A report came out today on CBC that the federal government is taking a page from the PQ book of secularism and will be removing funding from all chaplains in prisons… except Christian ones.
But rather than focus on the obvious affront to the separation of Church and State, I want to focus on the numbers shared in the CBC article.
Initially, they had screwed up their accounting, and neglected Canada’s non-religious population, prompting me to comment that there’s apparently no atheists in Canadian jails (either we’re more moral or just good at not getting caught). They’ve since updated the numbers, which I’m pretty sure are based on the Offender Count by Religion on the Offender Management System from April 2005.
Unfortunately, we don’t have census data from 2005 (or even the religious data from 2011), but we do have an extrapolation to 2006, based on the 2001 census.
So, who’s in prison and who isn’t?
Catholics are almost right on target, with 42% of the prison population compared to 43% of the general population.
Protestants are underrepresented, with 21% of the prison population compared to 28% of the public.
Muslims are over represented at 3.5% of the prison population compared to 2.7% of the public. This may be a case where the immigration was higher than expected, and the prediction was off, an off count based on statistics of small numbers (there were 761 Muslims in jail) or it may be a first sign of something else (a discriminatory justice system or something else?).
Both Jews and Sikhs make up similar portions of the prison and public populations. 0.7% and 0.5% of the prison population and 1.1% and 1.2% of the public respectively.
Buddhists make up 1.8% of the prison population but only 1.1% of the public.
Finally, we have some less useful numbers. The remaining prison numbers are divided into “Other” and “No Religion.” This would be okay, except others “include the following faith traditions: Agnostic, Atheist, Baha’I, Christian Science, Hinduism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Rastafarianism, Scientology, Siddha Yoga, Taoism, Wicca and Zoroastrianism.” Yep, they group atheists, Mormons, Scientologists, and Wiccans together.
Nevertheless, 6.6% of the prison population declares “other” and 19.7% declared no religion. This compares to a predicted 17.5% non-religious population from Statistics Canada. These numbers suggest there are more atheists in jail in Canada than in the public (the opposite of trends found in the US where 11% of the prison population is non-religious, compared to 15-35% of the public).
So are Canadian atheists and non-religious that immoral?
One issuer may lie in how the question is asked. The census asks what religion you are, even if you no longer practice it, skewing the numbers toward traditional religious cultures (like Catholicism in Quebec), even where no one practices it. It may be that the penitentiaries are asking different questions.
I’m not sure the answer here. Has anyone looked into better studies on this?
Edit (19 Oct 2012): Typo fixed.