WHAT IS A "CONCHIE"?
In both the First and Second World Wars, young men from across Canada were expected to serve in the military and to fight overseas. While Canada’s efforts in both wars began as an entirely voluntary endeavour, the high losses suffered by those fighting
abroad necessitated the imposition of conscription in both wars. But what of those who believed, due to religious, spiritual, or personal reasons, that fighting in war was immoral? Conscientious objectors, or “conchies”, to war and violence have existed
for thousands of years, often the victims of persecution and violence for their beliefs.
In Canada, conscientious objectors have been officially recognised in one form or another since 1793. Among “conchies” the most common reason for their beliefs were religious. Numerous religious sects, most notably Mennonites, Quakers, and Seventh-Day
Adventists, applied for and received official recognition from the Government as conscientious objectors, exempting them from military service.
FIRST WORLD WAR
In 1917, the Military Service Act implemented conscription in Canada. While the law had exemptions for conscientious objectors, each man was forced to argue his case in front of a local tribunal. While many peaceful sects had been officially recognised
by the Government, many members still found it difficult to prove their right to object to the tribunal. Those who objected to fighting but did not belong to one of the recognised sects had a far more difficult time convincing the tribunals, who often
considered conscientious objection an act of cowardice. If an individual still refused to serve when their claim had been denied, they faced trial by military tribunal, and a potential prison term. More than 100 such individuals were still behind bars
in January 1919.