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Uncertainty before the Judge

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No matter how hostile the judge was, though, it was difficult to change the mind of a sincere CO. Often, the judges just threw up their hands in frustration.


“The courtroom experience was simple. I gave the biblical reasons for non-resistance. There were a few catchy questions such as “you don't object to arms since you have a gun on the farm” and “what would you do if someone attacked your sister?” They concluded that I was one of those obstinate fellows who won't see the light.” [MHC, 1015-12]


D.K. Schellenberg was one of these “obstinate fellows.” He, however, doesn't even remember all the details of his appearance before the judge. One thing, however, has remained with him all these years.


“I don't recall the questions asked of me but I remember answering with Psalm 37:5 ‘Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him and He shall bring it to pass.'” [MHC, 1015-5]


While the path to conscientious objection was never smooth, COs remain thankful to the Canadian government for providing an alternative service program. Still, the main problem was with the judges who administered the program and who decided whether a CO was sincere or not. Judge Adamson, for one, seemed more concerned with having men join the armed forces than with giving COs a fair hearing. It was not easy for him either. He was caught between the Canadian promise to honour the peaceful values of the conscientious objectors and thier supporters and the anti-German and pro-war positions of other Canadians.


Also, it wasn't easy for a judge to tell who was a sincere pacifist. Mennonites only joined the church when they became adults, so the judge couldn't use church membership as the deciding factor. Some judges also thought that Mennonite leaders, not the young men, were the ones with the pacifist beliefs.


At the same time, it was hard to understand why judges would send COs to jail instead of letting them do something of national importance. Only late in the war were COs able to choose non-combatant service with the Royal Army Medical Corps or Canadian Dental Corps. Two hundred twenty-seven COs volunteered for this service.


Historian Ken Reddig does not blame the judges.


“Undoubtedly the real culprit, if one must be found, would be the slow response of the National War Services Board in developing sufficient and appropriate alternative service opportunities. With the knowledge that conscientious objectors would be involved in beneficial civilian work, rather than going back to their homes and farms while others served in the military, Adamson as well as other judges might have been more lenient in granting postponements to the young men before them.” [67-68]

Read some more about COs before the judge.

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