CANADA, October 4, 2012 (CBC News): The federal government is canceling 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.
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 counseling 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 ... [Christian] chaplains employed by Corrections Canada must provide services to inmates of all faiths."
There are nearly 15,000 inmates in federal custody and a large majority of them (57%) identify themselves as Christian. Of the remaining, 37.5% are Catholic, 19.5% are Protestant, 4.5% are Muslim, 4% First Nations spirituality, 2% are Buddhist, less than 1% are Jewish and less 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 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."