Why Are The Conservatives Playing Politics With Religion
It seems Public Safety Minister Vic Toews does not see any difference between Judaism, Islam and Christianity, or between Buddhism, Sikhism and Christianity. And if this is so, he is approaching the issue with a wrong presumption. His argument reminds me of few restaurant managers who had suggested to me, a vegetarian, that if I removed the slices of ham from my sandwich, the sandwich would automatically become vegetarian.
By Dr. Suresh Kurl
It always pleases me when I hear that our government is trying to be more spend thrift and manage our financial affairs within our means, but not this time. The news that the Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is planning to save about $6.4 million of our tax dollars a year by dismissing the non-Christian chaplains hired to save the souls of our federal inmates did not come out sounding like spiritual music to my ears at all.
I have a feeling that the decision the Minister made to eliminate counseling and guidance services, a Charter benefit (15.1/2), to 4.5% Muslim, 2% Buddhist, fewer than 1% Jews and fewer than 1% Sikh inmates would have certainly raised the ire of Mr. Pierre Trudeau if he were still kicking around. It sure did mine.
Following the rapid and steady slide of the world economy and the resulting loss in resources, all of us have suffered. Individuals with whom I am familiar with have been suffering the painful bites of financial hardships. But these bites cut closer to the bones when we hear that some of the trustees of our public funds are not as fiscally consciensious as they expect us, their electorate to be. On one hand these trustees propose to eliminate essential counseling and guidance sessions designed to help inmates reintegrating safely in society, and on the other hand they go on fishing and hunting trips using our hard earned, and harder saved, earnings.
In defence of his decision to cut $6.4 million a year from multi-faith spiritual counseling, and in order to to sooth inmate frustration, minister Vic Toews is proposing that if 57% Christian inmates seek spiritual help from Christian Chaplains there is no reason that the 4.5% Muslim, 2% Buddhist, fewer than 1% Jews and fewer than 1% Sikh inmates cannot do the same and seek the same counseling from the same chaplains.
It seems the Minister does not see any difference between Judaism, Islam and Christianity, or between Buddhism, Sikhism and Christianity. And if this is so, he is approaching the issue with a wrong presumption.
His argument reminds me of few restaurant managers who had suggested to me, a vegetarian, that if I removed the slices of ham from my sandwich, the sandwich would automatically become vegetarian. I recall a manager, who yelled at his teenage daughter when she pointed out to him that he had put peperoni on my pizza. I am not kidding. I have received these culturally insensitive responses several times.
The Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary, Candice Bergen, offered another meaty argument in defense of her boss’s money saving strategy. She said, “The Canadian Forces have used this type of chaplaincy program for years. If it is good enough for our armed forces, then it is good enough for inmates in our federal penitentiaries.”
All I have to say in response to Ms. Bergen is Wow!
The Parliamentary Secretary obviously has never had an opportunity, or taken the time, to go through the criminal records of her federal inmates and familiarized herself with their educational, social and family backgrounds. She has not learned about their mental health issues either.
I hope, when she made her argument, that she was not confusing an inmate such as Robert William Pickton with the likes of David Russell Williams. Though they both are Christian inmates, their educational and social backgrounds are vastly different. I wonder how the federal minister for multiculturalism feels about his co-ministers’ suggestions?
The inmate records, I studied to prepare myself for parole hearings as Member of the National Parole Board, told me a different story. I did not find them literate enough in English, and sometimes even in their own mother tongues, to understand and follow the courses they were offered for their re-integration in society.
They needed program instructions written and, or at least delivered in a language they could understand and practice. I brought this issue up with my team several times, but it remained my pet peeve till the day I ended my tenure with the Board.
For the success of a safe re-integration of inmates in society, the spirit of counseling, guidance, spirituality and Multiculturalism has to be respected, especially in the most isolating prison environment. And it can only seep through the presence of these chaplains. Otherwise, a talk about protection of Charter and its Equality Rights will simply be like attending in a free samosa party at an annual Besakhi parade.
Suresh Kurl is a Richmond-based writer who is currently focusing on spirituality and in