Resister uses tax to protest
Joshua Goldberg is a second-generation war resister. His father fled to Canada because he refused to be drafted in the American military during the Vietnam War. The elder Goldberg's story was eventually told in Alan Haig-Brown's 1996 book Hell No, We Won't Go: Vietnam Draft Resisters in Canada (Raincoast Books).
Since 2002, when the U.S.–led so-called war on terror came into full swing, Goldberg has been withholding about eight percent of his yearly income-tax bill, the percentage equivalent of what he says Ottawa normally allocates from the federal budget for military spending.
The 36-year-old Victoria man then sends a cheque representing the amount held back to the peace trust fund administered by the Toronto-based antiwar group Conscience Canada, with a copy furnished to the Canada Revenue Agency. He has since received letters from the agency reminding him that he owes money to the government.
"I don't want to contribute financially to war and to killing," Goldberg told the Georgia Straight. "I would be really thrilled to have the military portion of my taxes go to the government to be used for peaceful purposes, whether it's domestically or internationally."
Goldberg isn't losing sleep over the prospect that one day he'll be dragged to court by the government to force him to pay. "They may, and if they do, I'll deal with that with the support of other people who have gone through that," he said. "I really don't worry about that. My father came to Canada as a war resister during the Vietnam War. People make all sorts of difficult decisions."
He said that being sued for payment is actually the worst thing that could happen to people like him. But according to Goldberg, the tax resisters could always withdraw their deposits from the fund with no questions asked.
Bruna Nota, president of Conscience Canada, told the Straight that in 2006, some 73 Canadians across the country didn't pay their income taxes in full and contributed to the peace fund as their way of objecting to Canada's participation in the U.S.-led war on terror.
Nota said that the peace trust fund has totalled about $30,000 since 2003. Although Conscience Canada started advocacy work in 1978, its trust fund was liquidated when a previous set of officers decided to refund all contributors in 2002. Nota said that many former contributors haven't returned yet since she and her group decided to continue the organization's work.
"There are many ways of doing conscientious objection," she said. "One is to withhold taxes and send it to the peace tax fund. Another one is to live below the poverty line so you don't pay taxes. There are quite a number of them who choose voluntary simplicity as part of the witnessing."
Bradley Alvarez, a Canada Revenue communications officer, said he isn't aware of Conscience Canada and its form of antiwar activism.
Asked by the Straight what the government typically does to people who don't pay taxes in full, Alvarez said: "We usually talk to people who don't, and try to get them to pay voluntarily."
Alvarez stressed that under the law, Canadians are required to file their income-tax return and then remit all the taxes they are supposed to pay.
Canada doesn't have a law allowing people, for reasons of conscience or religion, not to pay taxes that might be used for military purposes. However, Bill Siksay, NDP MP for Burnaby-Douglas, said that his proposed Bill C-348 seeks to address this.
It would permit individuals who object on conscientious grounds to direct an amount equivalent to a government-prescribed percentage of the income tax they pay to be diverted to a special account. The fund must be used, the bill provides, for uses other than military.
"There are many people in Canada who, for reasons of conscience, either related to their strongly held religious views or other very strongly held views, don't believe that they should participate in militarism in any way," Siksay told the Straight.
Siksay said that such a law would provide objectors with the opportunity to direct their taxes to other aspects of government work. "It's very, very important to recognize those kinds of commitments," he said. "We've done that many times in Canadian history. We've encouraged people of conscience to come to Canada."