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Canadian government understood the importance of giving children
a quality education. That is why the Military Service Act of 1917
classified teachers as absolutely necessary for Canadian society,
even during wartime. During the Second World War, however, some
teachers lost their jobs when they became conscientious objectors
and some university students
were disciplined for their CO stance.
would this happen if Canada needed more teachers?
short answer is that there was no logical reason. It was the result
of miscommunication between the federal government and provincial
judges. Although the Canadian government supported COs, the
judges who dealt directly with COs were not as understanding.
They did not support pacifism. The judges did not want COs teaching
children about pacifism. For this reason, some COs lost their teaching
Gerhard Ens, a schoolteacher, applied for conscientious objectors
status, he had to appear before a judge to state his case. Here
is how Ens remembers the conversation:
Why do you want a postponement?
Excuse me, Sir, I did
not apply for postponement. I applied for
exemption as a Conscientious Objector.
We grant only postponements but CO status is
one ground for postponement.
That is what I applied for.
Why do you want that status?
Killing is as wrong in war
as in peace. I accept the historic position of my church on this
What is your occupation.
I am a schoolteacher.
What do you teach?
I teach the required program
Do you teach religion?
Yes, sir, I do.
Do you teach the Mennonite religion?
I teach the Bible.
Do you teach the Mennonite interpretation of the Bible?
(After some hesitation and
prodding) Yes, I do.
Do you teach that it is wrong to go to war?
(After realizing that I had
been backed into a corner and in desperation) Yes, I do.
Adamson was a skilled lawyer and judge. Although he could not change
what COs believed, he did sometimes belittle them for their beliefs.
Ens continues his story.
this the hearing ended. I was given CO status almost immediately.
The exact transcript of the hearing was communicated to the Department
of Education. Here the Discipline Committee discussed it, heard
me once more and then recommended to the Minister the cancellation
of my certificate. This was effected early in 1943, forcing me
to leave my school in the middle of the spring term.” [MHC, 1015-45]
Goossen remembers that a judge got the better of two fellow teachers.
His wife, Bettie, tells the story.
and two other teachers came before the judge who asked one of
the others whether he bought war bonds. When the young man said,
“Yes,” the judge confronted him, saying, “How can you buy war
bonds and be a CO? Cancel his teaching certificate.” The other
teacher was questioned and when he said that he had not bought
war bonds, the judge replied, “As a civil servant, you do not
help your country in need. Your teaching certificate is cancelled.”
watching the judge cancel the certificates of those two teachers,
John knew what would happen to him. The judge knew too. When John
appeared, he was not even allowed to speak. The judge cancelled
his teaching certificate immediately and dismissed the court session.
Funk, whose brother had his certificate cancelled, remembers how
this policy later changed.
a short time the authorities decertified all teachers who applied
for CO status. A little later such teachers were frozen to the
teaching profession for the duration. One wonders about those
authorities, but then they were inexperienced too.” [ASM,
Funk says, the judges soon realized that Canada desperately needed
teachers. F. Enns, for example, did not lose his certificate.
was a school teacher and was permitted to continue to teach. But
I was required to make a monthly contribution to the Canadian
Red Cross.” [MHC,
person wrote that “as a High School principal in a Mennonite community,
there were no problems.” [MHC, 1015-6]
quite a number of Mennonites lost their teaching privileges. Read
on to see how John J. Bergen fought to have his teaching certificate
returned to him.
Bergen's original documents.
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