July 19, 1917 (12th Parliament, 7th Session)

LIB

Wilfrid Laurier (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Liberal

Sir WILFRID LAURIER:

There are exemptions and exceptions provided for in this Bill, -and under them the ,parties affected may claim exemption or they may not, just as they please. There is in the section which we are discussing nothing to prevent any member of a church from enlisting if he chooses to do so, and taking his share in the fight. There are, however, exemptions for the protection of the consciences of those who have conscientious objections to fighting. We have in section 11, paragraph (f) this exemption:
That he conscientiously objects to the undertaking of combatant service and is prohibited from so doing by the tenets and articles of faith, in effect at the date of the passing of this Act, of any organized religious denomination existing and well recognized in Canada at such date, and to which he in good faith belongs.
That is nothing new. It is part of the English legislation which has been in existence as far back, I think, as Charles II, and was enacted for the Quakers, who had objection to military service. It was done because under the common law every citizen in Great Britain was liable at any time to military service to repel invasion or if the country was in danger. But even then the liberty of conscience which is always so strong in Great Britain led the British Parliament to exempt the Quakers because they had religious objection to spilling blood, and for two hundred or three hundred years the Quakers have been exempt from military service. Divinity students do not come in that category, but the same reasons which would apply to the Quakers would also apply to those young men who, I think, can claim as a matter of conscience that they should not be called for military service. I regret exceedingly that my right hon. friend has not persevered in the amendment he brought in the other day. If the present amendment is carried, it will not assist in making this Act more popular in certain parts of the country, but will have the reverse effect.

Topic:   QUESTIONS.
Subtopic:   MILITARY SERVICE ACT, 1917.
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