World War 1 is often known as the Great War by many people. Canada played a very big and important role in this war, supplying Britain with many weapons, aids and nurses, foods and on top of that, thousands of brave soldiers. When the war first started, many Canadian men were greatly excited about the adventures that they will experience at war and the stories they will be able to tell when they come home as heroic soldiers. This excitement led many men, even young boys to enlist and volunteer for the war. However, when this war that was supposed to end in a couple of months, led to a year and then another, the number of volunteering men started to decrease further and further. This rapid drop of soldiers led Prime Minister Borden to establish the Military Service Act, also known as the Conscription Act. This act made it mandatory for men in good condition to fight, to go to war. This conscription had a very bad impact on Canada, going against the freedom of citizens which Canada supported, having negative effects on the families and the soldiers and lastly, dividing the nation into two, the English and the French.
As a result of this Military Service Act, Prime Minister Borden did not commit to the promise he had made in the beginning of the war. He promised Canada that he would not use conscription because he felt that it would not be necessary due to the overwhelming number of volunteering men. This angered many people because not only did Prime Minister Borden break his promise but it was violating the fact that Canada is a free country that supports the liberty and the rights of its citizens. To be a free country, it means to not force or make its citizens do things against their will and this mandatory recruitment did just that. During the war, other rights of the citizens were abused. These violated rights include the freedom of voting which suspended many people from voting if they were not in favour of the war.
This was made official through the War Time Election Act. This act restricted many people from voting for expressing their opinions and thoughts:This act states that votes were only to be granted to all wives, sisters, mothers and daughters of soldiers who are serving or had served over seas. The vote is denied or taken from those of enemy birth, those of European with speaking the enemy tongue and conscientious objectors. (Canadiana War Scrapbook 21)Many new Canadians that have just begun to settle into the country and felt like they belong quickly lost their patriotism and faith in Canada. Harsh feelings and hostility were built and they especially lost their trust in their Prime Minister. Even though the overall response from the public about this issue was bad, there was an even worse reaction from the families of the soldiers.
Many of the families of the men who were conscripted were very upset and were not in favour of this new act. They felt and knew that this was unfair because they needed the men to keep up with their business or farming. It caused a lot of financial pressure for many families resulting in economical shortfall and shortage of food. Men were their primary source of income and without them, some families no longer had the money support their families and others had their farms and crops ruined because there were not enough people to take care of them. A wife of a soldier had said to The New York Times newspaper, regarding the outcome of the draft on her family, It is so hard to keep up with all the work that has to be done on the land without my husband, even with my children helping out, including my youngest. (The New York Times, July 17th 1917)
Overall the conscription had disappointing impacts on the families of the soldiers and it also had negative effects on the soldiers as well. The conscripted soldiers rebelled against this mandatory act, hiding and trying to get exempt on purpose. Some did not even show up for the recruitment. These men were not as eager to fight in the battles as the volunteered soldiers were. A soldier had said before leaving to war, Id rather die than to fight in a war that I dont want to be a part of. This could have been one of the reasons why Canadian troops lost so many more soldiers towards the end of the war than before. The Military Service Act created more than just terrible effects on families and publics but it also created riots, violence and conflicts with the English and the French citizens.
When this act was first introduced, it gained very unpleasant feedbacks, this was such a controversial issue that as it became more and more serious, it led Canada to split into two. Canada became a divided nation with English on one side and French on the other. The cause of this conflict was mainly because of the conscription act, the English felt that it was beneficial for the war while the French thought the exact opposite. English Canada was in favour of this forced military service because they felt that more than enough English men went to war, while the French men contributed very little. On the other hand, French Canada felt that there was no need to enlist in the war because they felt it was not necessary to support a country that they did not have any patriotism or love for. In addition, French men were needed at home to work on the farm.
The typical opinion of the war and the conscription crisis was described by a news article, Almost all French-Canadians opposed conscription: They felt that they had no particular loyalty to either Britain or France. They felt their only loyalty was to Canada.(The New York Times July 17th, 1917) As this argument between the two ethnic groups intensified, the French felt obligated to rebel and express their opinions and disapproval of this act. As a result, anti-conscription riots caused chaos in Quebec resulting in violence and danger. A war information source described this protest, Over the 1918 Easter weekend, anti-conscription riots broke out in Quebec City.
These riots were quelled only when soldiers from Toronto arrived. The soldiers fired out into the crowds. When all was said and done four civilians were dead. (CBC history) When Prime Minister Borden proposed this act he had only made the situation worse. From doing this, he gained plenty of popularity from the English while he lost just as much as he gained, from the French. The French felt that he was taking sides and doing this for his own benefit which was not fair to them. The French lost their trust in their government and this type of conflict still continues to exist between Quebec and the English Canada today.
The Military Service Act was an important and a controversial issue during World War I, with negative consequences on the people of this country and the country itself. It led Canada, a free country, to violate the freedom and rights of its citizens and it caused suffering on the families and the soldiers. Lastly, it triggered conflicts between English and the French, separating Canada into a divided nation. The rights of the people who were against war were taken away because they did not support Canadas decision to send Canadian men to fight in a war in Europe. The families of the soldiers experienced economical loss and food shortage because men, their source of income, were not there. The dispute between English and French about conscription caused violent protests and riots. These were events that once made Canadians hateful towards one another and should not be repeated again. It teaches everyone a lesson that war only brings out the worst in people.
Maitland, Frank. Win-the-war Men now rule Canada: Conscription Chief IssueConfronting Premiere Bordens Cabinet, Believed to be Assured. The New YorkTimes 11 November, 1917.
Special to The New York Times. Soldiers mobbed in Lower Canada; Anti-ConscriptionAgitation Grows and Riots Occur in Montreal and Quebec. Run The New YorkTimes 17 July, 1917.
Granatstein, Richard. Conscription The Canadian Encyclopedia. Canadian ed. 2008Newman, Garfield. Canada: A Nation Unfolding, Ontario: Patty Pappas, 2000.
CBC History. The Conscription Crisis. CBC History Timeline. 24 February, 2008 .
Santor, D. Canadians at War: Canadiana War Scrapbook Series. Ontario: Prentice Hall of Canada Ltd., 1979.
Garfield, Newman. Canada: A Nation Unfolding. Ontario: Patty Pappas, 2000.
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