CONCERN about proposed military spending by the Canadian government prompted a La Salle couple to spend the weekend fasting and praying.
Ernie and Charlotte Wiens went without food Saturday and Sunday to protest a plan by the federal government to buy 88 new fighter jets at a cost of $19 billion.
Over their service lifetime, the jets are predicted to cost the country about $77 billion.
"There are too many other important causes needing our resources today," said Ernie, 74, about why he and Charlotte, 71, decided to fast as part of the No Fighter Jets campaign, which is supported by 16 Canadian peace and faith groups, including the Winnipeg Peace Alliance.
The retired farmers, who are members of the La Salle Community Fellowship, a Mennonite Brethren congregation, think the money should rather be used for "life-giving things."
"Why spend money on weapons for killing when it could be used to sustain life?" asked Ernie, noting the funds could be used to provide Indigenous people with clean drinking water, to support the health-care system, or to ensure quality care for seniors in personal care homes.
Internationally, it could also be used to alleviate poverty and hunger and provide poor nations with COVID-19 vaccines, they said.
"There’s no end of good things to spend money on," said Charlotte, 74.
This is especially true during a pandemic, with so many needs especially among vulnerable and marginalized populations.
"It’s ludicrous to be thinking of spending money on jets at a time like this," said Ernie.
The Wiens chose last weekend to fast to be in solidarity with Dr. Brendan Martin of Langley, B.C., who started a two-week fast April 10 to protest the planned purchase of the jets.
"The support of the Wiens is wonderful. It means a lot to me," said Martin, who worked as a doctor in Killarney for 11 years.
Martin, who is inspired to take action by his Roman Catholic faith, said he is fasting because "we see violence everywhere, and we all have a responsibility to try and stop it."
For the Wiens, the fast is part of their long-standing commitment to opposing militarism by diverting a portion of their taxes to Conscience Canada for its Peace Tax Fund.
Since starting to divert money about 12 years ago, they estimate they’ve sent about $6,000 to the fund in an effort to get the federal government to make it legal for people to direct taxes for peaceful purposes.
To date, the Canadian Revenue Agency has taken back about 80 per cent of that amount from Ernie’s Canada pension.
"This fast is part of that same journey," he said of their desire to "stop seeing their taxes spent on war."
In this, the couple are motivated by the example of Jesus, who "told his followers to love their enemies," and "take action against violence and injustice," Ernie said, adding they want to do it in "a respectful and non-violent manner."
They are also inspired to take action by their 10 grandchildren, especially when they think about children in places such as Yemen who are dying because of a war that is being waged partly with weapons sold by Canada to Saudi Arabia.
"The bottom line for me is how can we accept the suffering of children in Yemen because of our country’s involvement?" said Charlotte. "I can only imagine how I would feel if it was one of our grandchildren who was injured or starving."
"So few know about the government’s intention to buy the jets," said Ernie.
"Let’s stop spending money on war and give it to life-giving projects."
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.