Mr. Vic Toews, Canadian Minister of Public Safety: Reinstate Minority Prison Chaplains
  • Petitioned Right Hon. Stephen Harper

This petition was delivered to:

Prime Minister of Canada
Right Hon. Stephen Harper
Canadian Minister of Public Safety, Government of Canada
Hon. Vic Toews
Prime Minister of Canada
Right Hon. Stephen Harper
M.P.
Hon. Hedy Fry
M.P.
Joyce Murray
M.P.
Wai Young
M.P.
Libby Davies
M.P.
Hon. John Duncan
M.P.
Don Davies

Mr. Vic Toews, Canadian Minister of Public Safety: Reinstate Minority Prison Chaplains

    1. michael zoosman
    2. Petition by

      michael zoosman

      Greater Washington, DC

  1.  
  2.   
April 2013

Victory

From Michael Zoosman: Just moments ago, I received a message from Prisoners' Legal Services confirming that the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has agreed to reinstate chaplaincy services to minority faith prisoners! I quote the following from their letter: "We are very pleased that, once faced with court action, the government has acquiesced and has voluntarily reinstated services by tendering contracts to all five minority faith chaplains in BC." The letter goes on to say that this is an interim service model meant to ensure that immediate spiritual needs are met while CSC develops a new service delivery model for federal prisons in BC and across Canada. Prisoners' Legal Services, forming part of its case against CSC. I firmly believe that the pressure we collectively put on CSC made a REAL DIFFERENCE. On behalf of all those with no voice, thank you for your solidarity and support, and for making your voice - and theirs - heard. May we go from Strength to Strength, Cantor Mike

An Urgent Appeal from a former B.C. Jewish Prison Chaplain:

My name is Cantor Michael Zoosman, Jewish clergy and chaplain. I am a Permanent Resident of Canada and worked full-time at a Jewish congregation in Vancouver for the past four years before moving back to the United States this past summer. During my time in Vancouver, I was honoured to serve as the Jewish prison chaplain for the Correctional Service of Canada, Pacific Region (covering all federal prisons in British Columbia, Canada) from 2009-2012. I worked proudly alongside minority chaplains representing Islamic, Sikh, Wicca, Buddhist and other minority faith traditions. I serviced more than 50 individuals – both Jewish and non-Jewish – who sought out the services of the Jewish chaplain in the process of their rehabilitation.

I am proud to say that my presence, support and efforts played a tremendous role in the reintegration of many of these individuals, whether still incarcerated, on parole or after the completion of their sentence. Without my personal ministry, I sincerely feel that these people would continue to be recycling through a very imperfect and under-funded prison system. I was able to get to each of the nine prisons in the Pacific Region every sixth week. During my visits, we commemorated Jewish holidays together in Hebrew, observed Jewish ritual, studied sacred Jewish texts, offered traditional prayers for healing for loved ones, and recited memorial litanies for recent family losses. The Jewishly-oriented pastoral care I provided in one-on-one sessions helped remind these individuals that the community from which they came or with which they associated had not forgotten about them. Most importantly, it gave them a sense of spiritual community to which to turn as they began their reintegration into society. Many of those same individuals who I came to know in prisons began to attend my synagogue upon release. Based on our interaction, religion became their beacon of hope and a bulwark for their rehabilitation. This result would have been nearly impossible to achieve with a non-Jewish multifaith chaplain filling in for a Jewish clergyperson from the Jewish community.

My fellow minority chaplains and I each received compensation from the Canadian government for our services. This compensation was minimal (not more than $7,000.00 a year), with a sizable amount of this used to cover hefty costs of the extensive car and ferry travel required to reach the several federal prisons across the Fraser Valley and on Vancouver Island. Still, this compensation enabled us to carry out the bare minimum of this essential outreach to this population in greatest need of support for rehabilitation. Like many of my fellow part-time chaplains, I would not have had the congregational support to carry out my prison ministry without this stipend, which went to the synagogue community where I served as cantor, and on whose time I was carrying out this chaplaincy.

