Conscription Crisis Comparison and Its Effects on Canada in 1917 and 1944

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Table of Contents

Introduction   4

Comparison between the Conscription Crisis of 1917 and 1944  5

Effects of the Conscription Crisis on Canada   9

The War Led to a Momentous Debate  9

Influence on the Wartime Elections Act 10

Formation of a Union Government 10

Anti-Conscription riots 11

Influence on the Canadian Social, Political and Economic Norms  11

Influence Historically on Canada  12

Influence on Political Campaigns 13

Conclusion 13

Bibliography  15

Introduction

Canada’s conscription crisis involved the enlistment of citizens who were deemed eligible for the military service. Canada in 1914 did not require conscription due to the high number of men volunteers for the overseas service. In 1917, however, the unexpected duration of World War I, the shortage of labour particularly in farms and the high number of fatalities had significantly led to the inability by Canada to maintain a volunteering army. The conscription idea was open to the English Canadians who held support for the war as they believed that it was in the best interests for Canada to continue fighting until they achieved victory. In 1944 the conscription crisis happened after the Canadian troop’s numbers in the European soils declined in the aftermath of warring years. Canada was pressured by England into the enforcement of conscription to increase its troops and send them to England to offer reinforcement to England and the allies in a bid to win the war. Conscription in Canada in both 1917 and 1944 faced backlash, with the opposition to conscription emanating from Quebec. In 1944 after the Canadian government decided on the enforcement of conscription a survey conducted showed that the people were in agreement with conscription; however, Quebec was an exception. The English-Speaking section of Canada was in support of conscription, but the French-speaking part was in opposition of conscription. Lastly, in this research shall find out if the conscription crisis divided Canada?.  The research paper shall provide substantial details with regards to the Conscription crisis, the effects of the conscription crisis on Canada, the comparison between the 1917 and the 1944 conscription crisis.

Comparison between the Conscription Crisis of 1917 and 1944

In Canada, the 1917 crisis majorly was a military and political crisis during the First World War. The conscription crisis was as a result of the disagreement with regards to whether men should go ahead and be conscripted with the motives of fighting in the war. The conscription crisis brought forth many issues, particularly, the relations that exist between the English and French Speaking Canadians. The majority of the French-Speaking Canadians were in opposition to the conscription move because they hold the belief that they did not have any particular loyalty to either France or Britain. The French-Speaking Canadians led by Henri Bourassa held that their loyalty solely lied with Canada. On the other hand, the English Canadians offered support to the war efforts because they felt Canada had strong ties with the British Empire. The Unionist government in 1918 started to enforce the Act that pertained to Military service. In the enforcement of the act 404,385 men were eligible to join military service, with 385, 510 seeking exemption[1]. The 1917 conscription crisis led to the most violent kind of an opposition that occurred in Quebec whereby the antiwar attitudes emanating from French-Canadian nationalism led to the rise of rioting between 28th April and 1st April 1918[2]. The crisis or disturbance came up after Dominion Police detained a man who had French-Canadian leaning and who failed to avail his draft papers from the exemption. Even after the individual’s release, the people were up in arms with angry mob made up of about 200 individuals descending on a police station namely St. Roch District whereby the man was being held[3]. The most fatal and final conflict transpired during Easter Monday when the crowds organized once again, in this case, against the presence of the military in the City that had grown to the tune of 1,200 soldiers[4]. The soldiers who were manning the streets had the orders to fire to disperse the crowds with the civilian casualties being high, however, debatable. The reports highlighted the deaths to be about 5 with dozens of other people getting injured. The soldiers recorded about 32 injuries[5].

Similarly, the 1944 conscription crisis had political and military manifestations, in the aftermath of the introduction of involuntary military service in Canada for the Men in the Second World War.  The 1944 conscription crisis was fairly politically damaging as compared to the events of 1917. The Canadian Prime Minister during World War II was haunted by the happenings of the 1917 conscription crisis as they had fractured, in this instance, the Liberal Party amongst the French-Canadian and English Canadian Members. In 1922 when the Chanak crisis came up, and Britain almost had war with Turkey the King, first underlined that Canada would consider being part and the involvement would not be automatic[6]. 1917 and 1944 conscription crisis were both occurring in the realm of politics and military, and this helps to explain the decision that occurred before and even after the two conscription crisis arose. The 1944 conscription crisis was preceded by war just like in the 1917 conscription crisis, and there were fatalities from both wars. The World War II conscription crisis also had heavy casualties, thereby, raising the need for new recruits. About 2463 men made it to the front lines with the casualties being around 69 which was a fruitful gamble for King because he did not want a drawn-out kind of a political crisis.

