Appearing Before the Judge

Appearing before the judge was one of the earliest tests of a CO's sincerity. In Ontario, men did not have to appear before a judge. Instead, leaders from their church – the ones who knew them best – would decide if an applicant was sincere. If the church said that he was, the government in Ontario accepted him as a CO. In the prairie provinces, however, men had to appear before a judge. This was much more adversarial.

Henry Funk describes the proceedings.

Every second week two judges sat for two consecutive days to conduct these hearings. It was a large room and each judge had his own bench about 30 feet from each other. Both faced the room where the rest of us sat watching the proceedings. The judges dealt with the applicants one at a time, each working separately, but simultaneously. Formally we were called up one at a time to be interrogated by one or the other. They were gruff and authoritative men. At least to us timid farm boys they seemed that way. Each bench was raised a bit and from it this robed authority figure looked down at the applicant who in turn had to look up to the judge. If this arrangement was deliberate and if intimidation was the object, it worked. It worked out that way psychologically. Most of us were insecure farm boys who had perhaps been out in the field the day before.

Henry had heard stories about how frightening the experience could be, so he decided to prepare himself.

“Dad and I went to Morden a few weeks before my appointment just to sit in and observe the procedure. I think this orientation helped me – perhaps. At one point, when my turn came, the judge angrily accused me of having been too well coached by someone. In retrospect I know it was not so much that I was so well informed or that I was such a skilled debater. Maybe I came across a bit too cocky. The judge was right. Timidity is much more becoming for a young aspiring CO."

“A few boys brought their Bibles to debate their case. The judges were especially rough with them. These men were skilled lawyers and they shredded those presentations to bits.” [ASM, 138-153]

John C. Klassen gives one example of this, and the effect it had on him. 

I was summoned to appear before Judge Bowman in Altona, for a court hearing, and to be accompanied by my father and represented by a clergy. I do not know how many 21 year olds appeared before the judge that day, but I know that my school classmate who was much more involved in church life than I, and had practically memorized the Bible in preparation for this hearing, was given a rough interrogation and finally rejected CO status. This discouraged me and I thought I could never make it. When my name was called, my knees were knocking enough to almost shatter the windows, as I stood before Judge Bowman. But all I did was answer a few basic questions and was then told to go home and wait for a contact from the Selective Service.” [ASM, 23-29]

A CO had no way of knowing whether his experience would be short and simple like Klassen's, or long and hard like the case Klassen describes.