Conscientious Objection to Military Service and Citizenship: A Canadian Perspective


December 11, 2008 :: Amy Shaw
Moderated by Einard Haniuk

The appalling death toll of the First World War and the need for a sense of equality of sacrifice on the home front led to Canada’s first experience of overseas conscription. The backlash against enforced military service in Quebec was, and has been historically seen as the great threat to the wartime vision of national unity. This has obscured the important role of “conscientious objectors,” those who saw military service as incompatible with their religious or ethical beliefs.

The speaker argues that the experiences of these young men offer insight into evolving attitudes about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship during a key period of Canadian nation building. A claim of conscientious exemption to a war widely seen as holy was difficult both for the individual to make and for wider Canadian society to understand. As well, the speaker argues, the negative stereotype of the conscientious objector illuminates expectations of appropriate masculine behavior, while encompassing a sense that the claims of certain individuals and denominations were more justifiable than others.

Speaker: Dr. Amy Shaw

Amy Shaw is an Assistant Professor at the Department of History, University of Lethbridge. Since arriving at U of L in 2005, she has taught courses in Canadian history, including “Canada: War and Peace”, “Canada in two World Wars” and Canadian cultural history. Dr. Shaw’s current research includes the activities of Canadian women during the First World War.

Educated in Ontario, Dr. Shaw earned her University degrees from York, (B.A.) McMaster (M.A.) and her Ph.D. in 2005 from Western Ontario. Her book, Crisis of Conscience: Conscientious Objection in Canada during the First World War, has just been published by the University of British Columbia Press.


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