Defending a Peaceable Kingdom

By Bruna Nota and Jan Slakov

Many people are upset by the revelation that Canadians are unknowingly supporting the arms industry through their Canada Pension Plan contributions.1 Their arguments are dismissed as ridiculous by Canada's Minister of National Defence, the Honorable David Pratt:

"Is anybody suggesting that we not have an army? If so then fine, but they're leaving themselves open to ridicule. Recent events have proven that North America needs a military, and people who think otherwise are completely irresponsible."

David Pratt's remark shows us that if we reject war, we must propose nonviolent alternatives. To this end, Conscience Canada Inc.2 a national NGO, is organizing a cross-country dialogue to explore possible defence and security policies that would reflect commitment to nonviolence.

What is Conscience Canada?

Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that everyone has "freedom of conscience and religion." For some, conscience requires the refusal to pay for killing. Conscience Canada Inc. (CC) has worked since 1978 to change tax laws to recognize Canadians' right to freedom of conscience. Since 1981, when seven MPs signed a letter in favor of the establishment of a peace tax fund, we have continued a dialogue with MPs and civil servants in the Finance and Revenue Departments, responding to their queries. Several Private Member Bills have been tabled in the House of Commons; the latest3 was presented in Feb. 2001 by Svend Robinson. Its summary reads:

"This enactment would permit individuals who object on conscientious grounds to paying taxes that might be used for military purposes to direct that amount equivalent to a prescribed percentage of the income tax they pay in a year be diverted to a special account established by this enactment."

All of the government objections have been answered by CC but no legislation has been passed so far.

Members of Conscience Canada (CC) share a commitment to nonviolence. We cannot, in conscience, support killing or paying others to kill in our stead. Our stand helps Canadians recognise our collective responsibility to withhold payments with our tax dollars for war acts.

Until Conscientious Objection legislation has been enacted, Conscience Canada will provide an option for Conscientious Objectors to Military Taxation (COMT). They can deposit a portion of their income taxes into the Peace Tax Trust Fund managed by CC, as an objection to paying for killing, weaponry, or war preparations. Moreover, we do not regard the present Peacekeeping forces, trained by and subordinate to the military, as an appropriate substitute for nonviolent peacekeeping.

CC holds in trust the tax money of about 40 COMTs, with a formal membership of about 170 and a support group of about 1,000 Canadians. Besides these, some conscientious objectors opt for maintaining their income level below the taxable threshold, either through minimal earning or by making charitable donations. Another smaller group, "hold[s] the disputed money in a special account while waiting for the government to come up with an explanation," as one correspondent told us. Canadians who have all their taxes deducted at source, as 85% of taxpayers do, can deposit a symbolic amount in the fund. What matters most is that conscientious objectors write to the government requesting enactment of legislation for fiscal conscientious objection. In our current newsletter (see www.consciencecanada.ca) we offer a sample letter and the addresses of Ministers and MPs to whom we suggest it be sent.

For the Fiscal Year ending March 31, 2003 (relevant for this year tax filing) we calculated the proportion of the federal government expenditures used by the Department of National Defence as reflected in the Public Accounts of Canada (2002/ 2003). The expenditure of DND was $12,427,875,000 - representing 7.93% of the total government expenditures of $156,784,709,000. This is the percentage of tax that COMTs withhold and deposit into the CC Peace Trust Account.

CC cannot guarantee that COMTs will not be subject to collection by Canada Customs and Revenue for the amount deemed in "arrears." Our acts of resistance, which lead to exchanges that educate legislators and civil servants, aim to create an environment that will honor fiscal, as well as physical, conscientious objection.

At any time, CC will refund COMTs their deposit on request. So far, to our knowledge, no goods and chattels have been seized in Canada for non-payment of war taxes, but substantial amounts of money sometimes have been seized. Some COMTs have had their tax refunds in following years collected and, by now, probably all COMTs have had GST refunds seized.

At least eight Canadians have taken their case for fiscal conscientious objection to court. Best documented is the case of Dr. Jerrilyn Prior, whose case lasted from 1983 to 1998. Dr. Prior was defended by Justice Thomas Berger, as described in his book One Man's Justice: A Life in the Law.

Jerrilyn Prior and Thomas Berger argued that Canada's first freedom, Freedom of Conscience, was being violated because there is currently no way for Canadians to ensure their taxes will not be used for military purposes. They argued the court should have ruled in Prior's favor, since the Constitution is the supreme law of Canada, and any law that is inconsistent with it has no force.

The presiding judge, Mr. Justice Addy, dismissed the case and denied the validity of Prior's claim, arguing that there is "no connection whatsoever" between military spending and Dr. Prior's payment of taxes. He also argued that amending the law to accommodate COMTs would violate Parliament's constitutional right to tax for military purposes.

Berger replied that, "It would mean that any time you challenged legislation under the Charter, the Crown can simply say 'Oh no, you're really challenging the constitutional power to enact the legislation.'" In fact, the moral arguments concerning freedom of conscience were never addressed in the Supreme Court of Canada.

Initiating the Dialogue

In addition to our core goal - the enactment of a Conscientious Objectors' Act - CC seeks to stimulate the search for nonviolent approaches to humanity's inevitable conflicts. Our members are therefore organizing dialogue meetings during the week of April 19 to collectively visualize a defence/security strategy that would not rely on military strength - on the ability to harm or kill "enemies." In these meetings we will address such questions as:

We hope the result of the April dialogue will be a valuable contribution to the review of foreign and defence policy proposed by Prime Minister Paul Martin.

Considerable thought and work have already been devoted to envisioning nonviolent defence strategies. Two books come to mind: Dave Hubert, a member in Edmonton, has written Canada @ Peace: Coactive Security. It show Canadians how to shift our defence strategies toward nonviolence. Another book, Allow the Water: Anger, Fear, Power, Work, Sexuality, Community - and the Spirituality and Practice of Nonviolence, by Len Desroches (a CC member) explores the personal and political implications of nonviolence.

If we were to develop a culture of peace and nonviolence, we would see history through new eyes. Just as acts of conscience performed by people formerly implicated in the slave trade helped bring about an end to slavery, so the actions of conscientious objectors will help bring about an end to war.

For the venue in your locality, check the CC site: www.consciencecanada.ca. or contact us at consciencecanada@shaw.ca or (250) 537-5251.

1 Press for Conversion! October 2003, issue # 52.

2 (www.consciencecanada.ca),

3 Robinson (Bill C-232, the Conscientious Objection Act.)

Peace Magazine Apr-Jun 2004

Peace Magazine Apr-Jun 2004, page 19. Some rights reserved.

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