Bill C-60 (Historical)
An Act to amend the National Defence Act (court martial) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.
Peter MacKay Conservative
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
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—
Motions in Amendment
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
March 21st, 2013 / 11:05 a.m.
Chris Alexander Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence
Mr. Speaker, obviously we have never taken the position that there were not improvements required to ensure the constitutionality of this legislation.
That is why, in addition to the four failed attempts we have had to amend this legislation, there have also been Bill C-60 and Bill C-16. That means six pieces of legislation for this House, over four parliaments, without a full, thorough-going modernization, update, taking place yet.
Could I ask the hon. member to return to the issue at hand today? Why is it that he is speaking, after all our consideration in committee of this issue, in favour of a reprised amendment, essentially, that goes against the testimony of the Provost Marshal of the Canadian Forces on March 2, when he said that the safeguards in place are robust, and goes against the testimony of the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, who says that this provision is required to potentially save lives on the battlefield, using the example of a live fire exercise?
February 27th, 2013 / 4:50 p.m.
Jack Harris St. John's East, NL
I might remind my colleague that, led by Mr. Harris, the legislation with respect to military judges went through all three stages of legislation in the House of Commons, with respect to Bill C-16, in a matter of three weeks. It was introduced on maybe October 10 or 11 and was passed into law before the end of that month, because it was regarded as a necessity, given the circumstances that presented themselves.
I don't think we need to play politics with this. We can have legitimate arguments here. A similar thing happened with the passage of Bill C-60 in about a month. That was before I was here, in 2006 or 2007.
We are here as politicians for the good of the country. We may have differences about what we're doing now, but in a time of emergency or special circumstance, as we saw with the concerns about the legitimacy of the military justice system because of the rulings under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, actions are taken. My view is that is exactly what would happen in the circumstance we're talking about, if this country were at war.
February 27th, 2013 / 4:40 p.m.
Col Michael R. Gibson
It's an interesting question, Mr. Chair, because this was canvassed in a Court Martial Appeal Court case called Grant, and it was also canvassed before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in their review of Bill C-60. What they essentially said was that they could envisage circumstances in which the accused may consider it to be in his or her interest to have the matter dealt with by summary trial, notwithstanding the expiry of the limitation period, and in essence they would give that option to him or her.
In general terms, of course, summary trials are more expeditious than courts martial. They occur much more rapidly. They generally occur with less publicity. It would be up to the accused to make his or her assessment, with the appropriate advice, as to what they thought would be in their best interests.
February 11th, 2013 / 3:55 p.m.
Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON
Mr. Drapeau, you stated in a recent article that you're not opposed to summary trials and you said that again today, but you had concerns regarding their constitutionality.
...regarding the constitutionality of the summary trial process, I am satisfied, as was former Chief Justice Dickson, that “the summary trial process is likely to survive a court challenge as to its constitutional validity”.
Given that two former chief justices of Canada and the former chief justice of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice have assessed Canada's summary trial process as constitutional and compliant with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, can you explain why the committee should not follow the opinion of these respected Canadian jurists?
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.