Carol Dixon, the clerk of Canadian Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), has written to Vic Toews, the Minister of Public Safety, regarding Friends’ “deep concern about the Federal Government’s recent decision to remove funding for part-time chaplains in the prison chaplaincy program in Federal institutions run by Correctional Service of Canada.”
Funding cuts will have particular impact on chaplains serving offenders, victims of crime, correctional staff and the families of those served from smaller and non-Christian faith communities. CYM is urging “the Federal Government to review its decision with respect to removing support for chaplains” and increase support for chaplaincy.
Read the letter in full:
Vic Toews, M.P., Minister of Public Safety
House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6
Dear Vic Toews,
I write on behalf of Canadian Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker). We write with deep concern about the Federal Government’s recent decision to remove funding for part-time chaplains in the prison chaplaincy program in Federal institutions run by Correctional Service of Canada.
Since only one of the current 80 full-time chaplains is not from a Roman Catholic or Protestant church, the decision to cancel all funding for part-time chaplains will particularly affect offenders who are from smaller and non-Christian faith communities. Often these part-time chaplains have had to travel considerable distances in order to carry out the work which they do in the institutions.
Cancelling this funding is a retrograde step from the earlier decision made by Correctional Service of Canada to offer contracts to people from minority faiths in an attempt to live up to the Government’s obligations under both Canadian and international law. The financial cost of these chaplaincy programs, including the part-time chaplains with their travel expenses who are to be cancelled, is tiny compared with the returns in public safety, and the contribution which chaplains make to the safe reintegration of offenders into society. The human cost of cancelling paid part-time chaplains is out of proportion to any savings which the Government may claim and will lead to longer-term costs (both human and financial) as more victims are created by poor reintegration of offenders into their communities.
Chaplains serve as a humanizing force within the often difficult correctional environment. They make great contributions to the safety of the environment, minimizing radicalization and intervening in situations before they become violent. They minister to staff and to the families, including family victims whose lived reality is so much more complicated than the offender-victim dichotomy that is pervasive in the media (most crimes take place within families and other well-established relationships). They provide support and access for thousands of volunteers annually which is important work in community engagement and reintegration. And they support events and opportunities to learn about restorative justice, victim empathy and integral practical ideals like restitution, accountability and forgiveness.
Chaplains also provide a much needed pressure valve in the system since they are able to offer a confidential setting to hear expressions of grief, frustration and loneliness. From the very beginning of the program, chaplains have worked for the recognition that offenders need programs for education and preparation to fit them for the time when they take up the challenge of living as law-abiding citizens. However, whilst chaplains work with and help offenders and staff of all faiths (or none), and facilitate the work of volunteers of other faiths to provide services, they are limited by theology, religious law and respect in the spiritual care that they can offer.
Correctional Service of Canada has announced that November 18-25 is “Restorative Justice Week: Diverse Needs; Unique Responses”. We really hope that this is more than just a slogan, and that the Government intends to support, morally and financially, the many fine organizations which work for restorative justice in Canada. This week is also an opportunity for the Federal Government to reassess its own responsibilities both to victims and offenders, and to the staff who work in its correctional institutions.
We urge the Federal Government to review its decision with respect to removing support for chaplains. Rather than weaken the system the Government should seek ways of increasing the support to this important service.
Carol Dixon, – Presiding Clerk, Canadian Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)