Bill C-45 (Historical)
An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.
Peter MacKay Conservative
Not active, as of March 3, 2008
(This bill did not become law.)
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment amends provisions of the National Defence Act governing the military justice system. The amendments, among other things,
(a) provide for security of tenure for military judges until their retirement;
(b) permit the appointment of part-time military judges;
(c) specify the purposes, objectives and principles of the sentencing process;
(d) provide for additional sentencing options, including absolute discharges, intermittent sentences and restitution; and
(e) require certain decisions of a court martial panel to be unanimous.
This enactment also sets out the duties and functions of the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal and clarifies his or her responsibilities.
This enactment also makes amendments in respect of the delegation of the powers of the Chief of the Defence Staff as the final authority in the grievance process and makes consequential amendments to other Acts.
April 3rd, 2014 / 3:30 p.m.
Thank you very much, Chair.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, of this committee of enormous significance to so many people. Thank you for having the patience of inviting an older vet, a retired general who is busy at times on the other side of this Hill.
I am here very much to speak as a veteran, as a retired general officer, and a bit in my duties as a senator.
In so doing if I may I wish to give a bit of history. I'll go a little further than CNN history, though—which is last week—and then bring you into certain points that I would like to raise. Hopefully I will not overstep the bounds of how long I should speak, although brevity is not the strength of retired generals, so I'll work on that.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am appearing before you as a veteran to raise some issues surrounding the New Veterans Charter. I will provide you with some background and also put into perspective this charter you are studying in detail.
I congratulate you for undertaking this study and for taking the time to hear from many witnesses. When he appeared before your committee, the minister instructed you, I think, not to go on the ground, not to meet with veterans and their families in their communities. That decision should have perhaps been reconsidered, although we are often told that this type of initiative is expensive and time consuming.
As they say, once a veteran, always a veteran. For us, this is not a matter of time—on the contrary. It is a matter of having our needs met.
I would like to give this brief intro in the sense of telling you about this charter and some of its genesis. I know in reading the blues that General Semianiw gave you an extensive presentation on how it came about.
I wish only to bring out a couple of points on its genesis. The first point is that the charter did not appear because all of a sudden a bunch of bureaucrats decided that it was a way of solving a problem. The charter came about because of a fundamental need that was articulated by a multidisciplinary committee created originally by Admiral Murray, who was a deputy minister at the turn of the century, about 2000; and under the chairmanship of Dr. Neary, who wrote an extensive book on the 1943 original charter.
The multidisciplinary committee was advising the deputy minister and of course by extension, the minister, on the problematics of trying to apply the new Pension Act to a new generation of veterans. In so doing there were problems in its application, but also problems in being able to meet the demands of these young people versus the octogenarians whom the department had been more focused on.
So we were looking at a radical shifting of a government department into an area that they hadn't touched since 1940, 1950, where at that time the bulk of the veterans were 18, 19, 20, 23-year-olds, and of that age. That in itself was a significant trauma.
So that multidisciplinary team from different government departments, of different players, and also stakeholders provided significant input and produced the report called the Neary report in March of 2004.
I was able to participate in that as the representative of the ex-Canadian Forces veterans as we were articulating the gang since the end of the Cold War, and with Dr. Neary presented it here in this building in March of 2004 for consumption by the department, by veterans, and in support of reform.
The result of that was not necessarily what the Neary report was providing but was a sort of amalgam, a mixture of both some of the elements of the Neary report and extensive internal reviews and reorganizations being done by the department itself as it tried to cope with the problems and was looking at how to handle this influx since the early 1990s of a new generation of veterans.
What ended up, of course, is this bill. I am the one who squired it through the Senate, Bill C-45. I was three weeks on the job, but that was longer than the amount of time we spent studying it, which was 24 hours, and in so doing, the charter is an essential document of our time but it had a very significant caveat to it. It had to be a living document because we knew that we didn't have all the parameters of what the needs of the new generation of veterans would require, and also the needs of their families, which was instrumental in the argumentation behind the Neary report. You were not just now deploying members of the forces, you were essentially deploying their families also.
A quick anecdote is when I came back from Rwanda 20 years ago, my mother-in-law, who was still alive at the time, said she would have never survived World War II if she had had to go through what my family went through. My father-in-law commanded an infantry regiment in World War II. The whole country was at war. Information technology was very limited, but also censorship kept people pretty well away and separated from the actual war, from the conflict area, and so they knew very little.
However, with the revolution of communications that's been going on, and the ability of getting real-time reports, what we see now is the families continuously clicking on different channels as they are looking for what channel is going to report first who has been killed, injured, taken prisoner, or whatever, and so by the time we come back from those missions, we see a family who has also lived the missions. The families are now living the missions with the members. It is not a separated exercise. It is a marriage.
It's a communion between the two, and so any policy that doesn't reflect that communion is a policy that will have a fundamental flaw in it, and the fundamental flaw is you can't help the member and let the families be taken care of by somebody else, by another body, and hopefully they might even have a priority in their support. That dimension, which was supposed to be intrinsic in what we were hoping the legislation would be, is not there. You have a hard time finding “family” in this legislation.
However, with the legislation, it did give the government that came into power in January 2006 the ability to implement a whole new generation of tools that it felt was going to meet the requirement as per what the legislation was calling for. Just as a side point, both Dr. Neary and I were brought into P.E.I. three months before the legislation was presented, and we were informed about a series of recommendations on how the legislation would be changing things.
A number of those had absolutely nothing to do with what we had done before. The lump sum solution was never, ever raised in all the deliberations of the multidisciplinary committee that was advising the deputy minister, and there were a number of these things that were thrown in there that caught us by surprise, but we never got a chance to amend, to debate, to discuss, because it was too far down the road, and so it was simply implemented, but the caveat, which I come back to, was that it is a living document and the minister would be able to work with it.
Over the last years, we have seen one major intervention, which is Bill C-55.
I say “major” because it's the only one in significance as legislation—but it is not major, it's sort of that big to the demand. Even in that, there were elements of the legislation that the minister could have, by convincing his Treasury Board colleagues, implemented without having to go to legislation. But there are a few elements of legislation, which is the second component that I wish to mention about this charter.
We had recommended strongly that this charter has got to give power to the minister to amend the programs, to amend the directives, to not be hamstrung by enormous scales and volumes of regulations that require legislation. The aim was, as a living document, to give that minister, as long as he convinced his buddies at Treasury Board for the financial requirement and it was not offending any other act, the ability to get in there and change things in order to meet in a timely fashion the demands of the troops and their families. This legislation does not give him or her that much leeway. On the contrary, due to the scale of regulations in there, it is quite restrictive on the minister, which makes it very difficult for him or her to be able to bring about some of the changes that many committees have proposed.
You are aware that over five committees subsequently sat and hundreds of recommendations were produced. In fact, your committee, if I'm not mistaken, about a year and a half ago, if not two, looked at PTSD, or the mental health, and punched out a whole whack of these recommendations. These recommendations coming from these committees were essentially single-focused. Very few if any of those recommendations ever made it into the staffing of the bureaucracy, I'm afraid. In fact, the five leads of these committees never got a real response from the department as to their final recommendations as such. It was sort of given and then left there.
All this is to say that I'm trying to give a more strategic perspective to this document—and I am speaking here, I gather you picked up, not on the nuts and bolts of so many of the different programs and projects and directives. My strategic perspective is the fact that we absolutely need this charter amended. Not a new one, and not necessarily the Pension Act, but a charter that meets the requirement, as the requirement has evolved over the years, remembering, ladies and gentlemen, that we're covering now 25 years, 25 years more than since 2005, when it was brought in.... The whole new era of veterans started with the end of the Cold War and with the Gulf War. The Gulf War syndrome, and how we treated those people, is the perfect example of why we need a whole new set of tools as we really did not help those people. There are still walking wounded out there.
We're covering not Afghanistan alone. That's the culminating point of the last 25 years, in which the forces have been in the field, in operational theatres, hoping to come home on occasion to lick their wounds. We need that legislation to cover the full spectrum and to take care now of those forces that are back in garrison and are licking their wounds. In so doing, the scale of demand will continue to increase, not decrease—increase. The veterans of Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, and Somalia are hitting their 60s and 65s and 70s. There is no long-term care significantly in the new charter, so you've got to cover the full spectrum. The covenant, which we proposed in 2004, said, “We inculcate loyalty into you, that uniform comes off, but that loyalty remains for a lifetime, for we have changed you culturally, and in so doing have a responsibility thereof”.
I have spoken already too long, and I didn't want to get into nuts and bolts, but I'm more than prepared to respond as best I can, Mr. Chair, to whatever questions you may have.
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
April 30th, 2013 / 10:30 a.m.
Jasbir Sandhu Surrey North, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak on behalf of my constituents in Surrey North.
I want to start by talking about what the Minister of National Defence pointed out in his speech. He pointed out that this bill is long overdue and should have been addressed before the Conservatives became government. That is due to the slow pace of the government in addressing the criminal justice system and the military. It is the government that has been dragging its feet over a number of years.
Having said that, I know the minister has had a rough run over the last couple of years, whether it was the military procurement or the pay difference in Afghanistan recently. I point out that this bill is a small step in the right direction, and I have to give the minister kudos for the small step in the right direction, but more could have been done with regard to the criminal justice system.
As the minister pointed out, this bill was introduced in the House back in October of 2011 and was an act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, basically strengthening military justice in the defence of Canada act. Bill C-15 would amend the National Defence Act to strengthen military justice following the 2003 report of the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, and the May 2009 report of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Again, Justice Lamer made recommendations back in 2003, and it is only now that the government is getting around to addressing our broken military justice system.
