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Canada Axes Non-Christian Prison Chaplains

I can imagine something like this happening in Arkansas or some other such state, but this move seems uncharacteristic of Canada, a place I associate with tolerance and pluralism. (h/t: CriticalDragon)

Non-Christian prison chaplains chopped by Ottawa


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.”

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  • JazzDawg

    I think religious services should be provided as available though the participating religious body. It should not come from the tax payer at all. Comparing it to the Canadian military model is ridiculous. These are free men and women in service to Canadians and are free to participate wherever practical and available. Yes the irony is not lost but its not the same thing.

    Each Religion that chooses to provide spiritual services should do so under their own sponsorship and funding, including the Christian faith. They are in the business of saving souls and I would think business would be good.

    Selecting a preferred religion over another is at least unconstitutional. Better to leave it up to the church itself to make the decision.

  • Truth Hurts

    Firstly, we must ask what is the material purpose of chaplains?

    If they achieve that material specified purpose, without breaking the laws of the state, then as utilitarians instead of fundamentalist dogmatics, surely well-balanced atheists would not be hysterical? After there should be tolerance for diversity of thought & beliefs, should there not?

    If religious chaplaincy saves money & harm to wider society where other methods would/are not work/ing, then that is a rational choice.

    Religious practices, within the law, DO stop many from doing physical/psychological harm to themselves & wider society e.g. drugs.

  • DrM

    “Spirtuality – more clap trap rubbish and you’ve got the nerve to call me an idiot. ”

    Of course, because you ARE an idiot(and a troll). That’s why you can’t differentiate between spirituality and superstition. Most likely you’re one of those sad low class ignorant losers with a false sense of bravado, thinking you can take the world on because of reading raving loons like Dawkins and Hitchens. Thor, Zeus? Laughable pabulum! Are you really that stupid? Since you asked so politely, I’m an Internist. It’s gets downright boring educating ignorant western idiots on their failed materialist dogma and ignorance of their own history. Atheism does not lead to deep thinking, science or anything useful, despite the claims of the adherent of nothing, so self absorbed and narcissistic they can’t hear the music of the universe. Nothing is a miracle to them. To me everything is a miracle. Science has nothing to do with atheism. Atheism requires faith, whether you deny it or not. Oh, it takes A LOT of faith to believe that there was a spontaneous explosion with absolutely no guidance or purpose in the dark void of nothing before time, leading to what we have today. I’d tell to go read up theology and cosmology, but like most pedestrian atheists, you’re too shallow and backward. I’m too educated to believe nonsense that claims existence is the result of multiple mathematical impossibilities built on top of each other randomly.
    Like I said earlier, scumbag go back to drooling over Pat Condell videos, and leave the discussion to the adults.

  • CriticalDragon1177


    I agree with you, which is why to be fair, we need Chaplains that represent as many different faiths as possible. That’s pretty much what I was getting at in my response to Yusuf. To be respectful of people belonging to other faiths they need Chaplains who are part of their faith, not just Christians or Muslims.

  • Sameh

    How can you ask a Christian chaplain to counsel a Muslim inmate? Or a Muslim Imam to counsel a Christian inmate? They’d have to invoke the deity of the inmate in their spiritual preaching and it’d be blasphemous for them or they’d have to refer to their own deity and it would be proselytizing. A lost-lose scenario for religious freedom however you look at it.

  • CriticalDragon1177


    You wrote,
    I could only see this possible if they were imams because part of becoming an Imam is learning about all the other religions. An Imam, should be, as schooled in the Bible as a Christian priest.

    No offense, but first off, an Imam or anyone for that matter could not possibly know everything about every single religion on the planet. Also, people who were not Muslims, chances are, wouldn’t want one as their Chaplains even if they weren’t Islamophobic at all, they would still prefer someone who is a practitioner of their faith, not a faith they didn’t believe in. Not to mention the fact that the inmate might want his Chaplain to do something that Islam traditionally wouldn’t approve of. Some people are still polytheistic (believing in and worshiping multiple gods) and it would be rather strange at the very least for an Imam (or someone from another faith) to be expected to perform a ritual meant to get a god or spirit that he didn’t believe in to intercede on behalf of the person he was supposed to be helping. They’d also be the issue of proselytizing that Canada will have to deal with now that they’re government will no longer fund non Christian chaplains.

  • Islamonausea

    Spirtuality – more clap trap rubbish and you’ve got the nerve to call me an idiot. Let the religious pay for it not the taxpayer, especially not for prisoners. What’s next those that are Scientologists, Jedis, Pagans or believe in Thor, Zeus and Witches to be catered for to on the tax payers dollar?
    Atheism is a rejection of a theistic claim moron and to think you claimed to be a Dr, of what alchemy or homeopathy?

  • DrM

    ena deusouch blabbed :

    “what about no religious crap and a kick in the behind instead”

    How about no atheist crap, and a swift kick applied via scientific method to your behind? I’m open to the Maximilien de Robespierre option as well.

  • ena deusouch

    what about no religious crap and a kick in the behind instead

  • DrM

    “Why should the taxpayer fund criminals believe in the supernatural?”

    Embracing spirituality is not believing in the “supernatural,” atheist idiot. Better that tax payer money be used to clean up and reform criminals. I suppose they should fund nonsense that existence is the result of multiple mathematical impossibilities build on top of each other randomly?
    Go back to slobber over a Condell video.

  • Islamonausea

    Why should the taxpayer fund criminals believe in the supernatural?

  • Yusuf

    I could only see this possible if they were imams because part of becoming an Imam is learning about all the other religions. An Imam, should be, as schooled in the Bible as a Christian priest.

  • Heinz Catsup

    Didn’t know where to post this but do you think you guys could do a “What if they were Muslim?” article on this dude?

  • CriticalDragon1177


    I agree. Why should all the chaplains be Christians?

  • Razainc

    Their main argument is that this is the same structure the Canadian Armed Forces use I think the CAF should have counsel from the various faith communities that make it up

  • CriticalDragon1177


    I guess this just shows that even places like Canada that are associated with religious tolerance still have a ways to go, before they fully live up to their ideals. I don’t know too much about the law over there, I wonder if there’s some way this could be fought in the Canadian court system. This is obviously a type of discrimination based on religion and don’t they have anti discrimination laws?

  • mindy1

    I hope they can find a way to work this out

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