OTTAWA - The Liberals say the government's plan to nix paid positions for non-Christian chaplains in prisons is a violation of the Charter.
"It is the basic principle of religious freedom - you either respect it or you don't," interim Grit leader Bob Rae said Friday, a day after reports surfaced of the federal government's plans. "It's not just small minded, it's mean-spirited."
The NDP and the Liberals slammed the government, saying prisoners of other faiths - including Jews, Buddhists and Muslims - will have to turn to Christian prison chaplains for religious guidance behind bars.
The government's decision to change its policy followed a review of the chaplaincy program to "ensure taxpayer dollars are being used wisely and appropriately."
Candice Bergen, the parliamentary secretary to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, says non-Christian prisoners will continue to have access to chaplains on a "voluntary basis."
"The government does fund full-time chaplains. In addition to serving members of their own faith, these chaplains also make themselves available on a by request basis to provide spiritual advice to the general population," Bergen said.
The government also said there are about 2,500 volunteers who currently provide religious services within the correctional system.
Toews has instructed the Correctional Service of Canada to "facilitate interaction between prisoners and the religious volunteer sector, where safe and appropriate."