Among other things, this bill would provide greater flexibility in the sentencing process. The bill would provide for additional sentencing options, including absolute discharges, intermittent sentences and restitution, and it would modify the composition of court martial panels according to the ranks of accused persons and would modify the limitations, among many other things.
Bill C-15 is a step in the right direction. However, the government should have done more. Bill C-15 suffers from the Conservatives' slow-footed response to the LeSage report, which was not incorporated in the bill, along with the lack of wall-to-wall review of the sections of the National Defence Act pertaining to military justice.
Bill C-15 falls far short of key issues when it comes to reforming the summary trial system and the grievance system and strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission. We are letting our soldiers down with this unnecessary slow pace of change. The NDP will continue to lay the groundwork for a larger review of the need for the modernization and civilization of the military legal system and the implementation of greater civilian oversight.
I am proud of my colleagues on the defence committee, who forced the government to make some amendments to the bill. As members may recall, I spoke on second reading of this bill about some of the shortcomings of the bill that New Democrats would like to strengthen. One thing was with regard to military personnel having criminal records. We were not comfortable with that particular clause in the bill. My NDP colleagues on the defence committee forced the Conservatives to accept an amendment, which would force changes so that over 90% of disciplinary offences would not result in criminal records. We will support Bill C-15 at this point. The NDP is proud to vote for the significant, tangible result that we have been vocally and legislatively in support of for the members of our Canadian military forces.
Our efforts have established one more important reform in building fairer military justice. It is important that the amendments that were offered by the New Democrats were accepted by the Conservatives. It is a small step, one aspect of the bill, not the entire bill. We would like to see more changes to the military justice system, so we can have a robust justice system in the military. This would be a small step in the right direction. One of the key elements was regarding the criminal records for military personnel, so 90% of those military personnel would not have a criminal record after going through this. That was an important first step.
Members of the Canadian Forces are held to an extremely high standard of discipline, and they in turn deserve a judicial system that is held to a comparable standard. The New Democrats will support Bill C-15's proposed improvements because it is a step in the right direction. However, the government should have done more. The Conservatives voted against several prudent NDP amendments at committee that asked to fully incorporate Justice Lamer's 2003 recommendations and some of Justice LeSage's 2011 amendments. They even voted against a clarification to the letter of the law in clause 35, as proposed by Justice LeSage. This has resulted in a failure to strengthen the proper safeguards for independence in the grievance system, military police or judicial elements of the military justice system.
The New Democrats are calling on the Conservatives to approach the military justice system in a holistic way. What the Conservatives have been doing is taking a piecemeal approach, a little bit at a time. The National Defence Act is a relic. We need to look at it in detail to reform it wall to wall and bring our criminal justice system in the military to the 21st century. The Conservatives had a chance to do this for the last six or seven years. However, they have not done it. They have taken a very piecemeal approach to the military justice system, and we are doing an injustice to the men and women who serve this country proudly. We can do much better. We can support our men and women by ensuring they receive justice when they need it.
Going back to Justice Lamer's recommendations, in 2003, the Rt. Hon. Antonio Lamer, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, presented his report on the independent review of the National Defence Act. The Lamer report contained 88 recommendations pertaining to military justice, the Military Police Complaints Commission, the grievance process and the Provost Marshal. Bill C-15 would be the legislative response to these recommendations.
Former chief justice of the Superior Court the Hon. Patrick LeSage provided an additional review of certain sections of the National Defence Act, which was handed to the government in December 2011. The Minister of National Defence tabled the report in June 2012.
The Conservatives took over a year to table that report. They had it sitting on the minister's desk and he did not act at all. They have had a number of years to bring forward legislation so we can reform the military justice system, yet, as I have mentioned before, the Conservatives are foot-dragging on the issue of reforming our justice system. Even though we are supporting this particular bill, one of our major concerns is that, while it would be one little step in the right direction, there are numerous recommendations from the LeSage report and the Rt. Hon. Antonio Lamer recommendations that are not part of Bill C-15.
That is what the government needs to work on. It needs to take on a wall-to-wall review of the National Defence Act. The Conservatives have voted against amendments attempting to incorporate several of LeSage's recommendations.
Bill C-15 has appeared in earlier forms. Just going back through the history of it, first Bill C-7 and Bill C-45 died on the order paper due to the prorogation in 2007 and an election in 2008. In July 2008, Bill C-60 came into force, simplifying the structure of the courts martial and establishing a method for choosing the type of court martial more closely aligned with the civilian system.
In 2009, the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs considered Bill C-60 and provided nine recommendations for amendments to the National Defence Act. In 2010, Bill C-41 was introduced to respond to the 2000 Lamer report and the LeSage report. It outlined provisions related to military justice, such as sentencing reform, military justice committees, summary trials, court martial panels, the Provost Marshal and limited provisions related to grievance and the military complaints process.
In essence, Bill C-15 is similar to the version of Bill C-41 that came out of committee in the previous Parliament. The amendments carried over included those on court martial and military judges and security of tenure, appointment and age. There are other important amendments to Bill C-41 proposed at the amendment stage and incorporated at the end of the last parliamentary session. However, those amendments that were introduced to the previous bill were not taken into consideration in Bill C-15.
That is unfortunate, because we had a bill that went through the process. We heard from witnesses in the committee. Experts, judges and many people associated with the military justice system testified. We had reached a compromise. We reached across different parties. The Conservatives, Liberals and NDP worked together to bring about amendments that would serve our military justice system in a way that is fair. In committees, input is heard from key witnesses and amendments are reached. When that process takes place, all sides can be heard from. The committee recommended a number of amendments that would have helped make the system better.
However, as we have seen in the past from the Conservatives, they have failed to incorporate those very amendments that were agreed upon in the last session of Parliament. That is very unfortunate. The amendments that came out of the last session were a consensus from all three parties.
However, the Conservatives are not listening, and they do not want to incorporate those very amendments that would have formed more consensus towards how we could take a larger leap forward in forming our military justice system. They have backtracked a little from that. This is a smaller step in the right direction.
There was one amendment, a compromise that the NDP fought for in Bill C-41, clause 75. At the prompting from the NDP and in recognition of amendments absent, the Conservatives introduced this amendment into clause 75 of Bill C-15.
While this compromise that the NDP fought hard for in Bill C-41 and Bill C-15 is an improvement on the current legislation, it does not go far enough to improve the summary trial process for our Canadian Forces. It does not guarantee that a person who is convicted of an offence during a summary trial is not unfairly subject to a criminal record.
Furthermore, the Conservatives voted against prudent NDP amendments that would have ensured that the proper legislative mechanisms were in place to apply clause 75 retroactively.
We brought forward a number of other improvements at committee. I believe that is what committees are for. That is where we improve bills to make the laws we make in this place better to serve Canadians in a better way. Yet the Conservatives voted down every single one of those amendments.
This is a small step in the right direction. I think we could have taken a bigger step. In fact, I believe we need a wall-to-wall review of the National Defence Act to bring the act into the 21st century. Yet the Conservatives did not want to take even a slightly bigger step.
Here are some of the amendments we proposed at committee. One of the amendments voted down by the Conservatives would have given the Chief of the Defence Staff the financial authority to compensate CAF members in the grievance process. It amended clause 6 in Bill C-41, responding directly to Justice Lamer's recommendations. An amendment to clause 11 in Bill C-41 would have changed the composition of the grievance committee such that it would include 60% civilian membership and would exclude active-duty Canadian Forces members, thus enhancing the independence of the board.
These are common sense amendments that would improve the military justice system. These amendments in the previous Parliament were approved by the committee. Yet the Conservatives failed to bring them into Bill C-15.
Again, this is a small step in the right direction. They could have done more. They could have taken some of the testimony we heard at this committee for Bill C-15 and also at the committee in the previous Parliament. That committee had agreed to these amendments. Yet the Conservatives took those amendments out. That is puzzling. One year they agreed to them, and the next year, in a new parliamentary session, they are going back on their word. That is failing the very people who serve this country.
Another amendment we introduced was a provision to ensure that a person convicted of an offence during a summary trial would not be unfairly subjected to a criminal record. It amended clause 75 in Bill C-41.
These were very common sense amendments. I could go on about some of the changes we proposed and some of the things we would like to see in our approach to reforming the military justice system. The least this House could do is provide the Canadian Armed Forces with a modern National Defence Act so that they can carry on their jobs.
I want to go back to what I started with. The Minister of National Defence has had bad news over the last two years. He has bungled the F-35 procurement. It is a mess. It is a fiasco. I could use a number of other adjectives to describe it. We have seen a number of other scandals in the ministry of defence. We have seen recently a differential in pay in Afghanistan.
The Minister of National Defence could use a little bit of good news, and I would say that this is very little good news, which is going to reform the military justice system. We are calling for a wall-to-wall review of the National Defence Act so that we can reform the criminal justice system in the military and provide the support, encouragement and resources to our military personnel who serve us proudly.
I have a free voice to speak up in the House, to speak on behalf of my constituents from Surrey North, because of the very sacrifices the men and women in the military have made. The least the House could do is provide them with a modern National Defence Act so that they can carry on their jobs.
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
March 21st, 2013 / 3:25 p.m.
Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC
Mr. Speaker, today it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-15, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, which brings about a number of improvements in response to recommendations concerning the military justice system.