The current Minister of Public Safety, Mr. Vic Toews, decided last month to eliminate even this basic funding for minority prison chaplains, cutting out minority chaplaincy altogether. Official responses from minority faith communities have expressed very strong opposition to this development. Here are two links to articles that detail this reaction from the Jewish and Islamic communities:

http://www.cjnews.com/index.php?q=node%2F95129

http://www.canadianislamiccongress.com/cic2010/2012/10/08/canadian-islamic-congress-%E2%80%93-media-communique-%E2%80%93-october-8-2012/

Why did the government do this? According to the CBC, a government spokesperson was quoted as saying: "[T]he government… is not in the business of picking and choosing which religions will be given preferential status through government funding."


Yet, the federal government is doing the exact opposite with this policy: it IS choosing Christianity in preference to all other religions in the prison system. And any cost savings will be minimal (20 part-time chaplains' positions), while the effect on inmates will be disproportionately large. In just one action, Minister Toews:


(a) undercuts an inexpensive avenue of rehabilitation;
(b) enacts a policy that cannot help but discriminate against non-Christian inmates;
(c) offends the spirit -- and, likely, the letter -- of the Charter of Rights & Freedoms;
(c) sends a message to non-Christian Canadians that they are lesser citizens; and
(d) provides preferential government treatment, access and funding to Christian clergy.

 

I firmly believe that we can best judge any government by how it treats those in need. By turning its back on the spiritual needs of minority inmates in its prison system, the Canadian government is cutting off one of the most significant sources of “Correction” within the “Correctional Service of Canada.”

During my time as chaplain, I sadly witnessed construction at almost every prison I served. This was a result of legislation by the Canadian government in recent years to expand the prison system to allow for the significant increase in prison population expected in response to harsher sentencing laws (also put forth by the current government). My fellow chaplains and I were extremely worried that the government did not have any adequate plan in place to expand the resources for rehabilitation - including the all-important need for chaplains – at the newly-constructed facilities.

Rather than meeting this need for more resources, the current government is moving in exactly the wrong direction with the Minister of Public Safety’s extremely misguided action. If the pattern continues, I worry that the Canadian prison system soon will look much more similar to the failed – and increasingly privatized – corrections system that plagues my own country of origin south of the border. What’s more: I do not dare to consider what the future holds for the basic human rights of all Canadian citizens, let alone those in prison, if this kind of undercutting of religious freedom is allowed.

WITH MINORITY CHAPLAINS CUT-OFF FROM THOSE INCARCERATED, THEY WILL BE MUCH LESS LIKELY TO REFORM, AND MUCH MORE LIKELY TO POSE A CONTINUED THREAT TO CANADIAN PUBLIC SAFETY.

As Minister of Public Safety, it is Mr. Toews' responsibility not to let this happen under his watch. Please, sign this petition demanding for the reversal of this tragic decision.

B'shalom, in Peace,
Cantor Michael Zoosman
Washington, D.C.

P.S. The drawing above was made for me by one of the individuals who I often visited while Jewish prison chaplain. Before his deportation, he gave me this gift and wrote in a letter that my visits were a tremendous source of hope and blessing for him. Please, join me in assuring these kinds of experiences continue, and in preventing the spiritual abandoning of individuals like the artist above. Thank you.

Recent signatures

    News

    1. VICTORY!!!

      michael zoosman
      Petition Organizer

      Dear Petition Signers, Just moments ago, I received a message from Prisoners' Legal Services confirming that the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has agreed to reinstate chaplaincy services to minority faith prisoners! I quote the following from their letter: "We are very pleased that, once faced with court action, the government has acquiesced and has voluntarily reinstated services by tendering contracts to all five minority faith chaplains in BC." The letter goes on to say that this is an interim service model meant to ensure that immediate spiritual needs are met while CSC develops a new service delivery model for federal prisons in BC and across Canada. Prisoners' Legal Services, forming part of its case against CSC. I firmly believe that the pressure we collectively put on CSC made a REAL DIFFERENCE. On behalf of all those with no voice, thank you for your solidarity and support, and for making your voice - and theirs - heard. May we go from Strength to Strength, Cantor Mike

    2. UPDATE: Notice of Civil Claim filed in BC Supreme Court

      michael zoosman
      Petition Organizer

      Dear Petition Signers,

      I'm pleased to pass on the uplifting news that this public petition - including your more than 370 signatures and comments - have been sent along with my own affidavit to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Prisoners' Legal Services today submitted a Notice of Civil Claim challenging Minister Toews’ decision to cut part-time chaplaincy services in all Canadian prisons.

