I am writing to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to encourage him to re-examine his decision not to renew part-time contracts with faith communities for the provision of chaplaincy services with Correctional Service Canada.
This decision would effectively terminate chaplaincy services for non-Christians.
This is especially concerning when a disproportionate number of people in prisons are of aboriginal background and have specific spiritual needs that are not necessarily well addressed by Christian chaplains, particularly considering that the relationship between many aboriginal people and Christianity has been severely damaged by the Christian Church’s participation in Indian residential schools.
Spiritual care is an important component in healing and rehabilitation for many offenders, whatever their faith background.
Christian clergy do not have the specialized training that an aboriginal spiritual leader, an Islamic imam, or a Sikh or Hindu leader has to offer to those who are already excluded from many basic human interactions by their incarceration.
In addition to providing worship services and officiating at sacraments; spiritual leaders also provide culturally and religiously appropriate crisis intervention; religious education and pastoral care; oversee culturally specific community involvement; and facilitate understanding among volunteers.
I want to register my most profound and deepest concern in this matter, and to encourage Mr. Toews to immediately rehire and/or renew the contracts of all chaplains of all faiths in our federal prison systems.
Rev. Julianne Kasmer,
Editor’s note: Julianne Kasmer ministers at Cumberland United Church.