Bill C-15 is simply the latest incarnation of various bills introduced in the House, such as Bill C-7 and Bill C-45 in 2007 and 2008, and Bill C-60, which came into effect in July 2008. Bill C-60 simplified the structure of courts martial and created a mechanism to choose a type of court martial more comparable to the civilian system. Bill C-41 was pretty good. At the time, it went farther than Bill C-15 did initially, but unfortunately, it was never adopted.
It is important to note that Bill C-15 came about because of concerns over how the military justice system has worked for years. A number of flaws were identified in the wake of the 2003 report of the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Right Honourable Antonio Lamer, and the May 2009 report of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
Justice Antonio Lamer's authority was well established, and the government had every reason to take the former chief justice's many recommendations into account. To a certain extent, Bill C-15 is a response to those concerns. However, because it does not go far enough, we proposed amendments in committee. One of our amendments was agreed to, but the others were rejected, unfortunately. Nevertheless, we are pleased that Bill C-15 was improved enough for us to be able to support it at third reading.
By way of context, it is important to note that our military justice system operates separately from our criminal justice system because our military personnel play a special role in our society. Because of their role, they have certain special powers that ordinary citizens do not. Along with that, they have to comply with very high disciplinary standards related to the hierarchy and organization of the military system on the ground so that they can respond effectively during military operations. A lot of very structured preparatory work also has to happen.
There is a very specific way in which the military justice system must answer to that structure, which is separate from society. The system must be held to very high standards and must not needlessly trap veterans and former members of the Canadian Forces after they have finished serving. They find themselves trapped in needless uncertainty because of mistakes they made that, normally, would not result in a criminal record.
We can be pleased with the fact that, in committee, the NDP was able to get a major amendment passed, which changed nearly 95% of disciplinary code infractions so that they will no longer result in a criminal record.
That is the main reason we are now supporting Bill C-15.
As everyone knows, a criminal record comes with very unpleasant consequences. For example, a criminal record can keep a member from starting a new life and pursuing a second career, a career that could be limited by the member's inability to travel to the United States or to fulfill certain duties that he is qualified for because of his military experience and training. The fact that it is so easy to have a criminal record after spending one's life in the armed forces is a major irritant and totally unacceptable.
I mentioned two reports, one by Justice Antonio Lamer and one by a Senate committee. However, we would have liked the government to respond more quickly, and we want it to respond with tangible measures to the report by the former Ontario Superior Court Chief Justice LeSage. He also completed a study on the National Defence Act, which he presented to the government in December 2011. Bill C-15 does not really cover that, which is very unfortunate.
Another aspect is rather ironic. I am currently a member of the Standing Committee on Finance. We recently examined Bill C-48, a huge and very technical bill that makes changes to some aspects of the Canadian tax system. Instead of a gradual, piecemeal approach, we would have liked to see a more major reform, although not a massive one that would make it impossible to study the military justice system.
I was a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and I noticed a very similar approach when it was time to change some details in the Criminal Code. There was a real lack of vision, which is truly appalling. Our soldiers, who fulfill a very important and admirable role, both in Canada and around the globe, should definitely not be victims nor should they be subjected to such improvisation on the government's part. It is really appalling. Our soldiers would be much better off if the military justice system had the same or similar standards as the civilian justice system, since this would bring us in line with other countries.
When the NDP forms the government in 2015, our party will be committed to doing more to make a real difference, which will allow us to offer all members of our armed forces a justice system worthy of that name and, above all, worthy of the appearance of justice earned.
That is probably the most important aspect, and the final point I wanted to make. Ensuring the appearance of justice is a fundamental principle of our justice system. This appearance is especially fundamental because it forms the basis of public confidence and, therefore, the confidence of members of the armed forces in the military justice machine.
I hope the government has listened to our hopes and wishes. I thank the government again for accepting a fundamental amendment regarding the consequences of possibly getting a criminal record.
I am now ready to hear my colleagues' comments and answer their questions.
Motions in Amendment
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
March 21st, 2013 / 12:35 p.m.
Pierre-Luc Dusseault Sherbrooke, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-15 after my colleagues. I must admit, they made very interesting and very precise speeches on the amendments proposed by the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands. I thank the hon. member for her efforts and for presenting these amendments.
First of all, I must say that I support her amendments. We had presented practically the same ones in committee. Clearly, we are going to support them because they are quite logical.
I will come back to that a little later in my speech because it has been mentioned a few times that consideration of the amendments must be very precise at report stage, which is what I will try to do as much as possible today to enlighten my colleagues on this bill and, more specifically, on the amendments.
If I may, I would like to give a little background before moving on to the heart of the subject, even if it does not please my colleagues.
I think Canadians listening to us would be very pleased to know how Bill C-15 ended up in the House, what we are currently doing and what still needs to be done for it to eventually become law.
The process began in 2003. In this debate today, we have been saying that the process began 10 years ago, following on the report of the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, former chief justice of the Supreme Court. The report contained 88 recommendations.
Bill C-15 is a kind of legislative response to the recommendations in that report. However, there is a big “but”, because Bill C-15 does not completely reflect those recommendations. In reality, it responds very little to the report that contained 88 recommendations. In fact, the government has attempted to implement only about 20 of them since then.
Since 2003, the report by the hon. Patrick LeSage, retired Chief Justice of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has also been presented. That was in December 2011. On June 8, 2012, the Minister of National Defence himself tabled that report here in the House. Although the Conservative government has had the LeSage report for over a year, it still did not incorporate any of its recommendations into Bill C-15.
As the hon. member for Beaches—East York pointed out, the government has been sitting on that report for a year now and nothing has been implemented. The NDP, however, did try to have some of those recommendations incorporated into Bill C-15.
There have also been several other versions. I will not spend too much time on this, since that is not really what interests us the most at this stage of the bill. However, there was also Bill C-7 and Bill C-45, which both died on the order paper because of the 2008 election after Parliament was prorogued. Then, in July 2008, there was another version, Bill C-60.
The bill that was most in line with what we wanted was Bill C-41, introduced in 2010, also further to the Lamer report. All of the bills introduced after that report were basically in response to that report. Bill C-41, which had fortunately been amended in committee, also died on the order paper because an election was called, which, as some people may recall, was due to a case of contempt of Parliament on the part of the Conservative government, on a question of access to sensitive documents. That is also not the subject of today's debate. We all remember what happened.
Bill C-15 is similar to Bill C-41, which was the result of committee work in the last session. However, significant amendments made at committee stage during the last Parliament were not included in Bill C-15. When Bill C-15 was introduced, one of our biggest disappointments was that it did not contain all of the changes made to Bill C-41 during the previous Parliament. We were very disappointed, and we wondered why they had not been included in Bill C-15.
However, I should point out that we had a small win in committee and we managed to do some good. Not that long ago, we had to make changes so that nearly 95% of the offences in the code of discipline would no longer result in a criminal record. That is an important win for us. Canadians who do not serve in the Canadian Forces are subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which uses a fair and balanced justice system to protect the public. However, we felt that members of the Canadian Forces were not offered the same protection as other Canadians.
That brings me to the two amendments proposed by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands. I would like to read Bill C-15, as it now stands. We are talking about clause 4 of the bill, which would add sections 18.3 through 18.6 to the current National Defence Act, after the existing section 18.2. The two amendments focus on subsections 18.5(3) and 18.5(4), which read as follows:
(3) The Vice Chief of the Defence Staff may issue instructions or guidelines in writing in respect of a particular investigation.
(4) The Provost Marshal shall ensure that instructions and guidelines issued under subsection (3) are available to the public.
We tried to amend these provisions in committee. Unfortunately, those amendments were not accepted and the provisions remained unchanged. Today, two motions were moved. We want to expand on clause 4 to make it a bit more specific by adding the following:
The Vice Chief of the Defence Staff may, with the consent of the Provost Marshal and in accordance with the respective roles, responsibilities and principles set out in the Accountability Framework signed by the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff and the Provost Marshal on March 2, 1998, issue instructions or guidelines in writing in respect of a particular investigation, providing that the rationale for issuing the instructions or guidelines is also stated.
This motion further narrows the proposed amendment to Bill C-15 in order to ensure the transparency of orders given by the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff and the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal, a position created by this bill. All of clause 4 is, in fact, an addition to the current National Defence Act with regard to the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal.
In our opinion, subsection 18.5(3) was much too problematic. The statement that “[t]he Vice Chief of the Defence Staff may issue instructions or guidelines in writing in respect of a particular investigation” means that the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff has the power to give instructions to the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal with respect to a particular investigation.
I liked the analogy used earlier by the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood about the military and civilian police. He spoke about the mayor of a city calling up the local police chief and telling him how to proceed with an investigation or what he can or cannot do. We would regard that as direct interference in the right to an independent police investigation, whether it was being conducted by the civilian or military police. The law must be much more clear and transparent to ensure that there is no interference in investigations, which must remain as independent as possible.
My time is up. I would be pleased to answer questions.
Motions in Amendment
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
March 21st, 2013 / 11:25 a.m.
Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, before addressing clause 4 and the related amendments, I would like to provide some background on Bill C-15, so that things are clear for everyone who is watching or trying to follow the debate.
In July 2008, Bill C-60 came into force. It was intended to simplify the structure of the court martial system and establish a method for choosing the type of court martial that would mesh better with the civilian system. After that, in 2009, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs studied Bill C-60 and made nine recommendations containing amendments to be made to the National Defence Act.
Then, Bill C-41 was introduced in 2010. It responded to the 2003 Lamer report and the Senate committee report I just mentioned. It contained provisions on military justice, including sentencing reform.
The issue of military judges was addressed in Bill C-16 and therefore was not covered in Bill C-15. Bill C-15 also addressed military committees, summary trials, court martial panels and the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal, and contained a certain number of provisions related to the grievance and military police complaints processes.
