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.
Indigenous People’s human rights
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 the 17th century members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) experienced being imprisoned for their beliefs. The worldwide community of Quakers has worked on concerns related to criminal justice ever since. This has included founding organizations such as the Elizabeth Fry Society and the Alternatives to Violence Project, promoting restorative justice processes, and participating in the establishment of norms and standards at the United Nations.
In Canada, CFSC began work in justice issues following a 1972 call from British Friends to support abolishing the death penalty in the United Kingdom. From this call, Canadian Friends worked to campaign for the end of capital punishment in Canada until its abolishment in 1976. Canadian Friends then began to broaden their work in criminal justice to the wider prison system and eventually, prison abolition. In 1978, the Quaker Committee on Jails and Justice (QCJJ), a working group of Canadian Friends Service Committee, was established to continue this work of Canadian Friends. Ruth Morris was a key Canadian Quaker who advocated for prison abolition and was active with CFSC.
In 1981, the Religious Society of Friends became the first religious body to endorse prison abolition in the Canadian Yearly Meeting minute (PDF). The work of CFSC and Ruth Morris also led to the establishment in 1982 of the International Conference on Prison Abolition, now called the International Conference on Penal Abolition.
CFSC worked to encourage prison visiting, provide programs and supplies to prisoners, seek alternatives to prisons, raise awareness of the roots of crime and violence in society, and provide small grants to other organizations in support of prisoners and their families. In 1996, CFSC began to focus on alternatives to prison and promoting restorative justice. As one alternative, it supported the establishment of the Alternatives to Violence Project in Canada.
CFSC has now reaffirmed Friends’ commitment to penal abolition and fostering just and compassionate ways of life as a long-term vision. Friends across Canada continue to work towards penal abolition through individual and collective work in prisons and criminal justice.
For more details see this two page history of CFSC’s work in criminal justice.
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.