Slain soldiers not Canada’s only heroes

Mennonite leaders support petition calling on the University of Regina not to provide free tuition to children of this country’s fallen military men and women

April 19, 2010 | God at work in the World | Number 8
By Karin Fehderau | Saskatchewan Correspondent

A University of Regina professor caused a commotion last month when he spoke out against the practice of paying the full tuition of children of slain Canadian soldiers. Jeffery Weber, a political science professor, has gathered support from 15 other university staff in a petition against the practice known as Project Hero, which was started by an Edmonton businessman two years ago.

“We write to you as concerned faculty members of the University of Regina, to urge you to withdraw our university immediately from participation in the ‘Project Hero’ scholarship program,” they wrote. “This program, which waives tuition and course fees, and provides $1,000 per year to ‘dependents of Canadian Forces personnel deceased while serving with an active mission,’ is a glorification of Canadian imperialism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. We do not want our university associated with the political impulse to unquestioning glorification of military action.”

Named online as one of CBC’s top news stories for March 26, the broadcast caused a backlash from the school’s president and opposition from the general public. Response from Mennonite leaders in Saskatchewan, however, has been mostly one of agreement.

“We should be giving scholarships to other ‘heroes,’?” stated Florence Driedger, co-pastor of Peace Mennonite in Regina, suggesting single moms be given the same considerations. “I’ve seen too many people struggle too hard to get an education,” she said, speaking about new immigrants and the sacrifices they make to put their children through school.

Gordon Allaby, pastor of Osler Mennonite, wondered why other government employees with high-risk jobs don’t get the same treatment.

Eileen Klassen Hamm, peace and justice director for Mennonite Central Committee Saskatchewan, applauded the efforts of the professors. “I really welcome the debate,” she said. “As Canada becomes more and more militaristic, it takes courage to ask these questions.”

Jake Buhler, a local peace activist, has also noticed the trend of increasing militarism in Canadian society. He sees support for the military showing up in many areas of daily life. “Elementary schools are all hooked up with Legions,” he pointed out. “Every major sports event has a time when they will honour the military.”

Buhler sees a definite political agenda when major public institutions of higher learning are co-opted by ideas like Project Hero, which he believes helps to sway public opinion against anyone who questions the trend in this thinking. “It’s dangerous to speak out against militarism,” he said, suggesting that “churches have been cowed into doing nothing.”

Rose Graber, co-pastor of Grace Mennonite in Regina, expressed a somewhat contrary opinion. “I’m not for the military,” she said, “[but] I favour erring on the side of generosity.” She said her ministry to veterans has caused her to ponder some of her core convictions: “I had to start thinking as a pastor, instead of an activist.”

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