Then, Bill C-41 died on the order paper because the election was called, but I would like to point out that this bill had been studied in committee and that there had been amendments—
February 4th, 2013 / 3:40 p.m.
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
December 11th, 2012 / 1:35 p.m.
Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-15 on the military justice system, which is long overdue.
This discussion of a person's collective and individual rights is fascinating. On the one hand, in the military it is critically important to have discipline and an efficient process for that, while keeping morale high. That why there is a different system of justice in the military.
We understand that it is important to ensure that everyone respects the law and that the military maintains a just, peaceful and safe society, its top priority. That is why a military justice system needs to be fast, flexible and portable.
Presently, 96% of the disciplinary cases result in a summary trial, with the other 4% being courts martial. I am mostly interested in talking about the summary trials and the individual rights of soldiers and fairness.
The amendments in Bill C-15 do not adequately address the unfairness of the summary trials. Right now, for a minor offence, a soldier could end up having a criminal record. However, in a summary trial, a soldier does not have access to counsel, there is no appeal process, there is no transcript of the trial and the judge is the accused person's commanding officer.
Very minor offences, whether a quarrel, small disturbance or absence without leave, could be matters important to military discipline, but I am not sure they are worthy of a criminal record. A criminal record for a soldier leaving the military could mean that he or she would have difficulty getting credit from a bank, buying a house, or being hired in any number of jobs.
Bill C-15 proposes exemptions from a criminal record for a number of offences carrying minor punishments or fines of less than $500, as defined in the act. We support these exemptions, but the list does not go far enough. There is another list of very minor offences that should be exempt from a criminal record.
As for the grievance process, there is a grievance committee but no external review. Presently, it is staffed entirely by retired Canadian Forces officers. We believe that the grievance committee should be external and have independent civilian oversight. Soldiers do not have the right of appeal, but they do have a grievance process. Therefore, it is important that the grievance process be fair and independent so there is no chance of a miscarriage of justice.
We believe that at least 60% of the grievance committee's members should be civilians, with a fresh eye on the situations before them. However, even though an amendment to the previous Bill C-41 was passed, unfortunately it was not retained in Bill C-15.
The other flaw in the military grievance process is that the Chief of Defence Staff right now has no authority to resolve any financial aspect arising from a grievance. We know there was a report by Brian Dickson and Chief Justice Antonio Lamer saying that it was important to give the Chief of Defence Staff the authority to resolve any financial aspect. At the time, the Minister of National Defence agreed with this recommendation. Yet after eight years, there have been no concrete steps to make sure this becomes part of the law. We moved an amendment passed at report stage of the old bill, but unfortunately it is not included in this new bill.
The other aspect is that we have to give the Military Police Complaints Commission the framework and ability to rightfully investigate and report to Parliament. Right now there is no legislative provision empowering it as an oversight body. We believe that also needs to be part of this bill.
At the moment the National Defence Act, through Bill C-15, has a timeline in which a complaint can be resolved through the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal. It protects complainants from being penalized for submitting a complaint in good faith. That is important, because whistle-blower protection needs to be in place for everyone, including soldiers.
In summary, we believe that Bill C-15 is a step in the right direction to bring the military justice system more in line with the civilian justice system. However, there have to be some key amendments to reform the grievance and summary trial systems and to strengthen the Military Police Complaints Commission.
As members know, this bill has been in front of us, first through Bill C-7 and then through then Bill C-45, which died because of prorogation in 2007 and the election in 2008. We are eager to see Bill C-15 become law, with substantial amendments. If not, then we cannot support this bill. I hope that when this bill goes to committee there will be more discussion of it.
Finally, I want to quote Michel Drapeau, who said:
—the summary trial issue must be addressed by this committee. There is currently nothing more important for Parliament to focus on than fixing a system that affects the legal rights of a significant number of Canadian citizens every year. Why? Because unless and until you, the legislators, address this issue, it is almost impossible for the court to address any challenge, since no appeal of a summary trial verdict or sentence is permitted. As well, it is almost impossible for any other form of legal challenge to take place, since there are no trial transcripts and no right to counsel at summary trial.
That was an open statement by a retired Canadian Forces colonel and expert in military law on February 28, 2011. I hope we listen carefully to these experts who are experienced in military justice, and that we move forward to make sure there is discipline, efficiency and high morale while also respecting the individual rights of all soldiers and all Canadians.
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
December 11th, 2012 / 12:50 p.m.
Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a great pleasure for me to try to put in my two cents' worth today in this debate on Bill C-15.
I have studied labour relations. I have also worked as an employee representative in grievance procedures. In my field of studies, I also did human resources management. I have been on the employer side and the union side. So I have been on both sides.
I am going to try to show why it is extremely important that we have a fair and equitable system for our soldiers for handling grievances relating to all the various disputes that arise between them and their superior officers and their institution, the Canadian Forces.
We have a bill that amends eight acts: the Access to Information Act, the Criminal Code, the Financial Administration Act, the Privacy Act, and others.
This bill is in fact 60 pages long. That is almost modest, compared to what we have been used to getting from the government for some time now.
To begin, let us do a review of part of the history of this bill.
In 2003, the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, submitted a report on the independent review of the National Defence Act. He is not just anybody. He had much to say about judgments concerning grievances that had gone to the labour court, the Court of Appeal, and ultimately the Supreme Court. The Lamer report contained 88 recommendations concerning the military justice system, the Military Police Complaints Commission, the grievance procedure, which I will address at greater length today, and the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal.
Bill C-15 is the legislative response to those recommendations. However, only 28 recommendations have been incorporated into this new version.
Bill C-15 has appeared in several forms over the course of its history.
First, we had Bills C-7 and C-45, which died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued in 2007—I think we know it is the practice of the Conservatives to cut off debate—and the 2008 election was called.
However, in July 2008, Bill C-60 made a comeback, simplifying the structure of courts martial and establishing a method for choosing the type of court martial that would be most consistent with the civilian justice system. That was precisely the objective that should have guided the sponsors of this reform and Bill C-15. That should be our goal: harmonization with the civilian justice system.
In 2009, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs considered Bill C-60 and made nine more recommendations to amend the National Defence Act.
In 2010, Bill C-41 was introduced to respond to the 2003 Lamer report and the 2009 Senate committee report. Provisions relating to the military justice system were included, such as provisions relating to sentencing reform, judges and military boards and committees, summary trials, the court martial panel and the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal and certain provisions relating to the Military Police Complaints Commission.
Essentially, Bill C-15 is similar to the version that came out of the Senate committee in the last Parliament. The amendments carried forward include the composition of the court martial panel and the appointment of military judges during good behaviour until the age of retirement.
Since I was elected, in May 2011, I have spent time on many occasions with soldiers of all ages, whether at Remembrance Day ceremonies with our courageous Canadian Legion members or at various meetings with soldiers and cadets in my region. I have met courageous, dynamic people who are very proud of their military profession.
However, when the time comes for them to return to peacetime life, these soldiers’ lives can be full of surprises and sometimes twists. All of them, the generations who lived through the major wars—the world wars, the Korean War or the Vietnam War—and other generations who have worked hard on numerous peacekeeping missions in the Middle East, in Africa, in Europe, or more recently in Iraq, Darfur and Afghanistan, deserve not only our admiration, but also our respect, for doing their duty.
That is why they deserve justice, a justice system in which they will be able to see themselves as individuals who are part of today’s modern society.
All these brave men and women have proudly carried the colours of our Canadian flag and staunchly defended the democratic principles we hold dear. Sometimes, however, and it must be said, the aftermath has left its marks, and sometimes they are heavy marks. When they come home, their life in our industrialized society begins, where the economy is what matters above all else. In this modern civilization, social status, acceptance by others, often comes from a person’s job and of course the pay associated with it, but also, everything depends on an academic background or wide-ranging experience here and there in the real world. Soldiers do in fact have an extraordinary background when it comes to understanding giving and duty. They are capable of great effort and courage.
And then, soldiers return to work in civilian life. This is why I focus on this when I talk about grievances in the military system and the consequences of those grievances. Whether or not it is appropriate, a candidate for a position that is available in a business is judged, most of the time, against objective criteria, I hope, but sometimes the candidate is assessed in a way, and let us not be afraid of the words, that may be more subjective. And so a little notation here or there about a minor problem during the person’s military service or in the performance of their duties during missions can sometimes become a major wrongdoing in the eyes of an employer who decides to make use of this workforce, which is so important to manufacturing and industry, but also to the service sector. That is why the NDP is truly disappointed that some of the amendments it proposed to Bill C-15 have not been incorporated.
I would like to mention the amendments concerning the authority of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process. These amendments were a direct response to a recommendation by the Right Hon. Justice Antonio Lamer, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. There are also the changes to the composition of the grievance committee so that 60% of its members would be civilians to make it more objective and to ensure that the grievance process is not conducted strictly by the military. Finally, there is the provision to ensure that a person convicted of an offence during a summary trial is not unfairly subjected to a criminal record. All too often, this criminal record will scare employers who need this labour force. As I mentioned, this workforce is important not only to the future of that business, but also to Canada's future.
As I already said in my speeches here, do not ask what this country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. Those words are from John F. Kennedy, but they still apply. It is often said that Canada is a land that needs workers. The doors are open. We welcome them. However, we must not create problems for these applicants, for this workforce that is essential to our country's future. Believe me, Mr. Speaker, this kind of situation can seriously undermine a soldier's return to civilian life and his career after the military.
