Canada treated its conscientious objectors better than any country in the world. Through the good will of the Canadian government, COs were allowed to perform work of national importance without violating their conscience. Instead of carrying arms and going to war, Canada allowed COs to fight forest fires, mine coal, work in hospitals, and labour on farms. In addition to this service, COs donated money to the Red Cross. For some COs, half of their monthly pay went to the Red Cross to ease human suffering caused by the war. By the end of the war, the COs had contributed more than their small number might suggest.
One sign of their success is the respect COs earned from their supervisors and the government. Part of this was because of the COs' principled stand against war. Although government officials did not agree with pacifism, they respected the integrity of a committed pacifist. Humphrey Mitchell, the Minister of Labour wrote that “the average conscientious objector in Canada is entirely sincere in his desire to do everything short of actual combat duties to be of service to his country in time of war.” This often took the form of hard physical labour.
He went to say that
“Conscientious objectors have willingly undertaken heavy and difficult work during the war. Their services have been available at several periods when critical situations developed due to labor shortages. As an example of this, some 75 conscientious objectors were employed at the Head of the Lakes [Thunder Bay, Ontario] in loading and unloading grain cars at a time when a serious congestion was developing… Labour Department officials relate stories of conscientious objectors coming to district offices to obtain heavier and more difficult work in order to do more for the war effort.” [Toews, 110]
T.A. Crerar, Minister of Mines and Resources during the Second World War, agreed. He admired their strong work ethic:
“It has been found that excellent service has been rendered by these conscientious objectors. They are, in the main, Mennonites, farmers' sons, well used to hard work.” [Toews, 110]
Mennonites and other COs are thankful for how well they were treated. Although they frequently disagreed, the Canadian government and the Mennonite leaders respected each other and had a good relationship.
J.F. McKinnon, the Chief Alternative Service Officer, said that
“The Mennonites cooperated in every way from the beginning of Alternative Service. There was very close cooperation between the Mennonite bishops and the Alternative Service …. The bishops were always most willing to discuss mutual problems and to go as far as possible to cooperate within the limits of their conscience.” [Toews, 111]
The camps in BC are a clear example of how the alternative service program satisfied both parties. The COs did such good work, in fact, that companies and government departments fought to use their services.