said Surrey becoming a City of Refuge is an amazing opportunity for everyone involved — not only the writer or artist.

“We take so much for granted. It’s good for all of us who live a fairly good quality of life, a safe and sheltered life, to know what it’s like in other parts of the world,” said Villeneuve. “I think it kind of opens up our hearts and minds.”

The program was announced on the first day of Surrey’s Creative City Summit, the only national conference of its kind that focuses on municipalities and culture.

Representatives from municipalities, arts organizations, government agencies and others attending the three-day event will listen to keynote speakers and panel discussions, participate in peer-to-peer presentations and go on study tours of the city.

Topics include public art and transportation, succeeding as future cultural leaders, reconciliation, the importance of arts and artists in Canadian society, and strengthening youth and communities through art.

The summit is billed as a way for attendees to “share ideas, connect and work together to build vital infrastructure for arts and culture development in Canada.”

Read more