Canada cuts non-Christian prison clergy

TORONTO (JTA) — Canadian rabbis want the federal government to reconsider cuts to the federal prison chaplaincy program, which would eliminate non-Christian clergy. 

If the cuts are enacted, non-Christian federal inmates will be expected to turn to Christian prison chaplains for religious counsel and guidance.

The Canadian Rabbinic Caucus last Friday called on Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to reconsider the cuts, saying in a statement that its members "are deeply concerned that non-Christian inmates will be deprived of religiously specific spiritual nourishment at a time in their lives when they most clearly need it.”

Canada has about 80 full-time prison chaplains, all but one of whom are Christian. There are about 100 part-time chaplains, 20 of whom are non-Christians, according to CBC News. 

In an e-mail to reporters on Oct. 4, Toews’ office sought to explain the cost-cutting move.

While the government "strongly supports the freedom of religion for all Canadians, including prisoners … [it] is not in the business of picking and choosing which religions will be given preferential status through government funding,” he wrote. As a result, the minister continued, chaplains in the Correctional Service of Canada “must provide services to inmates of all faiths."

Less than 1 percent of Canada’s 15,000 federal prisoners are Jewish, according to corrections data from the last fiscal year. 

Monique Marchand, president of the Interfaith Committee on Chaplaincy, which advises the correctional service on the spiritual care of inmates, said the full-time prison chaplains now will be "coordinating" the pastoral care of minority faith inmates. That means, she explained, that they will request local clergy to donate their services at no charge to the government.

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