In both the 1917 and 1944 there was a promise that there would be no involuntary recruitment into the military. In fear of political and civil unrests as witnessed in World War I and the hope to defeat Maurice Duplessis the nationalist premier in Quebec when a snap election was initiated in 1939 that sought for a mandate against war, King assured that he would not bring forth overseas conscription[7]. The assurance was not to be as the people in 1944 would be forced involuntary into the military service. In 1917 the recruitment into the military was voluntary; however, after the loss of lives of many soldiers Canada sought to replenish its contingent of soldiers through conscription which was not the initial position when entering World War I. In World War I the change in legislation gave the government more power to involuntary recruit individuals into the military.  In both instances, the people had the guarantee of not being forced into the military service, but the desperate intent to replenish the soldiers’ suppliers led to conscription as people would not voluntarily agree to join the military, particularly for the overseas assignments.

In both the 1917 and 1944 conscription crisis there was the political manipulation over the matter. Borden in a bid to solidify his position in 1917 election he went ahead to extend the vote by the enactment of the Act that governed Military Voters. The favoured voters were the ones who held support for conscription. The manipulation was vital for Borden because these votes would give him an advantage. The Act that governed the Wartime Elections also gave the wives of the military men, their sisters, and daughters and even mothers of these serving men the right to participate in the polls. In 1939 in the events preceding the 1944 conscription the Canadian people were politically manipulated that there would be no repeat of what had happened in 1917, in this case, the involuntary recruitment into the military[8]. King’s declaration was not to be as in 1944 the Canadian government resulted in conscription in order for them to replenish the military that had been faced with many fatalities during World War II.

Finally, imperialism and nationalism were evident in the 1917 and 1944 conscription crisis in Canada. About 35,000 French-leaning Canadians served throughout World War I; however, the French-Canadians felt isolated in comparison to other sections of Canada[9]. The French-Canadians in World War I did not offer support for conscription and the war which led to the government getting concerned about the anti-war stance and French-Canadian nationalists[10]. Canada in the 1917 conscription undertones was visibly divided between the English and French-speaking imperialists. The English-speaking were in support of the war efforts overseas whereas the French-Speaking held the believe that conscription was another attempt to impose on them conquest; therefore, there was a need to be in opposition at all costs. In 1944 there existed just like 1917 an ethnic perspective towards the question of conscription and war participation as a soldier volunteering. In both the 1917 and 1944 conscription crisis it was the Canadians who least associated with the British Empire that would not likely choose the path of volunteering[11]. The pattern in both wars was similar with the difference being that the bulk of the individuals who volunteered into the military service were people who had Canadian roots instead of being British-born.

Effects of the Conscription Crisis on Canada

The War Led to a Momentous Debate

In 1917 the conscription debate was certainly one of the most divisive and fiercest in the political history of Canada. The French-leaning Canadians alongside the non-British immigrants, farmers, unionized workers and other sections of Canada opposed the conscription idea[12]. The debate had a major effect on Canada because it revolved around segmentation of people not under ideas, but due to the different alienation by different sections of people in Canada. In that case, therefore, the English leaning Canadians who were led by the Prime Minister Borden, together with other senior members who made up the Cabinet, the British immigrants, the soldiers families, and the older Canadians supported the idea behind conscription[13]. The conscription deliberations echoed the divisions by members of the public not only on the conscription but also on aspects such as agriculture, religion, education and also the political rights for immigrants and women. The conscription crisis led the debate into another realm that also highlights the people’s view of it as a test of their support or their opposition to the involuntary recruitment of men for participation in the war.  The debate that emanated from the conscription crisis, particularly the vicious nature of the idea obscured the complexity of the conscription debate. A case example is that of the anti-conscription supporters in full support of the war, whereas, not all the pro-conscription supporters argued their understanding of the case through the use of racial or linguistic smears with a view to weakening their rivals.

Influence on the Wartime Elections Act

In 1917 the government helped to make way for the victory in the electoral process with legislation that significantly enfranchised the perceived allies while at the same time disenfranchising the likely opponents[14]. The Act legislated a law to guide the Wartime elections, and it gave the vote to the mothers, wives and the Canadian soldiers, hence there they were the first women to take part in the Canadian Federal polls[15]. The groups tended to favor the conscription idea as it supported their men who were out in the field. However, the vote infringed on the recent immigrants who were many and who came from perceived enemy countries, not unless these immigrants had family members serving in the military. The Military Voters Act in Canada extended the vote, this time to all the nurses and military personnel, with the inclusion of women regardless of their residential periods in Canada[16]. The women participation in the elections through the act was a significant change in Canada. The conscription debate on the occurrence led to the influence on the law which was a major impact of the conscription crisis.