We need this workforce. Yet in this world, they will be subjected to a grievance system essential to justice and to fairness in the handling of disputes. Why not have harmonized the military and civilian justice systems in this respect? It would have been easy to do. This grievance adjudication system is even recognized by the Supreme Court in several decisions.
Bill C-15 on the reform of the military justice system should be based on the fundamental principles of law and justice on which our country was built. It is essential to put things back in place within National Defence and to give that department the means to adapt to the modern workplace, to the 21st century.
Still, the NDP believes this legislation is a step in the right direction—really—to bring the military justice system more in line with the civilian justice system. Other steps will have to be taken, and we hope the government will listen to our amendments.
May justice be done.
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
December 11th, 2012 / 11:50 a.m.
Francine Raynault Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am sure people will say that the NDP members ramble on, always saying the same things in their speeches on Bill C-15, but we have not finished repeating ourselves. We want to make our voice heard.
I am very pleased to be taking part in this debate on Bill C-15, which I believe says a great deal about the values the Conservative government has chosen to promote and those it has decided to disregard. When a country claims to establish democracy and social justice in foreign countries, it is interesting to see how the government of that country treats its citizens.
And it is all the more interesting to see how this government decides to treat those who defend its citizens. Unfortunately, I believe this bill neither respects the men and women in uniform who defend this country nor represents Canadian values. Although it would be a good opportunity for the Conservatives to enter the 21st century, once again, they have missed the boat.
Bill C-15 is not new to this House. It is a response to a report by a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, who in 2003 made 88 recommendations in his review of military justice. The Conservatives have accepted 28 of that number. Military justice was also the topic of a report by the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in 2009 and has been the subject of many bills: C-7, C-45, C-60 and C-41, all of which died on the order paper.
It is unfortunate to have to say it, but the Conservatives do not surprise me. They have gotten into the habit of taking half-measures by introducing half-finished bills to impose their ideological agenda on all government bodies. I would never say these kinds of things if they were not true. I repeat, only 28 of the 88 recommendations in the Lamer report were accepted for the purposes of this bill.
Even worse, the Conservatives knowingly disregarded all the work done by the Standing Committee on National Defence. The bill's title has changed, but its objectives remain the same. So why forget in 2012 work that was done in 2011? With the Conservatives, it is the myth of Sisyphus: we always have to start over, again and again.
The way the Conservatives use our institutions never ceases to astonish me. We have everything we need to conduct a discussion and come up with proposals that are more in line with what Canadians want. Unfortunately, the Conservatives prefer to squabble in the House rather than conduct a healthy debate. If that were not the case, why would they have rejected the NDP's amendments to Bill C-41, a forerunner to Bill C-15? The truth is that, in committee and in the House, the Conservatives only hear one voice: their own.
However, the government has every interest in listening to the NDP on this matter, if it wants to avoid making a serious mistake. I want to focus on one point regarding Bill C-15 that I find particularly annoying: summary trials. The Minister of National Defence claims Canadians know that the military justice system treats those who serve them fairly and in accordance with Canadian standards and values. It is all well and good to say that, but when the facts do not support the allegations, it is better to say nothing.
So let us talk about Canadian values. Aside from empty rhetoric, I wonder where those values now stand. There is a very useful document that we can refer to in these kinds of situations: the Constitution. In 1983, this country included in its Constitution a passage on the rights of military members. It states that, like all Canadians, they are entitled to a fair trial, represented here by a court martial.
In spite of the Constitution, the Lamer report, the Senate report and numerous recommendations by the NDP, the Conservatives have retained summary trials. But what is a summary trial? It is a judgment rendered by an immediate superior officer without a public trial, without any written record of the proceedings and without any right to counsel, and it automatically results in a criminal record.
Even minor offences result in a criminal record. When they leave the military, people convicted in this way may have trouble finding a job or a place to live.
Is that any way to thank those who defend us, by throwing them out into the street for a minor offence?
This is no exaggeration. In 2008 in 2009, 96% of military offences were prosecuted by summary trial. This is the armed forces, and a firm hand is called for. Our military members are used to strict discipline and expect to be treated strictly. That is why the NDP proposed that harsh penalties be applied, such as imposing fines and docking pay, but there is quite a difference between that and handing out criminal records for being 10 minutes late.
The military members who serve this country deserve all our consideration. They are career military people who know the responsibilities inherent in their choice of occupation. We no longer have conscription. It is time we recognized that fact. They are in the armed forces because they are concerned about defending all citizens and are prepared to make major personal sacrifices. The least we can do is treat them fairly.
Summary trials have been abandoned in Great Britain, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. Why should Canada insist on continuing this old tradition?
The NDP believes this bill is headed in the right direction by further harmonizing the military justice and the civilian justice systems. However, it does not address key issues involved in reforming the summary trial system and the grievance system or in reinforcing the Military Police Complaints Commission.
I have met veterans in my riding who are proud of the work they have done. Every year, we honour them on Remembrance Day. However, perhaps the best way to thank them would be to give those who follow in their footsteps a little more respect.
Ultimately, I believe that the Conservatives have missed an opportunity with Bill C-15. They are delaying Canada's entry into the 21st century.
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
December 11th, 2012 / 11:35 a.m.
Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak after my colleague, who gave an excellent speech, not only on the substance of the bill, but also on its form and the Conservatives' process of introducing omnibus bills, proroguing Parliament and not respecting the work of parliamentarians. We are being repeatedly gagged: over 30 gag orders in a year and a half.
This highlights how the majority Conservative government is undermining the health of our democracy and respect for the work of parliamentarians. This bill is yet another example of that. In a way, the government is not respecting the work of parliamentarians because we are being asked to redo something that was already done once before.
I really liked the analogy that it is as though the government took the previous version instead of the new version of the bill out of the photocopier. The government figured it was no big deal, that it would all be sorted out in committee, since it would ask parliamentarians to redo what their predecessors had already done. It is a waste of time. The Conservatives are used to wasting money. Now, they are wasting time.
Before outlining all our concerns with this bill, I would like to make something clear. When we discuss justice or correctional systems issues that affect people's lives, we must not underestimate the importance of these debates and discussions in our society.
Mr. Speaker, you are more aware of the repercussions of the justice system, whether civilian or military, than many people here. Today we are pleased to be discussing the military justice system that affects the men and women who serve in the Canadian Forces.
We New Democrats believe that some elements that are not in the current bill should be there in order to improve the bill and respond to the legitimate hopes and aspirations of the people in our armed forces. The men and women in our armed forces serve under extremely strict and severe rules of discipline. We understand why that is, of course. However, it is important that they have an equally strict justice system that is functional and well managed in order to ensure that justice is done, that they are not victims of inequity and that the consequences do not follow them into their lives after they leave the armed forces.
Most people join the armed forces when they are quite young. It is not often that someone my age signs up. Thus, they are in the prime of life when they finish their service. They will need to continue working, to find a job and housing, and perhaps they will want to travel or study abroad. But under the current system, there are consequences from offences that are minor, but serious within the Canadian Forces, which we acknowledge. And that can leave its mark—it has been discussed to some extent—such as a criminal record that will complicate their lives.
We are aware of that, and I think that many Quebeckers and Canadians would be shocked to learn that people who risk their lives, their safety and their health while serving their country could be penalized for the role they have played. If they committed a similar offence in civilian life, the consequences and the price to pay would be less significant. That needs to be said. We must discuss this so that Canadians and Quebeckers have confidence in the military justice system. At this time, major improvements are needed in order to respect the sacrifices being asked of the men and women who serve in our armed forces.
In our opinion, the key issues in reforming the system are the issue of summary trials, which we will come back to; the existing grievance system; and the need to strengthen the powers of the Military Police Complaints Commission. This is not our only request for strengthening the powers of certain commissioners or officers; I am spending my days arguing in favour of more powers for the Chief Electoral Officer, but that is another topic.
There is a lot of background to Bill C-15, which we are studying today. We have been considering this matter and trying to find ways to improve it for some time now. In 2003, Antonio Lamer, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, tabled a report on his independent review of the National Defence Act. The Lamer report contained 88 recommendations on military justice, the Military Police Complaints Commission, the grievance process and the roles and powers of the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal. Bill C-15 is the response to those recommendations. However, only 28 of them were included in the Conservatives' bill. What happened to the other 60? They suddenly disappeared with a wave of the magic wand by the Conservatives, who feel they are not necessary. However, we think the recommendations contain important ideas on necessary improvements to the military justice system.
Bill C-15 is the latest version of a bill that is part of a long legislative saga. Let us not forget bills C-7 and C-45, which died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued in 2007 and an election subsequently called in 2008. The prorogation that killed Bill C-7 was caused by the Conservative Prime Minister, who was afraid his government would be overturned by legitimately elected parliamentarians democratically representing the citizens of Canada. He therefore chose to shut down Parliament rather than step up to his responsibilities.
In July 2008, Bill C-60 came back with a vengeance, simplifying the structure of courts martial and establishing a method for choosing the kind of court martial most consistent with the civilian justice system. In 2010, Bill C-41 was introduced as a response to the 2003 Lamer report and the 2009 Senate committee report. It contained provisions respecting military justice issues, such as sentencing reform, military judges and committees, summary trials, court martial panels and the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal, and certain provisions respecting the Military Police Complaints Commission.
Bill C-15 is essentially similar to the version of Bill C-41 that the Senate committee introduced in the last Parliament, of which I was obviously not yet a member. The amendments made to it include some aspects that were already there, whereas others have been forgotten along the way. It is as though Tom Thumb left some pebbles along his path but lost a few.
