18 September 2020
by Murray Lumley
For a long time there have been citizens in every nation who objected to having their sons, fathers and brothers conscripted into the military. They have often been people whose conscience told them that killing is wrong.
Canada and its past colonial form have a long history of allowing conscientious objection to participation in its wars. The Militia Act of 1793 “exempted from actually serving in the militia the persons called Quakers, Mennonites, and Tunkers (Brethren in Christ) who from certain scruples of conscience, declined bearing arms.…The Militia Act did require those who were exempted, “to pay an annual fee to the colonial government to cover the costs of maintaining the militia”.
This manner of exemption, with much opposition to it by successive Canadian governments and push back regarding the fee by Mennonite Bishops and others carried on through the War of 1812, World War I and WWII with various changes over the years. Canada later added Doukhobors from Russia and Hutterite Colonies to the list of Peace Churches.
However in modern times, as machines have increasingly conducted war against civilians, the military does not need bodies as much as our tax dollars to pay for its wars. Therefore conscientious objection to war has shifted to war tax resistance. Five-star General and U.S. President Eisenhower said in 1953, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children….This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
In most European nations, the U.S., and Canada, a small people’s movement questions and protests the use of their taxes for modern war and war preparations. In the U.S., the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC) assists U.S. citizens who choose to withhold approximately 50% of their federal taxes that toward payment of the bloated war machine. Christian Peacemaker Teams is a national affiliate of NWTRCC.
Conscience Canada is the Canadian War Tax Resistance organization. Their website offers a Peace Tax Return for the appropriate tax year. It is available in electronic form (and paper form) and will send your form and a letter to several Federal Ministers and your MP. The webpage offers two options: Option A is a Declaration of Conscience only. Option B allows you to withhold, if you are able, up to 9% of your federal tax line, or just a token amount. You can then send this amount to a ‘Peace Tax Fund in Trust’ administered by Conscience Canada, until such time as the federal government creates a government administered Peace Fund for those who don not wish to pay for war.
Conscience Canada also advocates for a legal change that will allow Canadians the right to object to military taxation as a right of conscience guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Since 1983, Conscience Canada has worked with a friendly MP, usually from the NDP, to sponsor a Private Member’s Motion asking the government to set up its own National Peace Tax Fund. The last one was in 2013 and it just reached First Reading.
In Canada, those who subscribe to Conscientious Objection to Military Taxation (COMT) suffer very little for their civil disobedience, other than having to make a small interest payment or having their taxes taken from their bank account or their wages garnisheed by the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA). If citizens opposed to war in the thousands and tens of thousands expressed their displeasure at having their taxes pay for war, then governments would have to listen.
We tell our government, “We want to pay our taxes, but we do not want to pay for war”.