War Tax Resistance in Canada

Conscience Canada, the war tax resistance organization from the Maple Leaf State, has released a well-crafted video promoting conscientious objection to military taxation. You can watch it on-line at YouTube.

They’ve also published a booklet describing their recommended process for resisting war taxes in Canada. This involves diverting a portion of your income tax into a “Peace Tax Trust Fund” operated by Conscience Canada. The organization will hold your redirected funds until either you ask for the money back or the government sets up an officially-recognized way for conscientious objectors to pay these redirected taxes for “non-military peace and security initiatives” only.

This emphasis on legalized conscientious objection to military taxation, though regrettable in my opinion, is typical of war tax resistance groups worldwide. (Only in the United States, it seems, are war tax resisters and “Peace Tax Fund” advocates distinct enough to require two separate organizations.)

Conscience Canada seems also more explicitly pacifist and statist than its counterpart in the United States. This tighter ideological homogeneity allows them to advocate government policy changes, for instance: replacing the military with nonviolent civilian defense training and nonviolent international intervention groups (sort of a Christian Peacemaker Teams-style force operating on a United Nations scale).

Over the holidays, I read Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed. The book tells the story of the French village of Le Chambon, which sheltered Jewish refugees during the Nazi/Vichy occupation.

It’s a good and inspiring story, but I’m only mentioning it today to go off on a self-indulgent tangent. There’s an aside in the book that jumped out at me. It reads:

The word scruples comes from the Latin word for “pebble.” Scruples, like sharp stones in a shoe, can hinder a retreat from danger.

An on-line etymological dictionary agrees, adding that the word scrupus was “used figuratively by Cicero for a cause of uneasiness or anxiety, probably from the notion of having a pebble in one’s shoe.”

“Scruple” seems to have been the preferred term used by Quakers when they described how their consciences led them to resist taxes. For instance, John Woolman: “…there was in the depth of my mind a scruple which I never could get over…”

I mention this because I remembered that when I was first starting off on this experiment in tax resistance, before I was familiar with the tax resistance movement or the literature and history of tax resistance, I tried to come up with some evocative way of explaining how my conscience was bothering me about taxpaying. The phrase I chose was:

I am absolutely unable to give any moral support to the U.S. government, and that I have been a source of financial support to that government has been a stone in my shoe.

I suppose I may have picked up the etymology subconsciously, or I may have read about it and forgotten it, but the way I remember it I was just reaching for a metaphor for how I was feeling, then I stumbled on one that felt right, and ran with it. Eerie.

That’s part of why I’ve become a little obsessed with the history of tax resistance. Lots of people have been down this road before, and it pays to listen to the stories they’ve told, for one day I may be walking in their footsteps.