Some ideas in the amendments introduced by the NDP are thus not included in Bill C-15, and yet they are important: provisions respecting the authority of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process, which is a direct response to a Lamer report recommendation; changes in the composition of grievance committees so that they include more civilians—we have to open the door and welcome people who have a different perspective, outlook or viewpoint than those of people who have come directly from the Canadian Forces because we believe that would help strike a balance—and provisions guaranteeing that a person convicted of an offence in a summary trial is not unfairly subject to a criminal record. Once again, we are being forced to do a job that has already been done.
The bill contains many important reforms. There is a silver lining because there are some good measures in the bill. In fact, improvements have been made. However, we believe that we must do much more to ensure that members of the Canadian Forces have a good justice system. For these reasons, the NDP will be voting against Bill C-15 at second reading stage.
Important work remains to be done, including reforming the summary trial system. Amendments made to Bill C-15 do not do enough to correct the injustice of summary trials. At present, a conviction results in a criminal record. Summary trials are held without the accused being able to consult counsel. There are no appeals or transcripts of the trial, and the judge is the accused person's commanding officer. We believe that this ignores the principles of natural justice that are features of legal systems around the world. The fact that the commanding officer is the judge can sometimes cause problems with the impartiality of his judgment and ruling.
Minor offences, such as insubordination, quarrels, misconduct, and absence without leave, do not warrant the harsh consequences of a criminal record. We believe that, to be fair to our soldiers, we have to improve the bill. We hope to work with all members to ensure that justice can finally be done for the people working in the Canadian Forces.
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
December 6th, 2012 / 4:30 p.m.
Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to take part in the debate on Bill C-15, Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act.
This bill is closely related to a report produced in 2003 by the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Right Honourable Antonio Lamer. It may seem striking for us to be debating a bill relating to a report released in 2003, but the reason will be understood when I have put everything in context.
First, Bill C-15 has appeared in several forms, as my colleagues have noted as well, including Bill C-7 and Bill C-45, but they both died on the order paper. Far be it from me to accuse any party of not being concerned about this issue. Several attempts have taken shape and a lot of work has been done by all parties to change the military justice system as we know it at present. Was the work done seriously, in good faith and collaboratively at all times? I cannot say.
I do not want to accuse anyone, I do not want to say that this issue has never been important, and I do not want to seem as if I am asking why we are beginning the debate on Bill C-15 today. That is not actually the case, since several attempts have been made in the past.
Second, in the last Parliament, Bill C-41 was introduced in response to Justice Lamer’s report, as I said earlier. That bill unfortunately died on the order paper also. It contained provisions relating to the military justice system, such as sentencing reform, military judges and committees, summary trials, the court martial panel, the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal, and certain provisions relating to the Military Police Complaints Commission. All of those subjects were addressed in Bill C-41.
In essence, Bill C-15 is similar to the version of Bill C-41 that was introduced in the last Parliament. I would point out that a number of amendments were proposed during debate on Bill C-41. Those amendments were the product of serious consideration, testimony and the work done by members and experts. Unfortunately, those amendments were not taken into consideration in Bill C-15. Why?
The reasons are still not clear to me. Why were these amendments not included in Bill C-15? Including them would have demonstrated that the government had genuinely considered them and that it was ready to work as part of a team to create a bill that met everyone's expectations and requirements. Unfortunately, that is not what happened.
That makes the opposition seriously doubt the government's willingness to accept any new amendments to Bill C-15. Amendments were clearly put forward by all parties during the last Parliament. If they were not taken into consideration while Bill C-15 was being drafted, it is not because the government members were unaware of what the opposition wanted to include. This raises serious doubt about the government's goodwill and its readiness to consider the amendments that could be proposed at second reading, when the bill is sent to committee.
Having said that, I would like to continue by listing the elements that worry us the most in Bill C-15. They are the authority of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process, changes to the composition of the grievance committee, and a provision to ensure that a person who is convicted of an offence during a summary trial is not unfairly subjected to a criminal record. Those are the three points that worry the opposition.
I will explain the NDP's suggestions for dealing seriously with these three elements, which unfortunately have not been addressed seriously enough or thoroughly enough in Bill C-15.
Yes, the NDP agrees that the military justice process needs serious examination. Does that mean that the NDP will support Bill C-15? What an excellent question. But no, that is not what it means.
I would like to make some additional remarks about parliamentary procedure and operations. We often hear Conservative members and ministers say that the NDP has voted against families. We often hear the Conservatives say that the NDP has voted against investment, against trade agreements or against justice, but that is completely ridiculous. Everyone realizes that. Why do we hear them say things like that? There are several reasons. And we shall see that there is a close connection to Bill C-15.
It is not true that this is just about whether the NDP is for or against exports or trade agreements with certain countries. That is not the issue. The issue is much more complex. We can vote against a bill on a specific subject without being opposed to that subject. We may simply be opposed to the approach because we think it is not the best way to address a problem or to resolve a situation. These are reasons why a party may vote against a bill without necessarily voting against the subject matter addressed in that bill. I will not discuss this point any further because it is obvious; anyone can understand it. The ministers and members who advance these arguments have to know that. They are consciously grandstanding to deceive the public. I believe it is very important to take this opportunity to set the record straight.
So is the NDP opposed to military justice? No, Mr. Speaker. The NDP simply believes that Bill C-15 does not address the issue correctly and that, if it is going to be done, we could do it much better. That is why the NDP will not support Bill C-15 at second reading.
Exactly what is the NDP's proposal for a better solution?
First, we must take a different approach to reforming the summary trial system. Why? Because we believe Bill C-15 does not adequately address the injustice of summary trials. For example, in some instances, summary trials may result in a criminal record. Summary trials are held without the accused having the opportunity to consult counsel. In summary trials, the judge may also be the accused's commanding officer, and that can cause problems. This has to be addressed, but Bill C-15 does not do it. It is too severe in the case of minor offences such as insubordination, quarrels, drunkenness and disobeying an order. That is the first aspect.
The second aspect is reforming the grievance system. The Canadian Forces Grievance Board must be perceived as an independent external civilian body. However, people who have retired from the forces may currently sit on the board. The NDP's amendment suggests that at least 60% of grievance board members must never have been a Canadian Forces officer or member. Is the Conservative Party opposed to this amendment? We do not know. However, we do know that it has not included it in Bill C-15, but we do not know why, and that is troubling.
Lastly, there is the strengthening of the Military Police Complaints Commission. Yes, Bill C-15 addresses this matter, but only with respect to the time required to resolve complaints. In the NDP's view, we should do more to strengthen the commission, but this is not addressed.
I could go on and on, but unfortunately I do not have a lot of time. However, I want to say that the NDP has long supported a necessary updating of the military justice system. That is clear. But Bill C-15 is not the way to do it. As I explained earlier, the opposition has serious reasons to doubt that the government intends to work with the opposition to rectify that. This has not been done previously, and we do not believe the committee work on this bill will be done seriously.
Why not? Because the government insists on meeting in camera, limiting debate and controlling witnesses in committee. I could continue, because the list is long. We have reason to doubt the government's desire to work as a team with the opposition.
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
December 6th, 2012 / 3:50 p.m.
Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am obviously very honoured to be here in this House to discuss Bill C-15, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, which we are examining today.
On this side of the House, we believe that this bill is a step in the right direction, but it is unfortunately a small step. We believe that military justice must be a part of Canada's justice system as a whole. Military justice laws must be consistent with other laws in our justice system, particularly when it comes to the principles of fundamental rights. Military justice must be fair and equitable so that it does not negatively affect discipline and so that it helps maintain morale among our troops. Our soldiers volunteer to participate in our armed forces. They must always be entitled to fair treatment.
During the study on a bill that dealt with the same issue, we tried to ensure that the military justice system procedures were effective and consistent with the need for disciplinary issues to be resolved quickly. However, efficiency and speed should not trump the fundamental principles of justice. Just because they are members of the military does not mean that the fundamental principles of justice do not apply to them.
The origins of this bill date back to 2003. I would like to provide some background so hon. members understand its origin and scope. In 2003, the Right Hon. Justice Antonio Lamer, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, submitted a report on the independent review of the National Defence Act. This report contained 88 recommendations on various military justice issues.
The government introduced Bill C-15, in response to this report and its recommendations. I must point out that, of the 88 recommendations in the report, only 28 were included in this bill. The provisions in Bill C-15 appeared in other bills that were previously introduced in Parliament. There was Bill C-7 and Bill C-45, which both died on the order paper.
In July 2008, the government introduced Bill C-60 to simplify the court martial structure and establish a system for choosing the court martial format that would harmonize best with civilian justice. In 2009, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs examined Bill C-60 and made nine recommendations for amendments to the National Defence Act. In 2010, Bill C-41 was introduced to respond to the 2003 Lamer report and to the Senate committee's 2009 report.
When the committee studied the bill, it approved some of these amendments, which would have resolved some of the problems raised by the bill. Oddly enough, they are not included in Bill C-15, which has been introduced and is before us.
Some of these amendments had been proposed by the Judge Advocate General as compromises to correct the system in an acceptable manner. They removed certain offences from the list of those that would not result in a criminal record. However, the government simply deleted these amendments when drafting Bill C-15.
That is the extent of the Conservatives' respect for the work of Parliament. Unfortunately, they believe that they can do as they wish without regard for the previous work of Parliament because they have a majority. Basically, Bill C-15 is similar to the version of Bill C-41 introduced by the Senate committee in the last Parliament. However, that bill contained the provisions of bills C-7 and C-45, which died on the order paper, as I mentioned.
