Dec 18, 2015

Day in History, Dec. 18, 1940: Three Jehovah Witnesses' convicted of belonging to an illegal organization

December 18, 2015

An Edmonton couple and a second man were convicted in Edmonton police court of belonging to an illegal organization.

Jean Van Oene, Garrett Van Oene, and John W. Ketter, a steam engineer, were fined $50 and costs or two months in jail. The same charge against Wardman Langstroff was dismissed.

All four were arrested and charged by city police on Nov. 17, 1940, under Defence of Canada regulations, after leaving the pamphlet, End of Nazism, on the doorsteps of south-side residents. The pamphlets were said to contain material similar to that circulated by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which had been declared an illegal organization by the Canadian government on July 4, 1940, under the War Measures Act, because of their antiwar attitudes and refusal to take part in military service. The sect was also banned in Canada during the First World War.

“Before passing sentence, Magistrate Millar stated he ‘can’t understand the attitude’ of the accused. He said the sentence would be heavier but it was his belief ‘that the majority of people would pay no attention to the pamphlets you have been distributing and would regard them as those of some religious crank,'” the Journal reported.

Millar said it was his view that “the people of Canada elect representatives to carry on the government but you people seem to insist on carrying out your beliefs despite the government.”

Donald and Dale Van Oene, teenage sons of the accused, were called as Crown witnesses against Ketter and Langstroff, and the younger boy (Dale) buried his had in his arms and sobbed when the Crown Prosecutor began questioning him, the story said.

Jean Van Oene was called from the back of the courtroom to comfort her son, but when he continued to cry, she told the magistrate, “I think it is a shame having a child his age brought into court to testify against anyone.”

After a five-minute adjournment, Dale testified that he had accompanied Langstroff when they went to deliver the pamphlets, but he wasn’t sure if Langstroff had delivered any pamphlets.

Donald Van Oene testified that Ketter “had delivered some pamphlets” the morning Ketter was arrested.

“I can’t understand you people who profess religion as you do and then take young boys out in the middle of the night to distribute such pamphlets,” the magistrate said.

During the trial of four Edmonton Witnesses, RCMP arrested four men and a woman for distributing End of Nazism pamphlets in Fort Saskatchewan.

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to ignore the government’s ban of their religion. Witness children who refused to sing the national anthem and salute the flag during patriotic exercises in public schools were often expelled from class. The ban was lifted in 1943.

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