Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has announced the cancellation of the contracts of all part-time non-Christian chaplains ministering in federal prisons across Canada. The cuts take effect as of the end of March 2013.
After that date, penitentiary inmates of minority faiths, from Buddhists to Wiccans, will have to rely on full-time Christian chaplains for interfaith services, religious counsel and spiritual guidance.
“I could never pretend to be Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Sikh and tend to the spiritual needs of all these different people,” says the Rev. David Price, an Anglican priest in Agassiz, B.C., who spent many years as a prison chaplain in the west. In his view, prison chaplains are essential and cost-effective “midwives” who help offenders give birth to new selves and new lives before they are released back into society.
The cancellation comes after Toews, whose office oversees federal correctional institutions, said last month that he was not convinced part-time minority-faith chaplains were an appropriate use of taxpayer money and ordered a halt to the tendering of new contracts.
Julie Carmichael, a spokesperson for Toews said that while the minister strongly supports freedom of religion for all Canadians, including prisoners, 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 … [Christian] chaplains employed by Corrections Canada must provide services to inmates of all faiths.