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  • Pacifist "Terrorists" in the "Peaceable Kingdom":Cultural Conflict in Twentieth-Century Canada
  • Ashleigh Androsoff

On 22 August 1947, Anista Arishinkoff watched, enraptured, as flames engulfed her home. She explained to baffled reporters that she was happy to see her house sacrificed as "a protest against World War Three." Seeing Arishinkoff's home burn, Helen Domoskoff proudly revealed that she had also set fire to her home and "lovely radio" as a protest.1 Alex Barisoff, who had already lost two homes to fire, was "not finished yet with this burning to protest against our brothers in jail and the coming third World War." "My heart tells me to burn today," Barisoff declared in April 1950, and he was carefully considering the prospect. Meanwhile, Vera Kanigan, whom journalists described as an "attractive" young woman with long black hair, led 40 teenagers on a nude parade that culminated in the torching of neighbor Nick Nevokshonoff's car. Nevokshonoff claimed not to mind since "the car is a luxury and we don't need such luxuries." The car was a "seduction to young people" and as such, he was "glad" to see it gone.2

Arishinkoff, Domoskoff, Kanigan, Nevokshonoff, and Barisoff were Sons of Freedom Doukhobors living in western Canada. Their religious convictions led them to eschew private ownership, material greed, military conflict, and state authority. Arguing that cooperative and [End Page 1] egalitarian agrarianism was the only ethical way of life for committed Christians, they opposed public education, industrialization, urbanization, and commercialization as antithetical to their spiritual scruples. Guided by the slogans "toil and peaceful life" and "Sons of Freedom cannot be slaves of corruption,"3 they advocated humility, hard work, pacifism, and piety. They were willing to sacrifice their own comfort and suffer abuse and imprisonment if necessary to defend their radical antimodernist religious principles.4 They were also prepared to go to great lengths to draw attention to their cause, engaging in public nude parades, setting fire to their own assets, and using arson and explosives to destroy private, commercial, and public property. Committing over a thousand acts of arson and detonation between 1902 and 1982, this radical branch of the Doukhobor group earned the dubious distinction of posing the longest-standing threat to Canadian law and order since the nation's inception in 1867.5

A democratic and resource-rich "first-world" country founded on the principles of "peace, order, and good government,"6 Canada has been an unlikely breeding ground for rebellious radicalism. There have been a few notable exceptions, however, and the Freedomite Doukhobors' 80-year campaign stands out among them. The Sons of Freedom did not buy into the "liberal order framework"7 popular among Canadian nation-builders. They were not interested in material advancement, and did not believe that any government could be "good."8 They questioned modernity's moral value, seeing urbanization, commercialization, and the primacy of the individual as contrary to their deeply held and strongly defended religious convictions. The Freedomites' radicalism was designed, in part, to criticize Canada's liberal order values concerning individualism and property ownership, and to prevent Doukhobors from adopting them.9 In fact, preventing the Doukhobors' "Canadianization" was one of the Freedomites' primary concerns.10 Their critique of vital statistics registration, private land ownership, military service, and compulsory state education expressed their resistance to Canada's citizenship-inclusion approach to assimilation; their willingness to shed their clothing, divest themselves of material possessions, and destroy public property reflected their fearlessness in the face of Canada's rule of law. [End Page 2]

The Freedomites' case offers scholars the opportunity to consider an example of a significant and sustained violent reaction against modernity and liberalism arising out of an apparently unlikely circumstance: a pacifist group of Christians residing in a quiet, pluralist, democratic Canada. As an antinomian group who wished to establish an insular utopian agrarian life without overthrowing the government per se, the Freedomites present a fascinating case, and the long duration of their campaign permits useful comparisons with a diversity of groups espousing similar ideals throughout the twentieth century in other nations, especially since the connection between violence, "terrorism," religion, and ethnicity has continued to perplex scholars and...


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