Formation of a Union Government (WWI)

The conscription crisis led to the formation of a Unity kind of a government. Former Prime Minister in Canada Borden held the concerns of the likelihood of conscription opponents joining forces with the Liberal Party to defeat in the federal elections the Conservative government[17]. The conscription crisis brought divisions in Canada, and the resultant effect was the Union government instituted by Borden after a month of political maneuvering[18]. The crisis led to a unity government as the divisions were evident.

Anti-Conscription riots

The riots in the 1917 conscription crisis arose in Quebec. The government in a bid to quell the riots enacted an act dubbed War Measures, thereby, proclaiming martial law as well as the deployment of more than 6,000 soldiers[19]. The riots were dangerous and alarming because the rioters would lodge attacks against the troops with the aid of improvised missiles that included bricks, ice, and gunfire. The conscription crisis had the effect of increasingly growing violent acts that led to about 150 casualties that included about four civilians losing lives when the soldiers who manned the city returned fire against the armed rioters[20]. The conscription crisis led to the rise of violence with many people getting injured and others losing their lives.

Influence on the Canadian Social, Political and Economic Norms

In Canada the impact of the conscription crisis is felt in many ways; however, many of them are subtle. The impact is not just positive, but there is a negative aspect of the crisis too. The crisis and war enhanced the divisions that existed between the English and French, between West, East, and Urban. The crisis to date in Canada was the most divisive, and that explains the reasons why it was an issue open for deliberation during the 1917 federal election that happened in December. The French-Canadians felt let down and left out of the deliberation by being forced to take part in a war that they did not believe in during World War I[21]. Also, the Canadian government had broken their promise of exempting the union workers and rural Canadians their sons and themselves. The conscription crisis led to the rise of Quebec nationalism, marking the first motion seeking independence in 1919 as well as the fall of a two-party system because the new provincial and federal parties espoused agendas that were progressive[22]. Thousands of women who mainly were related to the military personnel were allowed to take part in the 1917 vote. The change to allow women to take part in the polls was a major shift from the traditional Canadian norms. The government inclusion of women in participating in voting was pegged on the belief that the women allied or related to the military would offer support to conscription.

Influence Historically on Canada

There was a lot of hype with regards to the 1944 conscription crisis; however, fewer men as compared to the 1917 conscription crisis made it onto the front lines in war. About 2463 men made it to the front lines out of a possible 17,000 men. The men who lost their lives in the conscription crisis were about 79; hence, the people who got affected in World War II were less in comparison to World War I conscription crisis[23]. The second conscription crisis was a lesson learnt from the 1917 happenings; therefore, the leadership was careful with how it approached the situation. The conscription crisis of 1944 just like 1917 one has a connection to the narrative that surrounds English and French tensions in Canada. The 1944 crisis ignited the tensions already witnessed in the 1917 conscription crisis.

Influence on Political Campaigns

In 1944 conscription crisis just like the 1917 occurrences there were reports of the use of the crisis as a campaign tool. The involuntary conscription affected the Liberal government chances of emerging victorious in the 1944 elections. Duplessis was able to win in the 8th August 1944 polls through appeal attempts in Quebec to anti-Semitic prejudices. Duplessis through a draft of an anti-Semitic speech laid claims that there was a secret agreement in place to settle about 100,000 Jewish refugees by Premier Godbout’s government[24]. Duplessis was aware of Quebec’s people lack of allegiance to conscription; therefore, he made use of the situation to manipulate the people in the 1944 election.

Conclusion

In Canada, in both 1917 and 1944 conscription crisis as the Canadians were fighting against Germans, there was conflict back home that was politically and militarily motivated. 1917 was like a turning point for Canada with its effects being long-lasting by instilling what seemed like a suspicion. Conscription divided Canada and even threatened the political leader’s survival an aspect that can best be described by their efforts to make changes to the law to be able to meet their targets such as winning in elections with acts such as the Wartime Elections Act. The aspects that were behind the conscription crisis majorly were Prime Minister Churchill, the Plebiscite, the manpower shortage, Quebec’s loyalty or even its absence for France and England as well as the dwindling number of Canadian soldiers. Conscription remained one of the critical defining moments in the political discourse in Canada in World War I and II. The divisions that conscription brought upon Canada stand out in both cases. Conscription brought forth a difficult question on the part of government. The idea was unprecedented because the issue proved to be difficult for the government to identify the people more suited to be soldiers, farmers or tool makers. The conscription crisis highlighted the issues that were present in society in Canada.

