Canada cuts all non-Christian prison chaplains

TORONTO — The Canadian government is canceling the contracts of all non-Christian chaplains at federal prisons.
By next spring, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and other non-Christian inmates will be expected to turn to Christian prison chaplains for religious counsel and guidance.
In an email to reporters on Thursday (Oct. 4), the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is responsible for Canada’s federal penitentiaries, said the government “strongly supports the freedom of religion for all Canadians, including prisoners.”
“However, (it) is not in the business of picking and choosing which religions will be given preferential status through government funding. The Minister has concluded … that chaplains employed by (the Correctional Service of Canada) must provide services to inmates of all faiths,” the email said.


Makes me think this political move will be challenged by those Non-Christian parties via the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Religious Freedom or right up to the Supreme Court of Canada itself.

57% of inmates Christian

There are nearly 15,000 inmates in federal custody and a large majority of them identify themselves as Christian:

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

That’s what happens when you have budget cuts.

But looks like the Washington Post item posted is misleading.
Seems to be more a part-time issue and not a “political move”…31 Christian chaplains were cut, as well…because the government wants to switch to the same multi-faith model already used in the Canadian Forces.

"A total of 49 part-time contracts were cancelled, including 18 non-Christian and 31 Christians chaplains", according to the CBC. (

Canada is VERY welcoming and encouraging of all faiths, so it would be very un-Canadian to cut contracts on a religious bias–they would never do it!

Moving forward, the government expects all their full-time chaplains (one is non-Christian) to provide** “multi-faith”** counseling.

As per The CBC:
Conservative MP Candice Bergen, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of public safety, said the remaining full-time chaplains would provide ecumenical multi-faith counselling to all inmates.
“In addition to serving members of their own faith, these chaplains also make themselves available on a by request basis to provide spiritual advice to the general population,” said Bergen.

But how on earth can a Christian provide proper spiritual guidance to a non-Christian. Their faiths are fundamentally different. There is no way that cost justified this.

Do the cuts impact non-chaplains who do prison ministry?

Many deacons and Evangelical Pastors where I live have prison ministries without being employed as full time chaplains.

Is there anything stopping a deacon or a cleric from another faith, or a member of the laity from entering the prison to minister to the inmates? Will the inmates really be left with no choice whatsoever?


They already do this at the hospital. Basically chaplains are more of “contact persons” than the actual councellor. They may also be actually a clergy or a specific faith or sect which means they can directly address concerns of people of their own faith or sect. But if one who is seeking counseling is not of their faith or sect, then they are in charge of calling for a clergy person of that inmate’s faith or sect.

So if they want to keep Catholic priests because most of the inmates are Catholics (and I find this troubling) then it makes sense because they can address the needs for more inmates. But if the inmate is Muslim or Sikh, then the priest’s job is not to counsel that person but just be a contact person to coordinate with an imam or a Sikh clergyman to come to the prison and counsel the inmate.

Probably not. The cuts are motivated by cost-saving from what I understand from the report. So if there are regular visitors who do ministry and not under the government’s payroll, they wouldn’t change that because it costs them nothing (okay, so prison visits still have a cost, but its not a direct cost).

You have to read the article. They won’t be giving spiritual guidance. What they do is contact a non-paid community member of that person’s religion who will come in to the prison to do such spiritual guidance. I can promise you no aboriginal elders will be laid off, though.

This isn’t the big deal that people make it out to be. The federal government spent thousands of dollars to for research to accommodate one Muslim Correctional officer recruit in order to design a hijib that was deemed safe in the event of a physical altercation.

Further, every dietary need based on religious needs is accommodated in the federal system.

"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.

But isn’t cutting out all of the non-Christian clergy essentially giving preference to the Christian religion?

Here in the US, when a business or government agency wants to save money, they don’t lay off all of the part-time workers. They hire more of them, and cut back on the full-time employees. The reason for this is because of the cost of benefits package which comes with full-time employment. Is Canada different in that respect?

Again, read the article. They are not cutting off access to any religious clergy/minister. They are just cutting-off those who are employed full-time by the government. Basically, they don’t want in-house, government-paid clergy. But anyone who comes to minister to their religious members that is not funded by the government is more than welcome. Perhaps the decision to keep the Christian clergy over others stems from the fact that most of the inmates are Christians (and overwhelmingly Catholic) so it makes sense to keep those who provide more “bang for the buck”. But said clergy would also be the liaison to the other clergy should a member of their congregation need them.

I’m reading in between the lines of the posts on this thread.

But I’m kind of baffled as to how people are using the same language about this as if priests were being forced to provide gay marriage in the military or something.

These prison chaplains, of which most of whom are Catholic, will now have to cover for prisoners of other faiths. So… if I was a Canadian priest who did prison ministry, doesn’t that just mean I have an opportunity to convert people? I would be very glad to have this opportunity… why would a priest object to speaking with lost souls?

Christian chaplains now have an opportunity to reach non-Christians who they formerly would’ve had very little contact with. Am I wrong? How would the Canadian government possibly enforce that this doesn’t happen?

I mean, clearly the chaplains are going to be trying to this, they’re going to want to plant seeds with these non-Christian prisoners.

:eek:What next?:eek:
I understand needing to cut costs. But what if the next thing will be “this is our definition of ‘Christian’, & no others need apply”.

I’m just saying, if I were a Canadian priest that was a prison chaplain, I would be praying that the Holy Spirit soften hearts and give me the words to say to these inmates. If any of those Chaplains are worth their salt, then I guarantee you this news story will bring about the conversion of at least a small number of non-Christians to the Christian faith.

If any one of those chaplains is worth their salt then they’ll be looking at this as an opportunity to evangelize. These people are under their pastoral care. What are they going do call up an imam immediately? No, they’re going to talk to the inmates first.

I find this quite sad to be honest. People of minority faiths are precisely that, minorities, and are in a highly vunerable situation where they’re likely to need counselling and advice, and cutting back support specific to their faith isn’t going to help them.

Fair enough if there’s going to be other non-Gov. chaplains available but even then, it’s still not ideal.

I used to have this issue on my university campus where the chaplaincy had representatives for most major Christian denominations, numbering something like 12 staff, but non-Christian religious belief was catered for by just 2 chaplains, bearing in mind my university has a sizable Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu population.

A few complaints of this going on and the whole chaplaincy program will be cut.

I don’t know how many people here know this, but the Catholic priests and deacons who serve the federal prisons in Canada are not paid employees of the federal government. They operate on the volunteer basis. The chaplaincy position has a salary ranging from $60,000-75,000 for full time employees. It is possible for a permanent deacon to take on such as full time, but a priest cannot be an employee on top of being employed by the diocese.

I know the federal prison close to where I grew up is served by a permanent deacon on a regular basis, who also does Liturgy of the Word services on Sundays for them (there’s a major priest shortage in the diocese), and on special occasions such as Christmas and Easter, the bishop comes to offer Mass and spend time with the inmates. I presume if an inmate would like a priest for something specific (ie confession) that the deacon would call a priest to come.

Kinda got the same feeling - and i’m not even Christian.

Although again, i think folks are overreacting a little. If anything, it seems like the chaplains have essentially been converted into middle-managers.

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