A Goodbye to Minority-Faith Chaplains and Freedom of Religion

For a government that has taken leaps and bounds towards solidifying Canada’s commitment to freedom of religion with actions such as establishing the Office of Religious Freedoms, contrary to this commitment, the Canadian government has taken steps to end all part-time chaplaincy contracts in Canada’s federal prisons. These part-time chaplains unfortunately represent all but one of the minority-faith chaplains in the Canadian prison system. Although Public Safety minister Vic Toews stated that these cuts are due to an inappropriate use of taxpayer money, it isn’t hard to see how some might speculate that these cuts will clearly restrict freedom of religion within prisons. The question is begged, does Toews believe in freedom of religion, or freedom of Christianity? Although it is clear that more than half of the inmates in Canada’s federal prison system identify as either Catholic or Protestant, it is foolish to assume that inmates of minority faiths are in less need of committed spiritual assistance.  The argument has been made that Christian chaplains will be obligated to tend to the spiritual needs of all inmates, not just Christians, and that spiritual assistance could come in the form of referral to volunteer chaplains. However, this form of spiritual assistance hardly demonstrates a commitment to equal access to spiritual assistance. In reality, time can only tell whether these cuts will prove to create the efficient chaplaincy system that Toews envisions, or if the cuts will create a system that neglects the spiritual health of inmates of minority faiths.




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