Conscientious Objectors

They came up to the Hill, clearly eager to tell their story and to get a first-hand view of the workings of Parliament.  They left somewhat wiser.

In a previous post – – we learned of a keen group of University of Western Ontario students called Tzedaka-Sadaqah – Muslim and Jewish young minds who have united to overcome their differences and to find ways to better their community in the process.  In a word, they are remarkable.  As opposed to just talking about their faiths and diverse outlooks on life, they opted to use humanitarian actions as a larger context for building bridges between their communities.

My staff gave them a tour of the Parliament buildings and discussed the workings of government with them.  They met with Irwin Cotler in my office – a Jewish champion of human rights, former justice minister, and someone who has worked extensively with Jewish and Muslim communities to work on peaceful initiatives in the Middle East.  They also met with John McKay, an MP who delights in working with various faith groups in hopes of bettering society.

When I learned they were coming to Question Period on Wednesday, I grew apprehensive.  Anyone reading this post will know why.  The idea of a keen group of students who have overcome obvious differences attending a political theatre where peace is never an option was troubling.  And, sure enough, it was a particularly embattled session.  I looked for the Tzedaka-Sadaqah students in the observation gallery but couldn’t spot them, worried how they were handling the theatre of the absurd.

Directly following QP, we all met in one of the Senate committee rooms to discuss their feelings of the day.  Clearly delighted with what they had experienced and discovered, they nevertheless were saddened by what they had just witnessed.  Their questions were typical.  “Why do people in such a high public office yell at one another?”  “They don’t even answer questions.”  “Don’t they know people are watching?”

Of course we know people are watching!  In some ways that’s the point: our rather extreme verbosity is designed to catch media attention and to probe areas of weakness.  It’s never about a sincere query and a thoughtful response.  It’s like goons on the ice and our desire to cover our kids’ eyes so they don’t see.

These students were ambassadors for peace who just happened upon that noble calling as a result of dedicated actions of compassion for their fellow human beings.  The odds against what they have accomplished are massive.  And yet they’ve done it, triumphantly.  They had hoped to come to Ottawa to see how the “grown ups” handle the complexities of policy and debate, and what they discovered is that, on the surface at least, there is no desire for peace in Parliament, merely primacy.  They were disappointed and I was embarrassed.

As I said final farewells to them, I realized they had brought some sensible and practical light to a Parliament as dark as many of the veterans can recall.  They ennobled its hallways and the chamber.  But they also realized that if Parliament itself is so rigorously divided, the work ahead of them is truly difficult.

They departed out the doors and for some reason Centre Block seemed diminished in light.

– Glen Pearson


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