The pacifist witness of Friends goes back to our earliest days in England, when George Fox refused to accept a commission in the military in 1651 saying that he, “lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars,” and that he had, “come into the covenant of peace which was before wars and strifes were.”
Friends’ refusal to participate in war, or to fund war and militarism through taxes, has been witnessed to throughout our history. It broadened in the 20th century when we recognized that, as all are endowed with conscience, anyone could develop a conscientious objection to war – including those serving in the military who come to this conclusion through the experience of war and preparation for war itself.
For a precise history of conscientious objection in Canada among the peace churches and others, read this short paper.
Friends assisted American men and women seeking refuge in Canada during the Vietnam War (1950s-70s), when the USA practiced conscription. Those arriving were both “draft dodgers” and “deserters”, the latter developing their conviction to refuse to fight out of the experience of war.
Several members of Halifax Monthly Meeting have shared their experiences of coming to Canada for reasons of conscience during the time of the Vietnam War:
Iraq War and securing rights of conscience
For over 10 years, CFSC has again been helping American soldiers and their families – those who refused to participate in the Iraq War and came to Canada seeking refuge. Most of these young men and women served in Iraq (or Afghanistan) and developed their conscientious objection to the war (or all war) through this experience. CFSC works in partnership with the Quaker United Nations Office (Geneva), Canadian church partners (the United Church of Canada and the Mennonite Central Committee Canada), and the War Resisters Support Campaign in helping the US War Resisters stay in Canada.
CFSC has taken particular interest in advancing the legal recognition of conscientious objection to war, or a particular war, in a number of ways:
- as an expression of rights of conscience in Canada (as it is under international law – Article 18 in both the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights);
- the recognition of military personnel as potentially legitimate refugee claimants under the UN High Commission for Refugees Handbooks (sections 169-174) which is used to assess refugee cases in Canada;
- the Rights of the Child in situations where war resisters who have children face removal (deportation) from Canada;
- and the differential punishment that US war resisters will face if returned to the US (most deserters have received administrative discharges; those who have spoken out against the war, such as the war resisters, have received harsh prison sentences).
Our support for the US War Resisters has included coordinating material support through the Quaker community and encouraging their engagement with elected representatives on this concern, providing letters to the court citing our concerns about process and legal issues in specific cases where requested and with government, and preparing interventions raising substantial issues to raise with the court as we did with MCC Canada in the Federal Court of Appeal (FCA) in the case of Jeremy Hinzman (2010), and his earlier unsuccessful attempt to have a hearing at the Supreme Court of Canada in 2007.
The Hinzman decision at the FCA set a vital new precedent – that, in humanitarian and compassionate grounds applications, the Minister of Immigration must consider the applicant’s sincerely held beliefs and motivations as a part of their personal circumstances when considering to permit an applicant status in Canada.
CFSC also presented a brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in 2006. Two parliamentary motions supporting US War Resisters being able to stay in Canada were approved by Parliament in 2008 and 2009, but which the government refused to implement. Similiar legislation tabled in 2010 was narrowly defeated (7 votes).
Want to learn more? Check out these resources:
UNHCHR publication on “Conscientious Objection to Military Service” (2012)
UN Guidelines on International Protection: Claims to Refugee Status related to Military Service (2013)
A Conscientious Objector’s Guide to the UN System (interactive) (2013)
International Standards on Conscientious Objection to Military Service (QUNO-Geneva) (2011)
News clippings and background information about US resisters to the Iraq war (2015) put together by the War Resisters Support Campaign.
Canadian policy on conscientious objection
In the 1990s, CFSC, with Mennonite Central Committee Canada, pressed the Department of National Defence to put into place a process for Canadian military personnel who developed a conscientious objection to war. A policy and procedure was put into place in 2004. The policy and procedure do not include independent review of the application and do not meet the standards of international law.
In addition, MCC Canada, CFSC and others developed a CO registry for Canadians to record their conscientious objection to war; it was developed in the wake of the First Gulf War (1991) for youth in the event of any possible reintroduction of conscription in Canada.
In the 2000s, CFSC began moderate work in addressing youth and militarism issues, producing a popular brochure used by local groups involved in counter-recruitment. Our approach has been to encourage reflection and critical thinking for those considering such a choice. For copies of the brochure contact us.
Conscientious objection to military taxation (“peace tax”)
Canadian Yearly Meeting supports conscientious objection to military taxation as a personal witness of Friends and enables its employees to withhold such taxes on request. Friends in Canada have a 200+ year history of refusing to pay war taxes.
People with a conscientious objection to having their taxes used for military purposes can register their objection by completing a Peace Tax Return at tax time each year. Conscience Canada, which produces the Peace Tax Return and does related work, was founded by Friends (Edith Adamson in particular) and others in 1978 in Victoria, BC and individual Friends continue to serve on its Board. CYM itself has an Ad-Hoc Committee on War Tax Concerns which liaises with CFSC and with Conscience Canada.
Download resources on conscientious objection