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Gerry ChidiacOne of the most important tasks I have as a public school educator is empowering my students to take an active role in the Canadian political process. And if I’m going to ask my students to be active citizens, I need to model the desired behaviour.

I’ve honestly been very impressed with the responses I’ve received to my inquiries from elected officials on the local, provincial and federal levels. The argument, “I don’t say anything because they won’t listen to me,” simply doesn’t hold water in our Canadian system.

Yes, I too have been frustrated by leaving voicemails with politicians and not getting any response, but the key is to not just leave one message and then walk away. We’re dealing with very busy and hard-working people.  The key to getting through to them is persistence, plain and simple.

When we persist and look for opportunities to speak to our politicians, amazing things happen.

I read recently that Prince George–Peace River–Northern Rockies member of Parliament Bob Zimmer was hosting coffee with constituents at various restaurants around his vast riding. I took the opportunity to meet with Zimmer and, after waiting for only a few minutes, I was able to speak to him one on one for more than half an hour, expressing my views on several national and international issues.

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It was clear that Zimmer and I didn’t agree on all topics and he never asked how I voted in the last election. But he clearly wanted to hear what I had to say. He was doing his job as an MP and I was doing my part as a citizen. That’s how a democratic system functions.

I listened attentively as he told me about his government-sponsored trip to Israel, where he gained insights into the goings on in that troubled country. We agreed that anti-Semitism is a real and dangerous threat in the world and I gained his interest when I spoke of the need for a clear definition for the term.

Before he entered politics, Zimmer was a high school teacher, so he clearly understood the importance of academic freedom. Pro-Israeli groups propose a definition of anti-Semitism that’s very vague and quite frankly makes me fearful as an educator. I brought to his attention a clearer definition proposed by Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV):

“Antisemitism is hostility, prejudice, defamation or discrimination against Jews, individuals or as a collective, because they are Jews. It includes essentializing Jews by attributing to them characteristics or behaviours that are deemed negative and/or are harmful to non-Jews.”

Zimmer agreed to discuss this topic further with IJV, and I agreed to establish email contact between him and the organization. I’m confident that Zimmer will bring his newfound awareness to his parliamentary colleagues in Ottawa.

This is only one example of democracy in action and it illustrates how important it is for Canadians to talk with their government officials on all levels. Though I don’t agree with my representatives on many issues, I recognize how hard they and their staff work for their constituents. I’m also very grateful for their ability to put aside partisan issues and dedicate their efforts to the people who elected them in their communities.

Canadians are among the most fortunate people in the world. Our country isn’t perfect and neither is our democracy. The key point is that we have a democracy, whereas people in many countries don’t.

We have the power to be a voice for the voiceless and the ability to make Canada what we want it to be. It’s our job as citizens to embrace this responsibility.

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.

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