Conscription Crisis

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Grade 10 Academic History – Unit 2 WWI Lesson 4

Conscription Crisis
World War I broke out in 1914. As a Dominion of Great Britain, Canada was automatically at war.
By 1916, the French and British armies had suffered heavy casualties, and the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) was desperate for reinforcements.

Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden was an ardent imperialist (i.e., supporter of Britain), and he was determined to maintain Canada's WW1 participation to prove Canada was equal to Great Britain and not a mere colony.

Volunteers for Canada’s army were becoming harder to find, and Borden was convinced that forced conscription (i.e., a draft) was needed to make up for losses.
Borden tried to pass the Military Service Act to establish conscription, but many Canadians such as farmers, union heads, pacifists and French-Canadian opposed the idea. Borden pushed through the Military Voters Act and the Wartime Elections Act. The former action gave Canadian soldiers fighting in France the right to vote, while the latter gave the vote to female relatives of Canadian soldiers.
Borden called an election on the conscription issue. For many Canadian women, this would be the first opportunity to vote in a federal election.
The protests against conscription were violent. In Quebec, a riot resulted in four deaths.

On 29 August 1917, the Military Service Act became law, and 99,561 men were conscripted as reinforcements.

In the end, conscription came too late, and only 24,100 conscripted soldiers actually fought. In the end, Canada was deeply divided. Borden lost support in Quebec and the West, and he was later defeated in a federal election.


Write an OPINION PIECE discussing one of the following topics.

  1. Whether conscription was necessary for Canada

  2. Whether the steps used to ensure conscription passed the vote was legitimate

  3. Whether people and different organization had the right to protest the Canadian government`s plans when so many Canadian soldiers had given their lives for the war effort.

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