1 | Page 2 | Page
3 | Page 4 | Page
5 | Page 6
young man stands before the judge. The judge reads the sentence
– “Six months hard labour!” – and bangs his gavel to dismiss the
court. The young man is stunned. How could this happen, he wonders.
His only “crime” was applying for conscientious objector status.
Why was he, among thousands of other COs, singled out?
Canada, on the whole, treated conscientious objectors fairly and
allowed them to do alternative service, a few served prison sentences
as punishment for their beliefs. In Ontario, the historic peace
churches made lists of sincere men who wanted to become COs. The
judges in that province accepted the word of the churches. In the
prairie provinces, on the other hand, each CO had to appear individually
before a judge to explain his beliefs. Sometimes this hearing was
brief. At other times, the judge did not believe the man's testimony.
If the judge thought that a man was not sincere, the judge could
deny him CO status and tell him to report to the military.
Read a report
H. Funk has one explanation for this.
and then the judges would send one or two COs to jail. Totally
unwarranted, these cases were really exercises in public relations
in order to appease the public about us COs. While these individuals
did not deserve prison, families which had to sacrifice their
young men to the war effort were justifiably hurt that we COs
were spared. So, there was perhaps some wisdom in this action
of the judges.” [ASM , 138-153]
the occasional CO to jail may have been necessary for political
reasons or to intimidate potential COs, but in many ways it just
proved that the jailed man was sincere in his beliefs. If he would
rather spend six months or a year in jail breaking rocks than be
in the army, it showed that he was not afraid to suffer for what
so, the experience was a hard one for the CO and his family. Judge
Adamson singled out one CO, who doesn't want his name used.
was asked if I were a church member, whether I smoked and drank
or went to dances. “What would I do if the Germans won the war
and took away my possessions?” [the judge asked]. These questions
and many others were not asked in a civil tone, but yelled at,
as though Mr. Adamson were raging mad.”
CO repeated that he didn't think war was right. Finally, Judge Adamson
had had enough. If the CO wouldn't join the army, the judge said,
he would have to go to jail. The CO refused to join the army and
sealed his fate.
RCMP picked me up at home on a warrant signed by our local JP
[Justice of the Peace]. [I] appeared before [the] JP in Dauphin
[and] was remanded one week – that is locked up one week – before
being sentenced. Sentence – 6 months hard labor.” [MHC, 1015-67]
one time, the jail in Headingly, Manitoba, held over thirty COs.
All believed that war and killing were wrong, no matter what the
situation. One CO, who also doesn't want his name used, “felt one
should contribute to the safety of the country but not through the
shedding of blood.” The judge found this position unacceptable and
sentenced him to six months in jail.
time in Headingly and part time at Portage. At Headingly I worked
in a shoe shop and at Portage on the farm which was more to my
the farm, the CO “earned respect for good honest hard work and reliability.”
used to say in my presence that he admired me for not swearing
and drinking. Working hours were long, up to 18 hours a day. Chores
on Sunday, up to 6 hours. No chance to attend church.” [MHC, 1015-88]
Peters also spent time in prison. He felt he had to be careful
what he agreed to. Read his timeline
of being in prison. A
lawyer was involved in his case. He wrote out his story
in 1950 and it was published in the periodical Mennonites
Welt. Read the English translation.
one time there were at least 40 conscientious
objectors in various prisons. Of course the backgrounds of the
COs were very diverse. Read an article about Dukhobors
COs in prison, about the Holdeman Mennonites
COs were supported by family and friends and often ministers would
not only support but try to have the COs released or have lighter
sentences (Document 1
Document 2). David Toews wrote
many letters on behalf of the COs. Read
the stories of COs who went to jail, one notices the lack of bitterness.
They realized that going to prison for the sake of peace showed
the world the strength of their beliefs. In one case a family war
family member ate while in jail.
1 | Page 2 | Page
3 | Page 4 | Page
5 | Page 6