Minister of Public Safety: Don’t bar minority faith chaplains from prisons

CUSJ Letter to The Hon. Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety

Dear Hon. Vic Toews;

I was very disappointed to learn that you are cutting non-Christian chaplains from the Prison system in Canada. It is my belief that the Chaplaincy service in prisons is extremely important and that spiritual care is an essential service for prisoners who have a faith community of choice, and also, sensitive non-credal spiritual care for those who have no faith community. We have a shameful over-representation of minorities in our prisons with respect to their numbers in the overall population. They have equal rights to spiritual care that speaks in their own language and metaphor . Surely the hope for diminished recidivism justifies the cost of minority chaplaincy programmes.

In Ontario, we have been involved in developing a program of certified multi-faith chaplains to serve in hospitals and prisons. It is most important that chaplains in these public institutions NOT proselytize, but rather provide sensitive, respectful, appropriate spiritual care in the short term and bring in qualified professionals to provide cultural and faith specific spiritual care when it is needed. It has been reported to me that the specific care given to First Nations by a part-time First Nations Chaplain has been very important and effective for both individuals and the general climate in the institution in question. It would be a tragic loss to lose positions such as these.

Chaplains in institutions hold official power and authority over inmates because they have the opportunity to comment on their file and have input into official hearings such as parole hearings. If a Chaplain puts pressure on an inmate to convert to Christianity or to attend Christian services, the inmate cannot defend him or herself.

I believe that, with your new office to protect religious freedom you should establish a National Multifaith Council to set standards for Multifaith Care in public institutions in Canada. If you are going to change to Multifaith Spiritual Care you will need a serious commitment to recruitment and training, multifaith standards and proper institutional evaluation processes to ensure the people’s religious freedom is fully respected, and appropriate spiritual care is provided. In the meantime, while this transition is taking place, it costs little to keep the minority chaplains in place. Please reconsider this ill-advised decision, Minister Toews. Your very name speaks of an honourable minority spiritual tradition that abides in compassion and practicality. I beg you to reflect deeply upon this.

In Faith,

Rev. Frances Deverell
Canadian Unitarians For Social Justice

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