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Conscientious Objection To Military Taxes


Compiled by Doug Pritchard, Christian Peacemaker Teams

For the past 40 years there has been a growing concern among Mennonites about the use of our federal income taxes for military purposes.

We have long objected on grounds of conscience to participation in military service. This concern has been recognized and accommodated by Canadian governments since 1793. Because the nature of war and its financing have changed, we now need a "technological update" on the provisions for conscientious objection. Therefore we are working as the Mennonite Church Canada, and in coalition with others, to find a way to ensure that the income taxes of conscientious objectors are not used for military purposes.

History of the Proposal in Canada

1979 Conscience Canada founded by Quakers, Mennonites and others "to secure the right to direct taxes to peace instead of the military, an exercise of freedom of conscience and religion, and to educate the public on this right".
1982 Mennonite Church Canada's annual session endorsed the Tax Task Force's goal "to examine judicial, legislative and administrative alternatives to the use of tax monies for military purposes".
1983 First of several Private Member's motions introduced into Parliament calling for the right to redirect the military portion of income taxes to peaceful purposes.
1990 Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the case of Dr. Jerilyn Prior regarding her conscientious objection to military taxes.
1993 MP Ray Funk introduced a Private Member's Bill to establish a Peace Tax Trust Fund. Parliament was dissolved two days before the date set for debate on Funk's bill.
1993 Mennonite Church Canada's annual session recognized "this as an urgent time to redirect our taxes away from military spending and toward means of conflict resolution", and supported initiatives such as the Peace Tax Trust Fund.
1995-1998 Mennonite Church Canada joined others in the Coalition of Conscientious Objectors to Military Taxation in lobbying key Members of Parliament, and the Finance Minister's staff. MPs from various parties are willing to co-sponsor a revised Private Member's Bill on this issue. The Minister of Finance himself has now agreed to meet with the Coalition in the near future

What You Can Do

  • commit this matter to prayer for our leaders and members of the Coalition of COs to Military Taxation
  • contact your Member of Parliament by letter or in person and urge them to support the right to conscientious objection to military taxes
  • redirect the 7.3% military portion of you own federal income taxes to a peaceful purpose or to the Peace Tax Fund in Trust administered by:
    • Conscience Canada
      901-70 Mill Street, Toronto, ON M5A 4R1
      Phone: 416-203-1402
      Fax: 416-203-1421

Questions and Answers on Conscientious Objection to Military Taxes

1. What do conscientious objectors seek today?

Each year conscientious objectors are faced with a dilemma: whether to obey the current tax law of Canada, knowing a portion of our taxes pays for the military, or whether to obey the law of our conscience, which forbids support for warfare. We seek legislation which would resolve this dilemma by allowing the military taxes of conscientious objectors to be deposited in a special government account and then spent by the government for any non-military purpose. This provision is practical and simple to administer and would save the government the considerable money it spends pursuing conscientious objectors for payment. It would also bring the Income Tax Act into compliance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms' guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion.

2. But isn't Canada's military budget mostly for peaceful purposes?

No. Most of Canada's military spending goes to preparing for war. The direct cost of Canada's military participation in peacekeeping and humanitarian work is less than 10% of the total Defence budget. Even if the additional indirect cost of support facilities and replacement troops is counted, only about 20% of the Defence budget goes to these activities. Canada is reimbursed for part of this cost by the United Nations. Conscientious objectors find it impossible to support a military force whose training, organization and equipment is for fighting wars. When this force is used for humanitarian purposes, we are relieved, but we believe such purposes would be better served by a civilian organization recruited specifically for either peacekeeping or humanitarian aid. Those recruited, and their training, would be very different.

3. Is there any precedent for this proposal?

Canada has recognized the rights of conscientious objectors to military service since 1793. During times of military conscription, alternative non-combatant service has been arranged for Canadians who cannot participate in war for reasons of conscience. Today tax dollars, instead of citizens, are being conscripted to prepare for capital-intensive modern wars. Therefore our conscientious objector laws need a "technological update". There are already Canadian precedents for recognizing conscientious objections to paying for the military. In 1841, conscientious objectors to the militia tax were allowed to redirect these taxes to public works. In the First and Second World Wars, conscientious objectors to war bonds were allowed to buy a special series of government bonds ("peace bonds") whose proceeds were used only for the relief of suffering caused by the war.

4. Won't this open the floodgates to other special interest groups?

Previous conscientious objector provisions in Canadian law have not led to a flood of conscientious objectors, nor to a flood of demands for similar treatment by other groups. The number of Canadians who hold a sincere and deeply held conviction against all warfare and the preparation for warfare is small. Even so, Canada has recognized the basic human rights of this minority for over 200 years. Parliament and the courts may have to consider new issues of conscience and religion, but they will have to be addressed and decided on their own merits. The principle at stake here is our deeply felt, or religiously based, objection to the killing of other human beings which occurs in warfare. For many of us, respect for this principle, and action based on it, is a core religious belief. For other non-religious persons, it is a core issue of conscience.

5. Everyone's taxes are mixed together. Isn't your proposal just cosmetic?

While the taxes are in the hands of conscientious objectors, we are responsible for their intended use. As conscientious objectors, we cannot pay if we know a portion of our taxes will support the military. Therefore we seek a separate account for this portion and the assurance this portion is used by the government for non-military purposes. This is not cosmetic. If the government then wishes to use other tax money for the military, that is their responsibility, and as Canadian citizens we will take part in the public debate about defence policy with our fellow citizens.

6. You are trying to "vote" with your taxes and undermining the authority of Parliament.

We are not seeking to direct our taxes to any particular program. We are only asking for a means of ensuring that conscientious objectors' taxes are not used to support the military. Parliament will still decide the level of taxation and the spending on all its programs, including the military. Canada's tax laws already accommodate religious concerns such as those who have taken a vow of perpetual poverty, hold land in common, or cannot pay into the Canada Pension Plan. The tax laws also accommodate other concerns such as those of students, parents, caregivers, the elderly, investors, farmers, artists, oil and mining explorers, and small businesses. Accommodating these special interests has not undermined Parliament.