In 1931, members of three Quaker yearly meetings were led to create Canadian Friends Service Committee so they could have a shared place to engage in peace and justice work.
Friends’ participation in wartime and post-war relief and witness generated deep commitment to the peace and justice work CFSC came to stand for. Younger Friends and newcomers who, during World War II had done Quaker service abroad as conscientious objectors, supporting Friends’ relief, reconstruction, and ambulance work came to serve on CFSC.
In 1947, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) received the Nobel Peace Prize for Quaker service work during war. All of the Quaker Service Committees’ work is honoured by the Prize and the ethics that garnered it continue to inform our work today.
From 1963 to 1976, CFSC operated a Friends Peace Education Centre on Grindstone Island, south of Ottawa, providing imaginative peace and reconciliation programs for Friends and many others seeking a better world. Programs included training in nonviolence, French-English dialogue, conferences for diplomats and Quaker-UNESCO seminars organized by the Canadian Peace Research Institute.
During the Vietnam War many war and draft resisters came to Canada from the United States. Some participated in Grindstone Island programs; some were assisted by Quaker Meetings, individual Friends and families; and some settled in Canada and became Friends.
During the Vietnam War, CFSC sent medical aid to Vietnam to be used by victims on all sides of the conflict in accordance with Friends’ tradition of relief work that cuts across the boundaries of war and conflict. Many American Friends knowingly contravened U.S. law by contributing to this work through Canadian Friends.
For some the program was controversial, but for many it was a labour of love in war-time. It provided considerable aid to the sufferers and served as a witness against war.
At the same time we have continued to develop our understanding of peacebuilding and how Canada can contribute constructively to making our world more peaceful. In particular our recent thinking has been influenced by support of grassroots peacebuilding efforts in Kinshasa, DR Congo, and Friends’ trauma healing and community building work in the Africa Great Lakes region.
In the 1950s and 1960s, two Canadian Quaker families served at the Friends Rural Centre, Rasulia, India, supported by CFSC and Friends Service Council (now Quaker Peace and Social Witness) in London, UK.
By the 1970s the development work that Canadian Friends had done in Rasulia changed to financial support for a larger number of projects in collaboration with other development agencies, later including the Canadian International Development Agency (now within Global Affairs Canada).
CFSC maintains this tradition of supporting small but creative projects that promote human rights and peace in countries around the world.
Friends have a long-standing concern for the rights of Indigenous peoples. In 1974, individual Friends at Yearly Meeting went to Kenora in Northern Ontario to attempt reconciliation in a confrontation over mercury contamination of the waterways. A Quaker physician treated Indigenous people suffering from mercury poisoning and documented the problem. CFSC’s Quaker Committee on Native Concerns (now Quaker Indigenous Rights Committee) was born out of this as well as work amongst Friends in western Canada.
Since then, CFSC has supported Indigenous community building initiatives, and urged governments to live up to their legal commitments to Indigenous peoples. Some of this work has also been done in collaboration with other churches through KAIROS.
In the 1990s and 2000s, CFSC worked with Indigenous partners and human rights organizations like Amnesty International Canada, towards the negotiation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The UN adopted the Declaration in 2007, and CFSC now focuses on its implementation.
In 1972, with strong support of Toronto Friends, CFSC established the Quaker Committee on Jails and Justice (now Quakers Fostering Justice) which encouraged prison visitation, sought alternatives to prisons and a punitive justice system, and fostered awareness of the roots of crime and violence in society.
Prison abolition is both a process and a long-term goal. In the interim there is a great need for Friends to reach out and to support all those affected: guards, prisoners, victims, and families. We recognize a need for restraint of those few who are exhibiting dangerous behaviour. The kind of restraint used and the help offered during that time must reflect our concern for that of God in every person.
Quaker International Affairs Program
In 2001 a Quaker International Affairs Program was established in Ottawa, building on earlier work in facilitating dialogue in international affairs, such as the diplomats’ conferences held at Grindstone in the 1960s. It worked in collaboration with the Quaker United Nations Offices based in Geneva and New York, bringing together diplomats, government officials, and international non-governmental organizations.
The Quaker International Affairs Program had to be laid down in 2011, its 10th year of work, when funding dried up. Many of QIAP’s publications on intellectual property rights, food security, and traditional knowledge remain in use, trusted for their expertise and balance.
A more detailed background on CFSC can be found in a 2011 issue of the magazine The Canadian Friend which celebrated our 80th anniversary.
You can also read this brief summary of CFSC’s history (PDF), written in 2007.