EXCLUSIVE: Military Backtracks, Will Allow Chaplains to Say Prayer on Remembrance Day

The military says chaplains can opt for ’the practice of recent years,' which includes the recitation of a preamble before leading a prayer.
EXCLUSIVE: Military Backtracks, Will Allow Chaplains to Say Prayer on Remembrance Day
A person touches the helmet on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after laying a poppy, at the National War Memorial following the National Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa on Nov. 11, 2022. (The Canadian Press/Justin Tang)
Noé Chartier

The Canadian military will revisit a new policy banning chaplains from prayer during official functions, The Epoch Times has learned, and chaplains will now have the choice to pray at Remembrance Day ceremonies on Nov. 11.

In an Oct. 30 email seen by The Epoch Times, Chaplain General Brigadier-General Guy Belisle told the chaplaincy he continues to support the “spirit” of the new directive, but leeway would be provided to chaplains following backlash.

“In light of the questions that have been raised concerning the Directive, any chaplain who participates in a Remembrance Day ceremony this year can propose a spiritual reflection or opt for the practice of recent years, which included the recitation of a preamble,” wrote Brig.-Gen. Belisle, adding that the language should still be “inclusive.”

The recitation of a preamble refers to words spoken by a chaplain before leading a prayer in a public setting. It invites those not disposed to praying to “use that time for silent personal reflection or contemplation as others pray,” according to the previous 2013 directive on prayer.

“I cannot allow focus to be taken away from the importance of Remembrance Day Ceremony and our commitment to honour the sacrifice of all who have gone before us in service to Canada,” said Brig.-Gen. Belisle.

He told chaplains in his email that one of his priorities is to “listen to your thoughts,” and that a policy is “never set in stone.” He said that a committee would be formed to review the new directive.

“If changes/amendments are necessary, we’ll make them.”

Brig.-Gen. Belisle issued a directive on Oct. 11, a month before Remembrance Day, that eliminated prayers from official functions and replaced them with “spiritual reflections.”

“Chaplains shall endeavour to ensure that all feel included and able to participate in the reflection with a clear conscience, no matter their beliefs (religious, spiritual, agnostic, atheist),” the directive said, reported on exclusively by The Epoch Times on Oct. 16.

The directive also removes respective faith symbols such as the cross, the star of David, or the crescent on the chaplain scarf, replacing it with the chaplaincy logo.

“Chaplains must consider the potential that some items or symbols may cause discomfort or traumatic feelings when choosing the dress they wear during public occasions,” said the directive.

The chaplain general said the new policy is needed to follow a 2015 Supreme Court opinion on the neutrality of the state. It is also inscribed in the Liberal government’s attempt to overhaul the military’s culture by implementing a diversity, equity, and inclusion framework.

The new military directive drew criticism from the chaplaincy and the Conservative Party.

Bishop Scott McCaig, who is outside the military chain of command but oversees Catholic chaplains in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), spoke of a “vocational crisis” caused by the new directive.

He also said the Interfaith Committee on Canadian Military Chaplaincy, which is responsible for the selection of chaplains, was not consulted on the policy.

Other leaked CAF emails obtained by The Epoch Times suggested that chaplains were leaving the service in reaction to the prayer ban.

Conservatives have criticized the prayer ban in the House of Commons and in committee, but concerns were shot down by Liberal ministers.

Defence Minister Bill Blair said the Tories were pushing “misinformation.”

“Let’s be very clear: [Canadian Forces] chaplains are not—and will not be—banned from prayer on Remembrance Day, nor at any other time,” he said on Oct. 19.

A Department of National Defence spokesperson previously confirmed to The Epoch Times that under the new directive, chaplains can’t use words such as “God” or “Heavenly Father.”

Mr. Blair’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.