Canadian Court Uses U.S. Precedents to Defend Mandatory Military Taxation

Were I a Canadian, I would be embarrassed to find my country’s judges relying on United States court precedents for their cases. I might also be a little alarmed to find judges conducting bible study from the bench, especially if I caught them truncating Jesus’s “Render unto Caesar…” bit half way through in order to make a rhetorical point.

From the Ottawa Citizen:

Court rules objectors must pay “military” taxes

The Tax Court of Canada has ruled that taxpayers can’t refuse to pay taxes to be used for military purposes.

The ruling by Mr. Justice Guy Tremblay released on means that Dr. Jerilynn C. Prior of Vancouver must pay the federal government the $1,675.58 she refused to pay on her taxes.

Prior, a Quaker, agreed that she owed the government $15,957.87 for that tax year but withheld 10.5 per cent on grounds of conscience.

She said that 10.5 per cent of the federal budget was used for military purposes.

“As a person of conscience who would refuse to fight in a war on moral and religious grounds, I also refuse to pay for war on the same grounds,” she wrote the government. “My Constitution allows me freedom of conscience.”

She sent the amount instead to the Peace Tax Fund, which was started in by Edith Adamson of Victoria.

Tremblay noted that , 315 taxpayers had deposited $85,000 in the Peace Tax Fund rather than have it used for military purposes.

The judge said that even if Prior’s freedom of conscience was infringed by the way the taxes are used, “it is the court’s opinion that the Canadian tax system, which is required to collect money to provide for the needs of the nation, which include its defence, would be a reasonable limit that must be imposed in a free and democratic society.”

He rooted his decision in a U.S. case in which a member of the Old Amish religion objected to paying social security taxes on grounds his religion forbade him to pay for or accept such benefits.

In that ruling the United States Supreme Court said some religious practices must “yield to the common good” in a cosmopolitan country where almost every conceivable religion is practised.

Tremblay quoted the following passage from the U.S. ruling:

“If, for example, a religious adherent believes war is a sin, and if a certain percentage of the federal budget can be identified as devoted to war-related activities, such individuals would have a similarly valid claim to be exempt from paying that percentage of the income tax.

“The tax system could not function if denominations were allowed to challenge (it) because tax payments were spent in a manner that violates their religious belief.”

Tremblay agreed with the U.S. court that “religious belief in conflict with the payment of taxes affords no basis for resisting the tax.”

He said he doubts that payment of the military tax is “against the spirit of Christ,” as Prior claimed.

The judge quoted Jesus’s advice to the Pharisees: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.” He quoted St. Paul to the same effect.

“Jesus and Paul, as citizens of Judah, could not ignore that an important part of the Roman Empire’s budget was used for military purposes,” Tremblay said.

Cheryl Vickers, Prior’s lawyer, said in an interview Monday her client has three months to decide whether to appeal the ruling.

And the irony of the judge relying on that particular Supreme Court decision is that the United States government did eventually accommodate the conscientious objection of Mennonites who wanted to remain outside of the Social Security system — thus proving that it was neither impossible nor too daunting for the government to make exceptions for conscientious objectors in the tax code, contra the court’s finding.