Like other Canadians, every year Ernie and Charlotte Wiens file their taxes. Unlike others, the LaSalle, Man., farming couple doesn’t send the federal government everything it says they owe — the part that violates their conscience.
For Ernie, 72, and Charlotte, 69, that’s the estimated 10 percent of Canada’s budget spent on the military.
Instead of sending that money to the government, they divert it to Conscience Canada’s Peace Tax Trust Fund.
“We do it because of our faith, because of our understanding of the message of Christ,” says Ernie. “Christ taught us to be nonviolent, to love our enemies, to pray for our persecutors, to break down barriers and animosities. That’s our starting point.”
Along with their Christian faith, they draw inspiration from their service as volunteers with Mennonite Central Committee in Botswana from 1972 to 1975 and from when Ernie worked with MCC from 1983 to 1986 providing aid to people caught in conflict.
“I think of the horrors of war, the suffering of civilians,” says Charlotte. “My heart breaks for all the children in the world caught in war. It doesn’t make sense that the world spends billions on arms. That money could be used for much better purposes.”
The example of family members who were conscientious objectors during World War II is also very much on their minds.
In Charlotte’s case, her father refused to fight during the war, doing alternative service in Alberta and British Columbia. Two of Ernie’s uncles were also conscientious objectors at that time.
Back then, the government “needed our bodies” to fight, says Ernie, but “today it just wants our money. How can we live out our convictions about peacebuilding in our time? How can we pray for peace but pay for war? It’s contradictory. It doesn’t fit, doesn’t make sense.”
The couple, who attend LaSalle Community Fellowship Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation, have been diverting the military portion of their taxes for 10 years in the hope that one day the Canadian government will make it legal for people to pay taxes for peaceful purposes.
If that happens, the Wienses will happily give the money they have diverted into the Peace Tax Trust Fund to the government.
“We will immediately hand the money over,” Ernie says.
The Canada Revenue Agency isn’t willing to wait that long. Starting last year, it began deducting about $500 a month from Ernie’s government pension. About two-thirds of the amount has been recovered so far.
The government’s recent action won’t change their minds, though. “We are not convinced to stop doing it,” Ernie says.
For them, it’s about the right to conscientious objection — something that has been practiced in Canada for more than 200 years. “It’s about freedom of conscience and religion, something enshrined in the Charter,” he adds.
The Wienses understand not everyone can do what they do. Most people have their taxes taken off at the source, and some wouldn’t want to do it for fear of getting into trouble with the CRA.
“But what if a thousand people decided to do it?” asks Ernie. “It’s a really big challenge. We need more people to join us.”
Adds Charlotte: “We are willing to pay all our taxes. We just want them to go for peace, not war.”
John Longhurst is a freelance writer and communications and marketing consultant in Winnipeg, Man.