The provisions in the bill were not included in Bill C-60. The bill also implemented the recommendations made by Justice Lamer in 2003 and those made by the Senate committee in 2009. At committee stage of Bill C-41, my colleagues on the Standing Committee on National Defence proposed amendments to Bill C-41 to lengthen the list of offences that could be considered minor. My colleagues believed that these minor offences did not warrant a criminal record. The proposed amendments also would have lengthened the list of penalties that could be set by a tribunal without resulting in a criminal record.
However, many of the amendments proposed for Bill C-41 were, unfortunately, not included in Bill C-15. Although it contains some worthwhile provisions, Bill C-15 also has some shortcomings. If the bill makes it through second reading, we hope to be able to discuss those shortcomings and ensure that the bill will make the military justice system as fair and effective as possible.
I would like to focus on the provisions concerning summary trials, since some of them, as they are written, could have serious consequences for soldiers, particularly during their transition to civilian life.
A summary trial is one where the chain of command is allowed to judge subordinate soldiers. It is important to point out that these trials are held without lawyers, without a jury, without a system of evidence and without witnesses, unlike in the civilian justice system. Over 95% of military trials are summary trials. A conviction in a summary trial sometimes results in a criminal record. There is no recourse and no transcript of the proceedings. This is too severe for members of the Canadian Forces who are convicted of minor offences.
These minor offences include insubordination, quarrels, misconduct, absence without leave, drunkenness and disobedience of a lawful command. These offences are undoubtedly very important for military discipline, but do not necessarily call for a criminal record.
In committee last March, the NDP proposed amendments to Bill C-41 to increase from five to 27 the number of offences that could be considered minor and would not merit a criminal record if a minor sentence were imposed. The amendment also added to the list of penalties a tribunal may impose without giving the offender a criminal record, for example, a severe reprimand, a reprimand, a fine equal to one month's salary and any other minor sentences. These amendments were very important to us, and that is why we want them to be included in Bill C-15.
A criminal record can make soldiers' lives very difficult after they leave the military. A criminal record can make it hard for veterans to get a job, rent an apartment, travel or get insurance. Many Canadians would be shocked to learn that the soldiers who so bravely served our country could end up with a criminal record because of flaws in the military justice system.
I have seen first-hand the problems experienced by some veterans during their transition to civilian life and I know it has been extremely difficult for some. As I said, I am a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. Veterans shared their concerns with us loudly and clearly and talked about the obstacles they face in their transition to the civilian world. It is hard for veterans, especially for injured veterans, to find work in the civilian world. Considering the number of veterans working in the public service, it is clear that priority hiring for veterans is not always respected.
The private sector, and especially the construction industry, is trying to do its part, but this private sector initiative is not available to all veterans, since it is not available in all provinces. Veterans therefore have to obtain educational equivalencies for the training they received during their service. If they are saddled with a criminal record on top of that and have to go through the commission to get a pardon, which costs $600, we are doing nothing to help them reintegrate properly into civilian life.
As I said earlier, we would like the bill to include these provisions.
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
December 6th, 2012 / 1:15 p.m.
Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my colleagues for having so brilliantly stated their stance on Bill C-15, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to another act. This bill has appeared in several forms.
First of all, bills C-7 and C-45 died on the order paper because of the 2007 prorogation of Parliament and the 2008 election. In July 2008, Bill C-60 charged back, simplifying the court martial structure and establishing a method for determining which type of court martial would be most consistent with the civilian justice system. In 2009, the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs studied Bill C-60 and made nine recommendations to amend the National Defence Act.
Before moving on, it is very interesting to note that there is nothing new about how the Conservatives go about their business when they want to push through more complex bills. Bill C-60, which was the version studied in the Senate report, was introduced in Parliament by the Hon. Minister of National Defence on June 6, 2008, towards the end of the second session of the 39th Parliament, and passed on June 18, 2008.
Bill C-60 was intended among other things to make the National Defence Act consistent with the decision of the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada in R. v. Trépanier. In this decision, the court acknowledged that some provisions of the National Defence Act and the Queen’s Regulations and Orders contravened section 7 and paragraph 11(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
These provisions were declared unconstitutional. They enabled the director military prosecutions to decide, when charges were being laid, on the kind of court martial that would try the accused, and for the court martial administrator to convene the court martial in accordance with the decision of the director of military prosecutions. This court decision became effective immediately, and led to some uncertainty about the possibility of being able to continue to convene courts martial under the National Defence Act unless Bill C-60 could be passed quickly.
However, this view was dismissed at hearings of the Senate committee on the evidence of Michel Drapeau, a retired colonel, who maintained that this view was inaccurate. He said that the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada, in R. v. Trépanier, had come up with a straightforward and useful approach to getting rid of the clause that was violating the accused’s rights.
Nevertheless, there is also a practical interim solution that could easily be implemented. For charges laid under section 130, the accused could be given the option to choose his or her trier of facts. There is no legal obstacle to this approach because section 165.14, which gives this right to the prosecution, does not apply to these offences.
We would like to clarify that there is no danger of creating a legal void during the interim period that would result in failure to apply the law for want of prosecution. Offences under section 130 of the National Defence Act can also be prosecuted in civilian courts even if they were committed outside of Canada. That is covered in section 273 of the National Defence Act.
Why did the government rush passage of this bill? Even members of the Senate committee could not help but point this out:
Given the speed with which Bill C-60 was studied in both the House of Commons and the Senate, concern was expressed that it was difficult to thoroughly assess the potential impact of this legislation. Consequently, the bill was amended by the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence to add a review clause.
Under false pretences, the government succeeded in pressuring opposition parliamentarians to pass this bill even though, according to the court ruling, it had many years to amend the act but did nothing. In his ruling in Trépanier, Justice Létourneau said:
The unanimous concern of this Court in Nystrom about the fairness of section 165.14 was expressed more than two years ago, i.e. on December 20, 2005. Since then, there have been five new constitutional challenges to that provision and appeals before this Court are pending. Retired Chief Justice Lamer made a recommendation as early as September 3, 2003 that section 165.14 be amended to give the accused the option to choose his or her trier of facts. As previously mentioned, he also made a recommendation that a working group reviewed the reorganization of the courts martial with a view to improving the fairness of the trial, at the center of which, as an important element of that reorganization, is the right for an accused to choose the trier of facts. Yet, Bill C-45 has been tabled before Parliament and it contains no remedial provision. The authorities have been given more than four and a half (4½) years to address the problem.
This bill contains many important reforms. The NDP has supported the much-needed overhaul of the military justice system for a long time. Members of the Canadian Forces are subject to extremely high standards of discipline and deserve a judicial system with comparable standards.
However, the NDP will oppose Bill C-15 at second reading stage. This bill has a number of flaws that we hope will be discussed in committee, if passed at second reading. The NDP does not oppose the substance of the bill. However, in its current form, the bill does not take into account all the recommendations of the Lamer report. Moreover, the Conservatives have ignored the amendments the NDP proposed to a virtually identical bill that was introduced in the previous Parliament. Those amendments were originally adopted because we had a minority government at the time. However, the amendments have again been removed from the bill.
In the previous Parliament, the Conservatives admitted that the recommendations had merit. This is no longer the case, now that they have a majority, and it makes us wonder if they are merely engaging in the lowest form of petty politics rather than putting the interests of our soldiers in civil society first.
The bottom line is that the NDP opposes the bill in its current form at this stage of the legislative process. We hope that these amendments will be made in committee.
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
December 6th, 2012 / 12:45 p.m.
Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON
Mr. Speaker, I have the privilege today to rise to speak to Bill C-15, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
I, along with my NDP colleagues, hold the utmost respect for the women and men serving our country under the Canadian flag in the Canadian uniform. It is this respect that drives the NDP to fight to bring more fairness to the Canadian military justice system for the men and women who serve in uniform and put their lives on the line for the service of our country. The NDP believes Bill C-15 is a step in the right direction to bring the military justice system more in line with the civilian justice system.
The Liberals were in power in 2003 when the Lamer report came out. They responded positively to the report, but then simply sat on it and failed to act upon the recommendations in Justice Lamer's report at that time.
Even though it is a step in the right direction, Bill C-15 falls short on key issues when it comes to reforming the summary trial and grievance systems and strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission. For this reason, I stand today to raise my opposition to the bill and highlight some important shortcomings, which, should the bill pass second reading, I hope will be addressed in committee.
I will give a bit of background on the bill. The bill comes as a response to the report of former chief justice Antonio Lamer of the Supreme Court presented on the independent review of the National Defence Act in 2003. The report included 88 recommendations pertaining to military justice, the Military Police Complaints Commission, the grievance process and the provost marshal. Thus far, however, only 28 of those recommendations have been implemented.
We have seen Bill C-15 before in various forms, first Bills C-7 and C-45, which died on the order paper due to prorogation in 2007 and the election in 2008. Then, in 2010, Bill C-41 was introduced to respond to the 2003 Lamer report and a report by the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. It outlined provisions related to military justice, such as sentencing reform, military judges and committees, summary trials, court martial panels, the provost marshal unlimited provisions related to the grievance and military police complaints process.
Bill C-15 is quite similar to the version of Bill C-41 that came out of committee in the previous Parliament. However, sadly, regrettably, disappointingly, whatever adverb we want to use, what is important is that the amendments that were passed at committee stage at the end of the last Parliament are not included in the current version, Bill C-15. Important and necessary amendments that would alleviate some women and men of our armed forces of undue hardship in their lives after the military are excluded in this version.
