with the Government
1 | Page 2 | Page 3
it came to negotiating alternative service with the government,
the Mennonites were not united. The Swiss Mennonites living in Ontario,
who had been in Canada the longest, were open to service as long
as it was completely non-military. The Mennonites who came in 1874
wanted the full exemption from all service that they had been promised
in 1873 and that they had received during the First World War. The
third group of Mennonites, those who came in the 1920s, were mostly
open to a wide range of alternative service.
the first months of the war, Canada relied on volunteer soldiers.
Then, after Germany 's defeat of France and the passing of the National
Resources Mobilization Act, Canada became heavily involved in the
war. Mennonite leaders could no longer sit back and wait. They felt
that they had to take action to ensure that their values would be
November, 1940, eight church leaders went to Ottawa to negotiate
an alternative service plan. Although the Mennonites who had arrived
in 1873 still claimed full exemption, the government ended unconditional
exemptions. Instead, the government offered three options for COs
They could be sent to a military camp for non-combatant
They could take first-aid training of a non-combatant
nature at a civilian facility.
They could be assigned to civilian labour under civilian
first option was impossible, since many military and Mennonite leaders
thought that there could be no conditional service in the military.
Each man in the army, the military said, had to be trained for all
aspects of warfare. Therefore, non-combatant service, even with
the medical and dental corps, was impossible during the first stages
of the war.
second option was also impractical, since no such facilities existed,
and the government did not build any during the war.
only option left, therefore, was civilian labour under non-military
control. In some ways, this was unfortunate. Conscientious objector
work camps were not established until the middle of 1941, so those
seeking CO status earlier than that were often given a hard time.
Judges were reluctant to give CO status to someone when there was
nothing they would be doing. Until the government set up these camps
in June 1941, judges had nowhere to send COs to serve. A number
of persons called up during this period were actually sent to jail.
the government agreed to let the COs
do alternative service under civilian control. But another hurdle
remained: the judges.
1 | Page 2 | Page 3