“Get out of here, you wimp! You don't even deserve to be here! Stand up and defend your country like I am!”
Many conscientious objectors had comments like this and worse hurled at them for their decision to do alternative service instead of going to war. It may surprise you to learn, however, that COs made up only a small portion of the men who stayed in Canada instead of fighting.
The Military Service Act of 1917 provided nine reasons to postpone military training. The government declared certain jobs to be of national importance. It knew that Canada needed people in farms, schools, and factories.
The Canadian government was less accepting of group exemptions as had been given in the First World War. During the Second World War most people seeking conscientious objector status had to appear before a judge. One major exception was Mennonites in Ontario. Mennonite leaders in Ontario were able to influence the registration process so that individuals did not have to testify about their own convictions. The COs came from many different backgrounds, religious affiliations, and provinces.
|Prince Edward Island||3|
During the Second World War, nearly 750,000 men applied for a postponement. Some of them were temporary delays, but 262,634 had their service postponed for the whole war. Of these, only 4% (10,782) were COs.
Most of the other 96% were farmers, miners, loggers, and factory workers. Without them, Canada wouldn't have had food to eat, coal for their furnaces, wood for houses, or other essential items.
|Overview of where COs worked as of December 31, 1945.|
|6655||Were employed in agriculture (including men on leave from ASW camps)|
|1412||Were employed in miscellaneous essential industries|
|542||Were employed in sawmills, logging, and timbering|
|469||Were employed in packing plants and food processing plants|
|269||Were employed in construction|
|86||Were employed in hospitals|
|63||Were employed in coal mining|
|15||Were employed in grain handling at the Head of the Lakes|
|170||Were in Alternative Service Work Camps|
|14||Were serving jail sentences|
|34||Were in hands or of being prepared for Enforcement Division|
|201||Were in the hands of the RCMP or other agencies to locate present whereabouts|
|921||Were under review|
Canada's COs did all these tasks and more. The 10,000 COs were no different than the 250,000 other eligible men who stayed home during the war. All of them did valuable work, but for different reasons.
In this section, you'll see how the COs served during the war. For each job, consider what would have happened if there had been no one to do that work.