Bibliography

  • Bernier, Serge. “Canadian Military Heritage: From Yesterday to Today 1872-2000.” Volume III. Montreal: Art Global (2000):
  • Byers, Daniel. Zombie Army: The Canadian Army and Conscription in the Second World War. ubc Press, 2016.
  • Canadian War Museum. “Recruitment and Conscription – Conscription, 1917.” Canada and the First World War, www.warmuseum.ca/firstworldwar/history/life-at-home-during-the-war/recruitment-and-conscription/conscription-1917/.
  • Montgomery, Adam. “Zombie Army: The Canadian Army and Conscription in the Second World War by Daniel Byers.” (2017): 379-381.
  • Morton, Desmond. “Did the French Canadians Cause the Conscription Crisis of 1917?.” Canadian Military History 24.1 (2015): 3.
  • Theobald, Andrew. “Divided Once More: Social Memory and the Canadian Conscription Crisis of the First World War.” Past Imperfect 12 (2008).
  • Willms, A. M. “Conscription, 1917: a Brief for the Defence.” Canadian Historical Review 37.4 (1956): 338-351.
  • Wood, James A. “The Sense of Duty: Canadian Ideas of the Citizen Soldier, 1896–1917.” (2007).

[1] Canadian War Museum. “Recruitment and Conscription – Conscription, 1917.” Canada and the First World War, https://www.warmuseum.ca/firstworldwar/history/life-at-home-during-the-war/recruitment-and-conscription/conscription-1917/. (October 16, 2017)

[2] Morton, Desmond. “Did the French Canadians Cause the Conscription Crisis of 1917?.” Canadian Military History 24.1 (2015): 3.

[3] Canadian War Museum. “Recruitment and Conscription – Conscription, 1917.” Canada and the First World War, www.warmuseum.ca/firstworldwar/history/life-at-home-during-the-war/recruitment-and-conscription/conscription-1917/.(October 16, 2017)

[4] Willms, A. M. “Conscription, 1917: a Brief for the Defence.” Canadian Historical Review 37.4 (1956): 338-351.

[5] Willms, A. M. “Conscription, 1917: a Brief for the Defence.” Canadian Historical Review 37.4 (1956): 338-351.

[6] Montgomery, Adam. “Zombie Army: The Canadian Army and Conscription in the Second World War by Daniel Byers.” (2017): 379-381.

[7] Montgomery, Adam. “Zombie Army: The Canadian Army and Conscription in the Second World War by Daniel Byers.” (2017): 379-381.

[8] Byers, Daniel. Zombie Army: The Canadian Army and Conscription in the Second World War. ubc Press, 2016.

[9] Bernier, Serge. “Canadian Military Heritage: From Yesterday to Today 1872-2000.” Volume III. Montreal: Art Global (2000): 111-114.

[10] Wood, James A. “The Sense of Duty: Canadian Ideas of the Citizen Soldier, 1896–1917.” (2007).

[11] Willms, A. M. “Conscription, 1917: a Brief for the Defence.” Canadian Historical Review 37.4 (1956): 338-351.

[12] Bernier, Serge. “Canadian Military Heritage: From Yesterday to Today 1872-2000.” Volume III. Montreal: Art Global (2000): 111-114.

[13] Canadian War Museum. “Recruitment and Conscription – Conscription, 1917.” Canada and the First World War, www.warmuseum.ca/firstworldwar/history/life-at-home-during-the-war/recruitment-and-conscription/conscription-1917/.

[14]. Willms, A. M. “Conscription, 1917: a Brief for the Defence.” Canadian Historical Review 37.4 (1956): 338-351.

[15] Willms, A. M. “Conscription, 1917: a Brief for the Defence.” Canadian Historical Review 37.4 (1956): 338-351.

[16] Theobald, Andrew. “Divided Once More: Social Memory and the Canadian Conscription Crisis of the First World War.” Past Imperfect 12 (2008).

[17] Morton, Desmond. “Did the French Canadians Cause the Conscription Crisis of 1917?.” Canadian Military History 24.1 (2015): 3.

[18] Wood, James A. “The Sense of Duty: Canadian Ideas of the Citizen Soldier, 1896–1917.” (2007).

[19]Morton, Desmond. “Did the French Canadians Cause the Conscription Crisis of 1917?.” Canadian Military History 24.1 (2015): 3.

[20] Canadian War Museum. “Recruitment and Conscription – Conscription, 1917.” Canada and the First World War, www.warmuseum.ca/firstworldwar/history/life-at-home-during-the-war/recruitment-and-conscription/conscription-1917/.

[21] Theobald, Andrew. “Divided Once More: Social Memory and the Canadian Conscription Crisis of the First World War.” Past Imperfect 12 (2008).

[22] Wood, James A. “The Sense of Duty: Canadian Ideas of the Citizen Soldier, 1896–1917.” (2007).

[23] Byers, Daniel. Zombie Army: The Canadian Army and Conscription in the Second World War. ubc Press, 2016.

[24] Byers, Daniel. Zombie Army: The Canadian Army and Conscription in the Second World War. ubc Press, 2016.

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