      I shall keep you posted about our progress. On behalf of those without a voice, thank you for your support of this most important cause.

      Gratefully,
      Cantor Michael Zoosman

    3. Word is getting out...

      michael zoosman
      Petition Organizer

      Dear Canadian Prison Chaplain Petitioners,

      Below, please find a link to an article in the New Jersey Jewish News covering the recent cutting of minority prison chaplaincy in Canada.

      http://www.njjewishnews.com/article/14968/nj-chaplaincy-exec-protests-canada-prison-cuts#.UKE8xrskny0

      The article references our change.org online petition, as well as an upcoming B.C. court case to fight this development. I will be involved in this case and could use the back up of as many signatures as we can get. If there is any individual(s) or organizations(s) that you know of that might be interested in this petition, please do forward it to them (or let me know). The more North American outcry we can voice to this cutting off of the spiritual umbilical chord to those in need, the more likely we will see a reversal of this backwards policy.

      Thank you very much for any support you can provide.

      B'shalom, in Peace,
      Cantor Michael Zoosman

    4. 278 signatures and counting...and making a difference

      michael zoosman
      Petition Organizer

      Dear Friends of Minority Prison Chaplains in Canada,

      Our survey is holding strong, but still needs your help to gain momentum. Meanwhile, I have been involved with various legal and media organizations on both sides of the border to do my part to contribute to the many attempts that no doubt will follow to reverse this travesty. One extremely articulate, compelling response from the interfaith Canadian world is available here:

      http://caircan.ca/downloads/2012-10-18_Endorsed_Minister_Public_Safety_Chaplains-FINAL.pdf

      Together, I believe we CAN bring real change. So, please forward on this link!

      On behalf of those without a voice,
      Cantor Mike

    5. Over 250 signatures...and counting

      michael zoosman
      Petition Organizer

      News of this petition is making waves on both sides of the border. Officials and media in both Canada and the U.S. have contacted me asking for my perspective for articles and more formal responses. Thank you for making this response so visible. Please keep thinking of list-serves on which you can post this petition. The more signatures, the better.
      B'shalom,
      Cantor Mike

    6. Reached 250 signatures
    7. +200 signatures reached; -800 to go...

      michael zoosman
      Petition Organizer

      Reached 200 signatures in less than 24 hours! Still, I hope to reach 1,000 signatures before taking this petition to the press. Please continue to send this petition to individuals and institutions who might sign on. Thank you for your support and may we soon witness the reversal of this very misguided step.

    8. Reached 100 signatures

    Supporters

    Reasons for signing

    • Steven Mrakovich VANCOUVER, CANADA
      • over 1 year ago

      WhyEvery religion should have same access to its leader is this important to you? (Optional)

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • Catherine Hunt TORONTO, CANADA
      • over 1 year ago

      Spiritual support is a keystone of emotional healing. It brings health to the prisoner and our society.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • Elisabeth Brush Austin BRECHIN, CANADA
      • over 1 year ago

      Human Rights

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • Judy Gilbert TORONTRO, CANADA
      • over 1 year ago

      I am part of a Christian denomination, but it is clear to me that this faith leader, and other minority leaders, are a very cost-effective way to re-engage prisoners with their communities, thereby reducing recidivism. This is win for the system, win for the prisoners, win for the prison staff, win for all. Why on earth not keep funding all chaplains?

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • Julie Simmons TORONTO, CANADA
      • over 1 year ago

      Because i am a compassionate human and i would like my govt. to be compassionate and humane as well.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:

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