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Tour teaches lessons of tolerance

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

Elena Kingsbury of the Tour for Humanity speaks to school children about the Holocaust during the tour's stop in Orillia this week.

PATRICK BALES/THE PACKET & TIMES Elena Kingsbury of the Tour for Humanity speaks to school children about the Holocaust during the tour's stop in Orillia this week.

Orillia students had a chance to learn about human rights issues this week, as the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies’ Tour for Humanity rolled into town.

Grades 5 and 6 students from Couchiching Heights Public School and Monsignor Lee Catholic School entered the bus, located in the Foodland parking lot, to take part in an interactive exhibit on wheels promoting awareness of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, residential schools and Japanese internment.

One of the overall aims of the touring exhibit is to make students realize the history of intolerance in Canada, as well as hate crimes in Canada today.

“Our overarching message is promoting human rights, promoting democratic Canadian values,” explained Elena Kingsbury, an educator with the program.

The program offered to Orillia students looked more at the positive message provided by Wiesenthal, the centre’s namesake, in the face of intolerance, rather than the harsh realities of genocide.

The tour has only been on the road for three years, but even in that short time, Kingsbury

has seen a change in the way

students are approaching the information provided, particularly in the past year.

“The reality is kids are very aware,” she said. “We have had a lot of students bringing up parallels with the Nazis and some of the things that they’ve seen happening, some of the examples of hate crimes they’ve seen happen.”

Still, it’s difficult to completely explain to the students when they compare what has happened to what is happening now, she added.

“What I always just try to emphasize to kids is that we shouldn’t let fear guide our humanity,” Kingsbury said. “In a country like Canada, we really benefit from inclusivity and having people who come from all over the world. They come here and their ideas are respected. That makes Canada a great place in a lot of ways.”

By encouraging kids to take action in the face of intolerant attitudes, the tour also helps children stand up to bullies. That’s one of the reasons the Orillia OPP brought the Tour for Humanity to the city this week.

“If you see the message they deliver, it’s not necessarily based on disliking someone always based on race, religion, the colour of their skin; it can be bullying from anything” explained Acting Det.-Sgt. Steve Hudson. “They try to teach tolerance for everyone, and that’s the kind of message we’re trying to get out here as well.”

But, police are hopeful as Orillia grows, and a greater diversity is found in the city’s population, the lessons taught to the younger students will be beneficial to the city as a whole and the police service as well.

“As communities become more diverse, these things are going to become more prevalent. Hopefully, we can lay the groundwork and the seeds to teach the tolerance as they mature,” Hudson said. “That’s all part of our community mobilization efforts – hopefully, prevent crime. Prevention is the key.”

Students from Regent Park Public School and St. Bernard’s Catholic School were to take part in the Tour for Humanity Tuesday at Brian Orser Arena. 

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