Uncertainty with the Government - Page 2

Mennonite leaders met with government officials in November 1940. They included David Toews, Benjamin B. Janz, Jacob H. Janzen, Samuel F. Coffman, Ernest J. Swalm, Cornelius F. Klassen, The Mennonites proposed a “Christian Fellowship Service.” This program would be active in relief work, public works, forestry, farm service, and public health and welfare services. In this proposal, churches, not the military, would administer the CO projects. For T.C. Davis and L.R. Lafleche, two government representatives, this proposal was unacceptable. Instead, they suggested non-combatant service under military control. The Mennonite leaders firmly rejected this idea. Both sides became frustrated.

Two weeks later, they met again. Historian Ted Regehr describes a heated exchange between Deputy Minister Lafleche and Rev. Jacob H. Janzen, one of the Mennonite leaders from Ontario.

“Lafleche asked the delegates: “What will you do if we shoot you?” That was too much for Janzen, who had survived several desperate situations in the Soviet Union. Obviously agitated, he replied: “Listen General, I want to tell you something. You can't scare us like that. I've looked down too many rifle barrels in my time to be scared in that way. This thing is in our blood for 400 years and you can't take it away from us like you'd crack a piece of kindling over your knee. I was before a firing squad twice. We believe in this.” [Regehr, 48]

Both sides seemed unwilling to budge. Fortunately, the Mennonite delegation later met with Jimmy Gardiner, the minister of national war services. As premier of Saskatchewan in the 1930s, he had enjoyed strong support from the Mennonite communities. He listened to their ideas on alternative service and gave them a reassuring response: “There's one hundred and one things that you fellows can do without fighting; we'll see that you get them.” [Regehr, 49]