British Columbia

Wiccan priest hire reversed by federal minister

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has put a hex on plans by Corrections Canada to hire a Wiccan prison chaplain.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has put a hex on plans by Corrections Canada to hire a Wiccan prison chaplain.

The minister's office says it will be suspending a tender issued earlier this week for someone to provide the service in B.C..

Corrections Canada spokesman David Harty said the advertisement was a response to an ongoing need.

Meredith Kimber, left, is seen during a Wiccan ritual circle in 2010. (Danielle Bell/Nanaimo Daily News/Canadian Press)

But shortly after news broke Wednesday, Toews' office said the government isn't convinced that paying the salary of a witchcraft practitioner is an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars.

The minister's office says it was not consulted before the tender was posted.

Pat Stawski, a Wiccan priestess in Campbell River, B.C., says she's disappointed and says Wiccan prisoners have the same rights to spiritual guidance as other inmates.

The job description listed duties such as counselling and creating a sanctuary in the prison chapel.

David Eby with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association say Corrections Canada is constitutionally obligated to provide the spiritual leader.

"It's the kind of job posting that is going to catch a lot of people off guard, but the government does have an obligation not to discriminate  between religions," he said.

"They don't get to say, 'We like the Catholics but we don't like the Wiccans,' or 'We like people who practice the Muslim faith but we don't like the Wiccans.' They have to provide those services equally."

The chosen candidate was also expected to hold regular services for holy days, something Priestess Meredith Kimber says would include ceremonies that invoke the gods and involve casting spells.

Four government-recognized Wiccan temples operate in the B.C., said Kimber, a priestess at the Temple of the Green Cauldron in Nanaimo, B.C.

With files from The Canadian Press