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Non-Christian prison chaplains chopped by Ottawa

9 October 2012 General 8 Comments Email This Post Email This Post


The federal government is cancelling the contracts of non-Christian chaplains at federal prisons, CBC News has learned.

Inmates of other faiths, such as Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews, will be expected to turn to Christian prison chaplains for religious counsel and guidance, according to the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is also responsible for Canada’s penitentiaries.

Toews made headlines in September when he ordered the cancellation of a tender issued for a Wiccan priest for federal prisons in B.C.

Toews said he wasn’t convinced part-time chaplains from other religions were an appropriate use of taxpayer money and that he would review the policy.

In an email to CBC News, Toews’ office says that as a result of the review, the part-time non-Christian chaplains will be let go and the remaining full-time chaplains in prisons will now provide interfaith services and counselling to all inmates.

“The minister strongly supports the freedom of religion for all Canadians, including prisoners,” the email states. “However, the government … is not in the business of picking and choosing which religions will be given preferential status through government funding. The minister has concluded … chaplains employed by Corrections Canada must provide services to inmates of all faiths.”

57% of inmates Christian

There were nearly 23,000 inmates in federal custody in 2011 and a large majority of them identified themselves as Christian:

  • 37.5% are Catholic.
  • 19.5% are Protestant.
  • 4.5% are Muslim.
  • 4% First Nations spirituality
  • 2% are Buddhist.
  • fewer than 1% are Jewish.
  • fewer than 1% are Sikh.

Figures obtained by CBC News show that before the contract cancellations — which will take effect by the end of March 2013 — there were about 80 full-time chaplains across the country and all but one are Christian. There are about 100 part-time chaplains, 20 of them non-Christian.

The total cost of the chaplain program is about $6.4 million a year and it’s not clear what amount will be saved by the cancellations.

Chaplains concerned

The decision has raised concern among representatives of non-Christian faiths, such as B.C. Sikh chaplain Harkirat Singh.

“I believe this is discrimination,” Singh said. “How can a Christian chaplain provide spirituality to the Sikh faith, because they don’t have that expertise.”

Rabbi Dina-Hasida Mercy called the cancellations “un-Canadian” and said she was concerned about the inmates she counsels.

“My first reaction is, ‘What am I going to tell the guys that I see,’” Mercy said. “These people are all going to be out on the street someday, and unless we do some work while they’re in prison to help them become good citizens when they’re on the outside, it’s not going to happen.”

Surrey Muslim Imam Aasim Rashid said he doubted that Christians could properly minister to Muslims.

“It’s not very practical and frankly I don’t even think it’s possible,” Rashid said. “I don’t think it’s been done yet anywhere where you have a person of one faith who is catering to the spiritual or religious needs of all the other faiths.”

Original post: Non-Christian prison chaplains chopped by Ottawa


  1. Well I agree this is a serious problem. However, I would bet the ministers such as Rashid could come in and minister to their flock on a volunteer basis and the prison would not disagree. Most ministers work for churches anyway so some free services would not be to hard on them.

  2. cancel them all. your freedom of religion is not negated by lack of access to a chaplin, iman, priest, cleric, warlock, druid, whatever. i have a right to own a plane. that doesn’t mean the government needs to buy me a plane.

  3. mike, good point

  4. Well I would think that with them being in the custody of the government they are responsible for the need of the prisoner so I don’t think your plane example is correct

  5. s3,

    you’re right. poor anology. comparing a free person to one imprisioned by the force of the government wasn’t the best. but when one is imprisoned they lose all sorts of rights. most obviously freedom of movement. i remeber some years ago there was a big outcry when some religious organization found pornography in the prison libraries. even for the non-religious the idea of tax money going towards buying porn for inmates didn’t sit well. some advocacy groups argueed it was their first amendment right. they pulled the porn. maybe that would be a better anology. by i still say one doesn’t need a priest or iman to practice one’s religion. and when imprisoned one often loses some of the finer points of rights.

    that’s why i say cancel them all. if you provide for christians, then you have to for every religion in the world, and there are 100s of religions. are you going to pay for a santeria priest to come in and do an animal sacrific for one inmate? so if the inmate is in canada and the only santeria priest you can find is in miami, do you have to pay to fly him up? i can’t get away from planes for some reason?

  6. HuffPo has started a separate section for Miami. Nothing quite like it. Man competed for a python in pet shop roach eating contest. He won the snake, later collapsed and died, not our fault says pet shop we gave him nice clean roaches.

  7. Miami people disgusted at finding dead goats and chickens in the road after santeria rites wonder what they did about that.

  8. anon,

    don’t you remember the article on here? they brought up the supreme court ruling when hialeah tried to stop animal slaughter in the city? i think it was about a guy building a big as house, and some said it was a secret mosque? my bad the article with the chick leaning against popped up first. by i think i thas been mentioned in at least in a couple of articles.

    yeah the bug eating contest guy. that was all over the radio the other day. even made the bbc. anyways, here’s the actual ruling.

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