These include the following NDP amendments concerning: the authority of the Chief of the Defence Staff in the grievance process, amended clause 6 in Bill C-41, responding directly to Justice Lamer's recommendation; changes to the composition of the grievance committee to include a 60% civilian membership, amended clause 11 in Bill C-41; and a provision ensuring that a person who is convicted of an offence during a summary trial is not unfairly subjected to a criminal record, amended clause 75 in Bill C-41. The NDP's position is that it supports the long overdue update to the military justice system.
While there are important reforms in this bill, it, however, does not go far enough and falls short on key issues. Members of the Canadian Forces are held to an extremely high standard of discipline and they, in return, deserve a judicial system that is held to a comparable standard. Should Bill C-15 pass second reading, I would hope to see the shortfalls fixed.
First, the amendments in Bill C-15 do not adequately address the unfairness of summary trials. I, for one, think that a lot of Canadians would be shocked to learn that the people who have bravely served our country can actually get a criminal record from a system that lacks the due process we see in civilian criminal courts. Currently, conviction of a service offence from a summary trial in the Canadian Forces may result in a criminal record. While matters including subordination, disturbances and absences without leave may be extremely important to military discipline, they are certainly not worthy of a criminal offence.
Moreover, summary trials are held without the ability of the accused to consult counsel. There are no appeals or transcripts of the trial and the judge is actually the accused person's commanding officer. This causes an undue hardship on certain members of the Canadian Forces who are convicted for very minor service offences.
Bill C-15 does make an exemption for a select number of offences, if they carry a minor punishment, so they no longer result in a criminal record. While once again, a positive step, in our opinion it does not go far enough.
At committee stage last March, the NDP amendments to Bill C-41 were carried to address this issue by expanding the list of offences from 5 to 27 that could be considered minor and not worthy of a criminal record if the offence in question received a minor punishment. The amendment also extended the list of punishments that might be imposed by a tribunal without an offender incurring a criminal record. This was a major step forward for summary trials. However, this amendment was not retained by the Conservative government in Bill C-15. We believe it needs to be included.
A criminal record can make life after the military very difficult. Criminal records can make getting a job, renting an apartment and travelling very difficult. Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland have all seen fit to change the summary trial process. Why is Canada lagging behind?
It is curious why the minister is not accepting the fact that the summary trial system is tainted with undue harshness, sentences that result in criminal records for minor offences, and ignoring the need for greater reform.
Another shortcoming in the bill is that the grievance committee would not provide a means of external review as it is staffed entirely by retired CF officers. If the CF Grievance Board is to be perceived as an external and independent oversight civilian body, as it was designed to be, then some members of the board should actually be drawn from civil society.
The NDP amendment provided that at least 60% of the grievance committee members must never have been an officer or a non-commissioned member of the Canadian Forces. This amendment was passed in March 2011 in Bill C-41, but it also was not been retained in this version of Bill C-15. We believe it is important to see this amendment re-included in the bill.
Another major flaw in Bill C-15 is the military grievance system. The Chief of the Defence Staff lacks the authority to resolve financial aspects arising from a grievance, contrary to a recommendation in the Lamer report. Despite the fact that the Minister of National Defence at the time agreed to this recommendation, there has been no concrete steps over the past eight years to implement this recommendation.
The NDP proposed an amendment to this effect at the committee stage on Bill C-41. Although it had passed in March 2011, this amendment, once again, was not retained by the government in Bill C-15. We will fight to have it included yet once again.
Bill C-15 would amend the National Defence Act to establish a timeline within which the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal would be required to resolve conduct complaints as well as protect complainants from being penalized for submitting a complaint in good faith. Although a step forward, the NDP believes more needs to be done to empower the commission.
The Military Police Complaints Commission needs the legislation to strengthen its ability to act as an oversight body. It must be empowered by a legislative provision that would allow it to rightfully investigate and report to Parliament. These amendments would bring more fairness to the Canadian military justice system.
Justice and fairness for the women and men in our uniform is essential. However, Bill C-15 just does not cut it. Our Canadian military justice system needs more fairness and the NDP will continue to stand and fight for it.
I would like to reaffirm my commitment and the New Democratic Party's commitment to work for justice and fairness.
Today, December 6, marks the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Today, we reflect on the loss of 14 young women who were killed on this day just because they were women. Sadly, the violence against women still continues. The end of violence against women is everybody's responsibility. Today, we remember and reflect and then speak out and pledge to turn this remembrance into action to end violence committed against women and girls in our communities, our country and around the world.
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
December 6th, 2012 / 12:30 p.m.
Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON
Mr. Speaker, I truly appreciate this opportunity to speak to Bill C-15.
In October 2011, the Minister of National Defence introduced the bill, which amends the National Defence Act in order to strengthen military justice. This, of course, follows the 2003 report from former chief justice the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer and the report of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
As members will know, Bill C-15 had earlier incarnations. We have spoken briefly of Bill C-7, which died on the order paper due to prorogation. Members will remember the prorogation, when the government saw fit to escape the House because there were certain allegations in regard to the appropriate behaviour of the government. Again, we saw Bill C-45, another earlier incarnation, disappear during the election of 2008.
In 2010, Bill C-41 was introduced, again in response to Justice Lamer's report. It outlined provisions related to military justice, such as sentencing reform, military judges and committees, summary trials, court martial panels, the provost marshal, and limited provisions related to the grievance and military police complaints process, which of course brings us to Bill C-15.
I believe it is important for me to speak to the bill, because justice is more than just a system of laws and regulations. It is also a fundamental value for me, for my NDP colleagues and certainly for the military and Canadians across this land.
The bill is a step in the right direction. We have heard that a number of times, but it does not address the key issues related to reforming the summary trial system, the grievance system and for strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission. These are key objectives that cannot be ignored.
While the bill's primary objective is laudable, it does not satisfy our objectives. Much needs to be done to bring the military justice system more in line with the civilian justice system. We on this side of the House want a comprehensive bill that adequately addresses the problem. No justice system is perfect. We have seen that over the years. However, that should not stop us from trying to improve our system as much as possible. Key elements have been left out of Bill C-15: reforming the summary trial system, reforming the grievance system and strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission.
In fact, the NDP included these three elements in amendments to the previous version of Bill C-15, which of course was Bill C-41. Oddly, and I do say oddly, these amendments are now absent. It is a strange coincidence.
As I said, the NDP is not opposed to the spirit of the bill. What we want is to work with the government to get it right, in order to ensure that the bill is relevant and that its scope is broad enough. I am at a loss to understand why the government did not include the three elements I referred to in Bill C-15. They are important for consistent military justice reform.
Let us look specifically at the grievance system. We will start with that one. We must understand it in order to appreciate the importance of the improvements proposed by the NDP. I would like to quote the directive on military grievances, which can be found on the Department of National Defence's website. It indicates that:
The DND and the [Canadian Forces] shall manage all grievances through the Canadian Forces Grievance System...and ensure that: all grievances are processed as efficiently and expeditiously as possible; a CF member is not penalized for submitting a grievance; and assistance is made available to a CF member in the preparation of a grievance.
The last point is very important. The Canadian Forces has the responsibility to help its members because they do not have a union-type association to defend them. This lack of counterbalance is another reason why it is important to ensure that we have an effective and impartial system.
The NDP proposed two improvements. First, we proposed that at least 60% of grievance board members be civilians who have never been officers or members of the Canadian Forces; and second, that the Chief of Defence Staff be given more authority to resolve the financial aspect of grievances.
The first improvement, namely that the grievance board strike a balance between military and civilian membership, is important to ensure that this process be perceived as external and independent. When it comes to the military, it is critical that everyone in the country is able to see that the system as independent and fair. Members of the military have a great deal of experience in managing such situations, so it is rather important that they be truly involved in the process. However, the presence of civilians is also essential to dispel any idea that members of the military are subject to a different kind of justice than ordinary Canadians.
It is also essential that Canadian Forces Grievance Board be effective and absolutely beyond reproach. The NDP believes that a significant civilian presence on the board would help maintain this perception. When we look at how to strengthen the Military Police Complaints Commission, the merit of this idea and our position is quite obvious. Police officers, as an example, are agents of social control and play a key role in our society based on the rule of law. They are effective not only because they have the equipment, the manpower and the authority, but also because they are perceived as legitimate by the public.
The military police is no exception. For a police force to operate properly, whether it be military or civilian, it must have the approval of those under its authority. A police force gains legitimacy through its perceived integrity. This perception is built on the actions of the police force and the perception of fairness and justice in its operations.
There is no better way to prove the integrity of a police force than by having a strong monitoring body. A Military Police Complaints Commission that is legitimate and reports to Parliament is the best way to ensure fairness in the actions of military police and, just as importantly, the perception of fairness and justice by Canadians.
We on this side of the House also recommended that the Chief of Defence Staff have more authority to resolve financial aspects related to grievances. This is a simple requirement to ensure that the grievance system is consistent. If the Chief of Defence Staff does not have the ability to resolve financial aspects, it calls into question the relevance of the grievance process.
I would point out that Canada is not the only country reviewing its military justice system. Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Ireland have recently done the same. We are in an excellent position to pass comprehensive and effective legislation while taking into account what has been done in other countries. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the bill as it stands. As I have already said, the NDP proposed amendments to the bill in its previous form, but those amendments are no longer part of the current bill. We would like to see these important and constructive changes incorporated.
We think that our Canadian Forces personnel deserve that. They put themselves on the line each and every day. They have been a source of great pride to this country in their behaviour and conduct in arenas around the world. We owe them a sense of security regarding the justice that is meted out within the military.
I would sincerely ask the government to reconsider the recommendations the NDP has made because we want to strengthen the bill. We want it to be fair and balanced. We want it to work.