Prisons back off plan to hire Wiccan priests

Corrections Canada had proposed that the service be provided 17 hours a month for inmates.

Angela Gallant of Surrey is a Wiccan priestess.

Wiccan priests will not be working for the federal corrections service anytime soon.

Corrections Canada has removed a request for a proposal for a Wiccan leader in B.C. to provide about 17 hours of service a month for inmates. When released last week, the proposal garnered public outcry, prompting the quick reconsideration.

The job description included providing counselling and creating a sanctuary in the prison chapel area. It also indicated that the priest, or priestess, would lead Wiccan services, including rituals, and hold regular services for holy days.

Wicca is a nature-based religion, believed to have emerged from paganism during the 20th century. According to Corrections Canada, there are currently 13 inmates in the Pacific Region (including Matsqui Institution, Mission Institution as well as the Regional Treatment Centre) who have listed their religion as Wiccan.

Angela Gallant, a Surrey-based Wiccan priestess with The Order of Scathach, said she was not surprised by the job posting’s retraction.

Pagan beliefs have always been misunderstood she said. “We’re not evil, horrible, demon-worshiping creeps and criminals.”

Gallant said she knows that some inmates in Abbotsford-based facilities have been receiving Wiccan services, but only on a volunteer basis.

She said Wicca involves several gods, each representing a different purpose. For example, one god would represent teaching and guiding, while another would be for communication or healing.

“We take a lot of our beliefs from what we observe in nature.”

While she can’t estimate how many followers of Wicca there are in the province, she said the government’s original job posting shows the numbers are significant.