The new conscientious objectors will pay their fair share of taxes -- but not for war
work for Peace, Stop Paying for War is the title of a short video soon to come out from Conscience Canada. It encourages Canadians to demand legislation that honors the "conscience" provision in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. When enacted, such a law will allow conscientious objectors to redirect taxes away from the military towards alternative nonviolent uses. This may be the breakthrough year.
Conscientious objectors of old, who didn't want to don uniforms, had shown commitment to peaceful methods by their willingness to be assigned to Alternative Service. Now today, "fiscal" conscientious objectors want to be able to redirect the applicable portion of their taxes from military use to a Peace Trust Fund. They'll pay their fair share, but not for guns.
Individuals working to end militarism and instead promote conflict resolution and peace education should not have to pay for the wars they reject. Legislation allowing this has been repeatedly introduced as a Private Member Bill but has never received second reading. The aim of the video is to increase support for this legislation. Here's how it can work:
Each taxpayer will fill in a Peace Tax Return (PTR) showing the amount that would go to military purposes if they paid the full tax as assessed by Revenue Canada. This form lets them register their wish to have their conscience respected. They will then withhold that amount, and deposit it instead in the Peace Tax Trust Fund (held by Conscience Canada). This works for self-employed persons who have to pay cash at tax time. Others whose tax is withheld at source can make a symbolic contribution to the Trust Fund, sending in their Peace Tax Return as a statement.
How risky is this at present? Will you alienate Revenue Canada forever? I asked Bruna Nota, Chair of the Board of Conscience Canada. She says she has done it for years, risking only having interest applied to the amount deemed owing. After three and half to four years of this, however, Revenue Canada threatened to freeze her bank account. At this point, it's best to just withdraw the money from the Peace Fund and pay the bill. Conscience Canada says that conscientious objection has always entailed some risk and our predecessors were proud to take it on.
Once the legislation becomes law the Peace Trust Fund will be in the hands of the government and can be used for peace education, conflict resolution programs or activities of that sort.
Conscience Canada has devoted members from coast to coast who receive a newsletter regularly and have a discussion list to share their thoughts on peace issues and promote peaceful causes in their communities. They have some well-known supporters: for example former BC Supreme Court Justice Thomas R. Berger has taken a test case for conscientious objection to military taxation to the Supreme Court. MP Bill Siksay and the Hon. Jean Augustine appear in the video as exponents, along with Bruna Nota.
Bruna devotes much of her time and her office space to working for Conscience Canada. Her trim, self-disciplined appearance and sharp mind seem suited for such a focused project.
I asked her how many people she expects to participate in the campaign.
She replied, "We made the forms available online, but we have no idea how many have followed through. We have produced a 'zine' that describes our work. We began by producing 2000 but now there are 5600 circulating,"
"Some people ask," I said, "why not just donate money to a charitable cause, get a tax break that way, and then give more money to the cause?"
Bruna said, "That doesn't build awareness about conscience. Interest is building. I have met with MPs in Ottawa about this. They're interested. I'm invited to speak more and more. The New Internationalist refers to us, we have affiliations with Quakers and the Mennonite Central Committee."
In a democratic world the citizens can say "We don't want a war" in such numbers that the powermongers, the weapons manufacturers and their investors, can't prevail against them, and war is simply voted down. This happened to some extent when majority opinion opposed participating in the present Iraq war and so Canada didn't take part. But it seems we support it covertly. The people's views only carried so far. If there were no tax dollars to support military adventures then we really wouldn't be participating.
For details and to download a PTR, see Conscience Canada's website at www.consciencecanada.ca.
Joan Montgomerie is a Toronto therapist and member of Peace's editorial group.