conscience canada: "work for peace, stop paying for war"

Last night we attended a fundraising dinner for the War Resisters Support Campaign. It was held at the Quaker house in Toronto, a lovely, warm home full of committed people of peace. There was great food, excellent music performed by Evalyn Parry, and the event raised enough money to cover a small hurdle of legal expenses. In general it was a big success.

I love being around peace-movement people, feeling a part of the community of people committed to social justice. Among those at our table, there were two Vietnam-era war resisters, a Quaker activist and one of the founders of Conscience Canada. I didn't know about Conscience Canada, and learning about the group was the personal highlight of the evening for me.

Conscience Canada is a war tax resistance group. This statement is from their website:
For many of us it is not enough to avoid personal military service because we know that funds taken from us in the form of tax will be used for war and other violent purposes. In other words, we know that we will be made complicit in war through our taxes no matter what our beliefs and values might be.

As Conscientious Objectors we want to know that all funds that we turn over to government will be used only for peaceful purposes. We therefore call ourselves Conscientious Objectors to Military Taxation (COMT).

Conscience Canada has worked since 1978:

* to promote a change in law to allow all Canadians the right to conscientiously object to military taxation as a right of conscience guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms;
* to educate Canadians about freedom of conscience and conscientious objection to military taxation;
* to support conscientious objection to military taxation; and
* to defend freedom of conscience.

The idea is not to pay less taxes. It's that a portion of one's personal income tax, equivalent to the percentage Canada now spends on the military, to be set aside into a special fund.

We watched a 10-minute video about the project, which explains the entire project far better than I can do here. You can watch it online here.

We also had an opportunity to chat with a founding member, and to hear about her experience as a military-tax resister. She spent a lot of time writing letters, explaining herself, in order not to have her income frozen, and she regarded those letters as opportunities for public education. (What do I always say? Each one, reach one.)

One Canada Revenue Agency representative she spoke with listened patiently, then said, "What an interesting idea. It makes sense. I'll speak to my supervisor about it."

Eventually Bruna decided to pay her withheld taxes, but she didn't feel her years of trying to withhold them were wasted. She saw it as part of the process. (What does Gandhi say? You can never know the results of your actions. If you take no action, there will be no result.)

Conscience Canada also supports and encourages Canadians to take the symbolic step of signing a statement of paying a portion of one's taxes under protest.
Option A: Declaration of Conscience only
* I am a conscientious objector to paying taxes for war.
* I claim the right of conscience under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to insist that none of my taxes be used in the preparation for, or execution of, war. Nonetheless I believe in paying all my taxes.
* I object to having my taxes conscripted to pay for capital-intensive modern warfare.
* I request that legislation be enacted to create a government controlled Peace Fund, to be used only for peaceful purposes, into which all my taxes may be deposited.
* I believe that non-military peace building initiatives are more effective and more cost-efficient, and will not offend my conscience.
* Please recognize my human right to exercise my conscientious objection to war by ensuring that none of my taxes are used for military purposes.

I'm extremely intrigued by this idea. It was something I thought about it the US, but never seriously investigated. In the US, the movement has been spearheaded by the War Resisters League (founded by women opposed to World War I); information about US war-tax resistance here.

Now I'm wondering if military tax resistance is in my future. But I have a while to think about it, since I wouldn't try it until I attain citizenship. (CIC, could you please finish reading my blog and process my application already?)

If you are curious about this idea and what's been done so far, take 10 minutes and watch the video.


Some Person said...

Proposed Amendment XXVIII to the U.S. Constitution

Section I.
Congress shall neither authorize nor endorse any use of the United States Armed Forces for belligerent purposes without raising tax revenues that are sufficient for this purpose.

Section II.
"Belligerent purposes" refers to any war, police action, occupation, or any conflict against a nation or organization hostile to the United States or its allies that involves the use of the United States Armed Forces.

Section III.
It will be incumbent upon the Congress that "raising tax revenues" will involve the imposition or raising of income tax rates for all income that is otherwise normally considered taxable.

Section IV.
Notification of income tax withholding sent to those whose income is taxed for the purposes mentioned in Section II will disclose the specific percentage or amount of income tax rates that are imposed or raised for such a purpose.

Section V.
The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.


U.S. nationals as a whole have an insufficient appreciation for the horrors of war. This is compounded not only by the portrayal of war as a distant exercise fought on television screens, electronic games, and in film. That Congress routinely allows deficit spending to finance wars further diminishes U.S. nationals' appreciation of the cost of the wars that they are complicit in funding.

This Amendment would not only prohibit deficit spending for warfare, but it would also put a "truth in advertising" spin on the exercise. While monetary costs are a woefully poor measure for evaluating the true horrors of war, a tax that is specifically listed for a war is a meaningful proxy for normally taxophobic USians.

Further, while I normally abhor raising taxes on the working poor, the prospect of having their taxes raised would provoke a greater backlash against U.S. military actions in the future - unless such an action is critical for the defense of the U.S. from an immediate calamity that threatens the survival of the United States itself.

L-girl said...

This is completely regressive, IMO. The more money there is, the more money would go to war. Stopping deficit spending will not shut down the military industrial complex, nor change the election system that depends upon it.

I assume you've seen the pie charts illustrating what percentage of your current taxes funds war. We don't need more of that. We need less.

2009 pie chart

Some Person said...

Actually, the intent is for there to be no money for war, because if USians know their income taxes are going up - and if they don't, then their pay stub will itemize that charge - then they'll be much more reluctant to support that war.

Ideally, Congress knows that it would be called on the carpet for raising taxes on everyone, and rather than face angry taxpayers on election day, they would preemptively refuse to authorize a war.

If that ideal isn't met, and Congress authorizes another adventure, then USians will see (and feel) the pinch and be more likely to punish their members of Congress accordingly. As it stands now, USians are much less likely to do that because war for most of them has no direct consequences, baring Sen. Schumer's call for a draft (but this would only affect younger Americans).

Some Person said...

Sorry, I meant Rep. Rangel, not Sen. Schumer.

L-girl said...

I understand the intent, but it seems beyond naive to me to think that USians would (a) want to do anything about it and (b) be able to do anything about it in sufficent numbers to make any difference. All you'd end up with IMO is more money for war.

I feel the same way about Rangel's draft idea. A, military conscription is barbaric, for any reason, for anyone. B, in the entire history of military conscription, has there ever been a draft that did not exempt the rich and did not fall mainly on the poor and working class? In any country, in any era? Not to my knowledge. I understand Rangel's intentions, but it's either incredibly stupid or incredibly naive, IMO, to think that a US draft would ever be applied fairly to all social classes. All you'd have is the usual business.

L-girl said...

be more likely to punish their members of Congress accordingly

And what do they do when both parties make war, as they do today? How do they punish anyone?