The Anglican diocese of Montreal has urged the federal government not to go through with the proposed abolition of 49 part-time prison chaplains, Christian and non-Christian, in federal prisons across Canada.
In a show-of-hands vote Friday that appeared unanimous or nearly so, delegates to the annual synod of the diocese called on the government instead to “properly fund those human resources which assist inmates in their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.”
According to published reports, a surprise announcement this month by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews means chaplaincy service in federal prisons will be left to 71 full-time chaplains, almost all Christian. The 49 part-time posts to be abolished will include 18 of non-Christian faiths, almost eliminating non-Christians from paid chaplaincy posts. While sharing widespread dismay at the impact on non-Christian chaplaincy, several delegates at the Montreal synod noted that the many Christian chaplains who would be affected include all three chaplains in the Montreal diocese.
Rev. Canon Tim Smart, a part-time chaplain at the Cowansville Institution in the Eastern Townships as well as a parish priest in Sutton and director of lay education at the Montreal Diocesan Theological College, said the decision would jeopardize such programs as a support group for lifers, a regular chapel group and a literacy program at Cowansville.
He said Mr. Toews has suggested that volunteers of various faiths can take up the slack but so far as Canon Smart knows volunteer participation is generally organized by paid chaplains.
Rev. Holly Ratcliffe, who combines chaplaincy at the Drummondville Institution with French-language ministry at Christ Church Sorel, described the announcement as “a recipe for the abandonment of those who are incarcerated and a limiting of our own ministry.”
Rev. Deacon Peter Huish, who divides his time between chaplaincy at the Federal Training Centre in Laval and ministries to released prisoners and prisoners on leave, was not at the synod because of another commitment.
Delegates who supported the resolution included several others who have been active in chaplaincy in the past.
Harvey Shepherd is the editor of the Montreal Anglican, the newspaper of the diocese of Montreal.