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Politics

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Doukhobors/Koozma J. Tarasoff

Theoretically at least, the commune system in the homeland was a self-contained one where all heads of households had a say, though a class system eventually crept in and usurped their role. The leader and his or her inner circle looked after the payment of taxes, the allocation of conscripts, and relations with officials. Lukeria Kalmykova, for example, compromised her principles when she succumbed to the state’s demand to use Doukhobor men, horses, and wagons to transport supplies for the tsarist troops in the Russo-Turkish War, a service for which the Doukhobors were rewarded with land grants and gold. Persecution and exile in the homeland created a distrust of church and state, however, and Verigin and his followers transferred this attitude to Canada. The move to British Columbia resulted from their refusal to take an oath of allegiance as a prerequisite for title to a homestead. Doukhobors in Canada also avoided membership on school boards, municipal councils, or other political bodies, and initially refused to register births, marriages, and deaths.

When the community Doukhobors lost their lands in 1907, they attempted to obtain redress for the injustice by lobbying the Canadian government. They also did so in the years after 1914, when authorities in British Columbia, using the Community Regulation Act, raided community property to enforce school attendance. Both independent and zealot Doukhobors pressured the British Columbia government in 1953–59 when it forcibly took Sons of Freedom children away from their parents because they would not send them to public schools (the zealots launched a campaign in 1997 seeking a government apology for this action). As early as 1903, extremist elements among the Sons of Freedom had resorted to demonstrations of public nudity and at times to arson and bombing of private and public property to draw attention to their cause. These actions shocked the Canadian public and resulted in the arrests and imprisonment of thousands of individuals. Imprisoned zealots have also fasted to gain attention. These violent actions have been condemned by community and independent Doukhobors as contrary to the principles of love and respect for one’s neighbours, and in the media the actions of a few extremists have been wrongly attributed to the group as a whole.

The Conservative government of Richard B. Bennett attempted unsuccessfully to ban all Doukhobors from voting federally (they would in any case have favoured the Liberals, who had allowed them to immigrate to Canada). In 1931, however, members of the community in British Columbia lost the right to vote both federally and provincially, a law not rescinded until 1956. In July 1934 the Society of Named Doukhobors of Canada, at its second convention, condemned the discriminatory legislation. In a strongly worded statement, the convention declared: “Members of the Society of Named Doukhobors have never recognized and do not recognize any political party. They have never entered nor will they ever enter into the ranks of any political party. They have never given nor will they ever give their votes during elections; thereby they are free from bearing any responsibility before God or man for the acts of any government established by men ... they not only gave their votes but their bodies, blood and souls, to the One and irreplaceable guardian of the souls and hearts of men, the Lord Jesus Christ, thereby attaining full freedom by passing from the slavery of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children.” This declaration, which represented a withdrawal by community Doukhobors from participation in civic affairs, was revised and adopted by the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ in 1945.

Involvement by the independents in public affairs has been more complex. Because of its socialist platform and support for human rights, they have tended to vote for the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and its successor, the New Democratic Party (NDP). Federal and provincial politicians of all parties have courted the Doukhobor vote by providing grants for community projects, inviting a choir to open the British Columbia legislature, participating in commemorations, unveiling historic markers, and nominating the Doukhobors as a group for the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize. Although the USCC still officially supports the 1934 declaration, an examination of voting patterns in provincial and federal constituencies with large concentrations of Doukhobors shows that the majority, including USCC members, cast ballots and favour the NDP. John J. Verigin, the honorary chairman of the USCC, in 1976 urged members to exercise their franchise in a forthcoming municipal election.

The Canadian Doukhobor Society takes no direct part in Canadian politics, but its members often participate at the municipal, provincial, or federal level. Most Sons of Freedom, however, along with some other Doukhobors, continue to oppose political involvement on the grounds that they are personally responsible for their own conduct. As well, they fear that if they vote they will be forced into the armed forces. For these individuals, love, the unifying principle of life, cannot be compromised by the ritual of head counting in elections. They prefer to participate in society in a different way from the current political system.

Opposition to militarism under the tsar and in Canada has been the central Doukhobor concern. Action in support of this belief has taken the form of petitions and letters to newspapers, provincial and federal governments, and the United Nations, walks for peace and disarmament, choral presentations, a staged burning of firearms in 1929, and other public demonstrations. In February 1989 the USCC was given official status as a non-government organization at the United Nations, allowing it to lobby on behalf of peace and disarmament. The furtherance of peace and the building of bridges between East and West has been the dominant form of political activity. Doukhobors believe that, as members of the human race who recognize no national boundaries, they have a particular responsibility to promote international understanding. Using their bilingual and transcultural skills, they have been involved in panel discussions, tours on behalf of peace, concert circuits, home visits, and humanitarian aid. After years of lobbying on the part of Doukhobors, military drills are no longer held in the schools of Grand Forks and Castlegar, a recognition by the wider society of their right to practise their pacifist beliefs.