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Peace Tax Fund: A war of conscience

Susan Berlin — March 1984

In Canada, for 200 years conscientious objectors have had the right to refuse military service and undertake some form of alternative service. But paradoxically, at a time when a ‘war’ will most likely be fought -not by conscripts but by a nuclear exchange, Canadians who oppose war on ,grounds’ of conscience must contribute their tax money to the creation and testing of bombs and their delivery systems.

In 1978, in an effort to cope with this ethical dilemma, a group of Vancouver Quakers proposed to the Federal government that a Peace Tax Fund should be established. Their plan was similar in its general outlines to plans being initiated in 15 countries, including Japan, France, West Germany and Great Britain.

Under the proposed plan, people would be able to direct the portion of their tax money earmarked for military purposes (currently about 10.6%) to a Peace Tax Fund. This fund would be used to finance research into disarmament and inspection techniques, non-violent methods of conflict resolution, and so on. There was no response to this’ 1978 proposal.

In the spring of 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was proclaimed, and the Vancouver group used the few weeks available before the 1981 tax filing deadline to organise a unique form of war protest. They asked people to divide their tax payments into two cheques, one made out in the usual way, the other – for the military share of one’s taxes – made out to a Peace Tax Fund. About 70 people across Canada took part in the hastily-organised project, and most of them have been engaged in an interesting correspondence with Revenue Canada ever since.

At the same time, Edith Adamson, one of the founders of the Peace Tax Fund Committee, sued the federal government on the grounds that, by enforcing the Income Tax Act, it was infringing her right to freedom of conscience. Her suit is before the courts, and the decision on the case will create a precedent for. the requirement to pay the military portion of one’s taxes.

The original system set up for the Peace Tax Fund created some unexpected problems. For one thing, the odd cheque made out to the Fund was cashed by some regional tax offices, and the resulting snarls are still being sorted out.

Consequently, this year the Vancouver group has set up a Peace Tax Trust Fund, which operates an interest-bearing account. People interested in participating in a peace tax protest are asked to proceed as follows:

Calculate the taxes you owe in the usual way. Then write two cheques: one, for 89.4% of the Net Federal Taxes Payable, made out to the Receiver General; the other, for 10.6% of the net figure, – made out to the Peace Tax Fund Trust Account.

If you want to determine whether the government will accept your calculations, complete your Income Tax form and send it to Revenue Canada without payment. In about eight weeks, you will receive a Notice of Assessment, which will indicate any difference between your calculations and those made by the government. The disadvantage of this procedure is that if the Notice of Assessment arrives after April 3D, you will owe interest on your taxes.

Xerox the Peace Tax cheque. Send the Xerox, the Receiver General’s cheque, and an explanatory covering letter to Revenue Canada. Send copies of your letter to the Prime Minister, appropriate members of. cabinet, your MP, leaders of the opposition, and so on.

Send the original of the Peace Tax cheque to: The Peace Tax Fund Committee, 183 Fern Avenue, Victoria B.C. V8R 4K4. This procedure protects you against charges of non-payment of taxes, though the government will still want to collect.

The Peace Tax Fund Committee will deposit your cheque in its Trust Account. The Tax people will enter into a correspondence with you, which is likely to take many months and to be of gradually increasing urgency. Eventually, they will demand payment within 15 days. At that point, you may collect your money from the Peace Tax Fund, plus interest accrued, and settle your account with the government.

Alternatively, you could continue to refuse to pay. However, refusal to pay once the 15-day notice has been received could result in penalties under the Income Tax Act, such as seizing of funds from your bank account, garnisheeing of your wages, or seizing of other assets.

Taking the matter further could also require legal action, an expensive option which isn’t really necessary since the findings on Edith Adamson’s suit will cover all similar cases.

Unfortunately, most Canadians – all those who work on salary, and who therefore have their taxes withheld at source – can’t easily take part in the Peace Tax Fund.

If you are one of the majority, you may want to consider attaching a letter of ‘payment under protest’ to your tax form; if you do, remember to send copies of the letter to appropriate politicians.

Another possibility is to go to your employer (if possible, with the support of fellow employees and/or your union) to ask that a letter be written pressing the government to change the tax regulations, and emphasising that employees have expressed the desire to re-direct the military portion of their taxes. All of these methods will increase the awareness of government that people ‘out there’ are opposed to continued preparations for war.

Edith Adamson’s suit against the government will seek to achieve legal recognition of the, right of all Canadians to direct their tax money toward peace. Much of the voluminous research that has been required to prepare the case was carried out by volunteers, but despite this, legal costs of the case are expected to reach $50,000, since it will undoubtedly proceed all the way to the Supreme Court.

Contributions to legal costs are urgently needed. Anyone wishing to contribute funds should make out a cheque to the Peace Tax Fund Committee, and mail it to 1831 Fern Avenue, Victoria Back. V8R 4K4.

Until recently, when the Peace Tax Fund Committee lost access to a charitable number, such contributions were tax-deductible. The Committee is attempting to obtain a new charitable number, and, if you are considering a large donation, you. may .wish to contact them regarding their ability to issue a tax receipt before sending a cheque.

Additional information on the Peace Tax Fund, including the name of a local contact person, can also be obtained by writing to the Committee at the Victoria address.