Eight weeks into her stay in Hebron, Israel, Esther Kern was getting in the way.

It wasn’t an accident that landed the mother of two and retired nurse face to face with Israeli soldiers. She, backed by two other foreigners and a Palestinian woman, had entered the soldiers’ post, demanding that the soldiers revoke their order that the Palestinian children stop playing soccer at night.

“The soldiers had their guns aimed at us all the time,” the soft-spoken lady recalls. “But I wasn’t afraid, it didn’t bother me.”

Her confidence came from the secret weapon she keeps tucked in her pants permanently while abroad: her Canadian passport.

“It’s a privilege that I enjoy,” says Kern. And it’s a privilege that sends this 64-year-old around the world, from Colombia to Israel, with an organization called Christian Peacemaker Teams. The goal of her travels? To get in the way.

“We get in the way of violence, we stand in solidarity with those who we perceive as being oppressed and victims of violence,” she says. Her continued motivation is driven by her passion for peacemaking, she says, and realized through her Canadian passport.

She’s part of a group that is merging travel with activism like never before. We’re not talking about volunteering in orphanages or running summer camps for street kids abroad. In increasing numbers, Canadians are hurling themselves in harm’s way; armed with only their citizenship and the belief that some citizens of our global village have more freedom to express their beliefs.

Just ask the six activists—two of them Canadian—who returned home safely just over a month ago after a daring protest in which they unfurled a 42-square-metre banner on the Great Wall of China. It read —One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008— in English and Chinese.

“Whenever I felt afraid or nervous or threatened, I thought about what I was doing compared to what Tibetan and Chinese dissidents are trying to do with no protection,” group member Lhadon Tethong told reporters when she returned safe and sound to Canada. “At least I have a Canadian passport.”

Other members of the group, such as Vancouver’s Sam Price, can now brag that being Canadian has allowed him the luxury of twice escaping unscathed from protesting in what is, arguably, one of the most protest-unfriendly countries in the world.

The Department of Foreign Affairs says that Canadians are subject to the laws of the country where they are arrested. But the response from Canada’s top ranks after the Free Tibet protesters were arrested suggests that this isn’t a hard and fast rule.

“We’ll be doing everything we can do to help and of course pointing out to the Chinese government—as we’re entitled to do—that such expressions of opinion are a natural part of the human rights that Canadians do expect in this country,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters prior to the activists’ release.

This response, says Judy Rebick, suggests that the Free Tibet protest that captured media attention around the world might be the spectacular tip of a new movement’s iceberg.

It’s a movement, she says, that finally recognizes and puts to good use the value of a Canadian passport.

“They’re taking the risk because as white Canadians they’re less likely to be seriously repressed,” she says. “And so it’s using their privilege in a progressive way.”

It’s a new concept in international development, one that distances itself from the handout mentality that has plagued most Canadian involvement to-date in the developing world.

“Charitable organizations decide what they think is best to do with their money. That’s not empowering, that’s saying if you do this, we’ll give you money. Or we’ll give you money for this.”

Contrast this with people willing to put themselves in harm’s way in order to get a message out for the people they’re working with. This partnership with one side doing the speaking, she says, is ultimately more empowering for both sides than anything we’ve seen.

It’s that empowerment that brought Esther Kern up against the Israeli soldiers that day. And it’s what supplied her courage—and her excitement when the commander of the post finally relented and said that the children could play soccer from 4 to 7 p.m. every evening.

“It may not sound like much,” Kern says, “but that was a real win for us.”