Theresa Halfkenny, an exceptional volunteer


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An illustration with two hands reaching for one another, with the text, “Lift Me Up, Changing Lives. Protecting Canadians.” On the right-hand side is a photo of Theresa Halfkenny.

Theresa Halfkenny believed that members of the community play a valuable role in the corrections and conditional release system. Her commitment to that was obvious. She volunteered at two prisons near her home in Amherst, Nova Scotia, for 32 years.

Theresa once said, “Everyone has something to offer and sometimes we look in the wrong areas and overlook our grassroots people. We need to speak up and make things happen, because we hold the ability.”

Theresa did make things happen. She began volunteering with Correctional Service Canada (CSC) in 1991. She became a member of the Citizen Advisory Committees at both Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick, and Springhill Institution in Nova Scotia. 

Citizen Advisory Committees were established in the 1960s to be the eyes and ears of the community in CSC’s institutions and parole offices. From 2003 to 2006, Theresa was the Atlantic Regional Chair, overseeing 17 different Citizen Advisory Committees, while also sitting on the National Executive Committee. 

Theresa Halfkenny sitting in a chair
Theresa Halfkenny was a volunteer at prisons in the Atlantic Region for 32 years. Her dedication and kindness had an impact on CSC and the hundreds of offenders over the years.

Sadly, Theresa passed away January 12, 2023. She was 78.

“She was really dedicated to that role”, said Spencer Colley, the vice chair of the Atlantic Regional Ethnocultural Advisory Committee (REAC). Spencer was a fellow committee member with Theresa for 12 years. He noted that Theresa lived a half hour from both Springhill and Dorchester institutions, so went often.  

“She got to know prisoners by first name. Anything to do with that ethnocultural group, Theresa was on top of it. She was helpful in getting hair products for Black people. She was instrumental in getting food that Black people eat during African Heritage Month. She got drummers inside and drumming African music for inmates during the month of February.” 

Over the years, Theresa provided her keen observations and advice to staff and senior management at the local, regional, and national level. Her unique approach shaped how Citizen Advisory Committees function today. 

There is no checklist that tells us step-by-step how to carry out our roles; we develop through communication, sharing information, best practices, doing our research on issues, and respecting the processes,

she noted in the Citizens’ Advisory Committees to the Correctional Service of Canada Annual Report, 2005–2006.  

“Theresa was a true leader for all Atlantic Citizen Advisory Committees, no matter how large or small the committees were,” said Donna Gardiner, the current Atlantic Regional Chair and a CSC volunteer for the past 22 years. “She worked hard in advancing our projects and concerns and was always looking out for everyone. She was a positive force who will be remembered for being a fair, hard working, and compassionate individual who helped to move the CSC mandate forward.”

When the Atlantic REAC was created over 20 years ago, Theresa volunteered to be the first committee chair. As chair, she automatically became a member of the National Ethnocultural Advisory Committee (NEAC). It was a position that she held with honour until her passing. 

“She put a lot of work into REAC, going in and out of Westmorland Institution, and the Springhill and Dorchester Penitentiaries to meet with the ethnic minority offenders,” said Spencer. He worked with Theresa for 12 years.

She would visit on her own time, and loved the work that she did with the group. Theresa made a great impact on the lives of the people she worked with. She will be certainly missed in the Atlantic region.

As REAC Chair, Theresa primarily focussed on increasing mental health, housing, and employment opportunities for ethnocultural offenders in the region, as well as increasing the cultural competency of CSC employees. She made it her mission to meet with individuals in the institutions and in the community. She built bridges of collaboration between CSC and community groups willing to assist with ethnocultural offender reintegration. 

Like many of CSC’s advisory committee members, Theresa did more than just advise. She proposed and helped implement pilot projects to test new ideas. Over the years, she contributed to many important initiatives, including: 

Lorne Breen, Assistant Deputy Commissioner, Correctional Operations in the Atlantic Region (recently retired),  met Theresa numerous times over the years while she was a member of the Citizen Advisory Committee at Springhill Institution, and later when she was part of the REAC at Dorchester Institution.

“One of the things I always admired about Theresa was her ability to remain calm in any situation. I will also remember her for the manner in which she related to those around her, which was to continuously display a sense of compassion for others,” said Lorne. “She always ensured that everyone around the table had the opportunity to be heard. She was a remarkable person who will not soon be forgotten.”

Commissioner Anne Kelly also met with Theresa at the NEAC table for many years.

“Theresa was not only an exceptional volunteer but a trailblazer. We were so lucky to be the beneficiaries of her commitment, dedication, and passion, and she will be deeply missed by all of us who knew and worked with her,” said the Commissioner. “The impact of her insights, experience, and the initiatives she contributed to will continue to be felt in the Atlantic Region and across the country for years to come.”

CSC is grateful to Theresa for her dedication and volunteer commitment, and proud of her contribution to public safety. Her legacy will inspire more community members to get involved with corrections. 

CSC is striving to build an anti-racist, diverse and inclusive organization. It is seeking diverse members of the community to volunteer to reflect the needs of those in our care, especially Indigenous, Black, and other racialized individuals. For more information, and to get involved with the advisory committees that Theresa volunteered with, visit:

Let's Talk

Let’s Talk is a publication of Correctional Service Canada (CSC). Let’s Talk shares stories new and old of the people and programs at CSC. These stories provide an engaging window into how CSC fulfills its mission of contributing to public safety and assisting in rehabilitation. Let’s Talk is your home for informative articles, podcasts, and videos about CSC.

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