Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
Peter MacKay Conservative
Subscribe to a feed of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-15.
June 12th, 2013 / 8:10 p.m.
Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice
I believe it's as a result of motion NDP-14 with respect to the address of the accused being provided to the victim. That motion amended the National Defence Act provision that provides for that amendment.
There is also in clause 32 a coordinating amendment with Bill C-15, which also amends the National Defence Act. It is currently in third reading in the Senate, if I'm not mistaken. An amendment to that—
Incorporation by Reference in Regulations Act
May 23rd, 2013 / 7:20 p.m.
Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC
Mr. Speaker, something I have admitted publicly before, that I got quite wrong in terms of my thinking when the current government moved from a minority to a majority position, was how the tone and tenor of the debate would be and how legislation would be dealt with. I assumed that with a majority and the confidence of being able to pass legislation, that confidence would then lead to a certain amount of willingness to discuss amendments and work on legislation because at no point in a majority government, unless there is a serious crisis, can the government fall.
Minority governments are naturally quite skittish, and that is understood, and there is a lot of parlaying that has to happen between the parties. I have been wrong and disappointed so many times at committee. It is not that we put forward an amendment and the majority members of the government on the committee say it is wrong because of x, they just vote against it. Then they vote against the next one and the next one and the next one, until we have gone through all of the amendments and they are all gone. That is not necessarily the best way to do things and I sometimes search for the reason for that. Why bother? Who cares, if an amendment gets through, who the source was?
In fact, one might argue, strategically, it would better bond and tie the opposition to the legislation being moved through if we made amendments to it. I have seen legislation, as have you, Mr. Speaker, that has moved through the House and when the opposition starts to feel a certain need to vote against it, the government says the opposition got 10 amendments and they changed this, that and the other. Bill C-15, the military justice act, is a good example. There was a long battle and a certain amount of arrogance that was going on until a fundamental amendment was accepted and, lo and behold, look at what happened. We got a better bill, not according to us but the people it is going to affect: the military. That is good, that is better, that is what Parliament is meant to do. There has been too much of this bellicose attitude.
Hope springs eternal, as my friend, the government House leader, said earlier, and the hope is that we find that common ground a little more often, rather than the constant dismissal and arrogance of saying that the answers to the questions we face can only come from one side.
Extension of Sitting Hours
May 21st, 2013 / 12:05 p.m.
Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC
Mr. Speaker, I apologize for interrupting my colleague just at the beginning of his speech on the justification for the motion that he has just presented to the House, but we have a point of order that we need to raise because I think it establishes a couple of important things for you, as Speaker, to determine before we get into the context and the particulars of this motion.
Specifically, I will be citing Standing Order 13, which says:
Whenever the Speaker is of the opinion that a motion offered to the House is contrary to the rules and privileges of Parliament, the Speaker shall apprise the House thereof immediately, before putting the question thereon, and quote the Standing Order or authority applicable to the case.
This is the standing order that we cite, because we have looked at the motion the government has presented here today with some notice given last week.
This motion goes against the Standing Orders and certainly the spirit of Parliament. The government is not allowed to break the rules of Parliament that protect the rights of the minority, the opposition and all members of the House of Commons who have to do their jobs for the people they represent. This motion is very clearly contrary to the existing Standing Orders.
I have some good examples to illustrate this. In my opinion, there is no urgency that would justify the government's heavy-handed tactics to prevent members from holding a reasonable debate on its agenda. I say “agenda”, but for a long time now it has been difficult to pin down what this government's agenda is exactly. This is nothing new.
The motion comes to us today at a difficult time, but just because the government held a brief caucus meeting and is facing numerous problems and a few scandals, it is not justified in violating the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. No one would accept those excuses. There is no historical basis for the government to use the Standing Orders in this way. That does not work.
There are a few important things we need to point out. One is that it behooves us to have some explanation of what this motion actually does. For those of us who do not intimately follow the rules and history of Parliament, it can be quite confusing not in terms of the intention of what the government has read but certainly in the implications. It needs some translation, not French to English or English to French, but translation as to what it actually means for the House of Commons. That is why we believe a point of order exists for this motion.
The motion essentially would immediately begin something that would ordinarily begin in a couple of weeks, which is for the House to sit until midnight to review legislation. This is somewhat ironic from a government that has a bad history with respect to moving legislation correctly through the process and allowing us to do our work, which is what we are here to do on behalf of Canadians.
I am not alone in seeing that the government has shown the intention of having some urgency with respect to 23 bills, 14 of which have not even been introduced since the last election. Suddenly there is great urgency, when in fact it is the government that has set the agenda. The urgency is so great that it has to fundamentally change the rules of how we conduct ourselves in this place in response to an urgency that did not exist until this moment.
One has to question the need. Why the panic? Why now, and why over these pieces of legislation? Are they crucial to Canada's economic well-being? Is it to restore the social safety net that the government has brutalized over the last number of years? What is the panic and what is the urgency?
Context sets everything in politics, and the context that the government exists under right now is quite telling. Every time I have had to stand in this place raising points of order and countering the closure and time allocation motions that the government uses, I am often stating and citing that this is a new low standard for Parliament. I have thought at times that there was not much more it could do to this place to further erode the confidence of Canadians or further erode the opportunity for members of Parliament to speak, yet it has again invented something new, and here we are today debating that motion.
That is why we believe that Standing Order 13 needs to be called. It is because it is very clear that when a motion is moved that is contrary to the rules and privileges of Parliament—which is what I would underline, as it is the important part—the Speaker must involve himself or herself in the debate and ask that the debate no longer proceed.
The privileges of members of Parliament are not the privileges that are being talked about by our friends down the hall to falsely claim money that did not exist or privileges of limo rides and trips around the world. The privileges of Parliament that speak constitutionally to the need for Parliament are that members of Parliament have the opportunity to scrutinized and debate government bills.
Just before the riding week, we saw the government introduce another time allocation on a bill that had received exactly 60 minutes of debate. Somehow the Conservatives felt that had exhausted the conversation on a bill they had sat on for years, and suddenly the panic was on. We are seeing this pattern again and again with a government that is facing more scandal.
I was looking through the news today. Every morning I start my day with the news and we consider what we should ask the government in question period. There are some days when the focus can be difficult and one may not be sure what the most important issue of the day is. However, the challenge for us today as the official opposition is that, as there are so many scandals on so many fronts, how do we address them all within the short time we have during question period or in debate on bills.
I listened to my friend for Langley, who has been somewhat in the news of late on his attempt to speak on issues he felt were important to his constituents. We saw him move a new private member's bill today. He withdrew the former bill, and now he is moving one again. The New Democrats will support the bill going to committee for study because we think there are some options and availability for us to look at the legislation and do our job.
Whether it is muzzling of their own MPs and the Conservatives' attempt to muzzle all MPs in the House of Commons, or using private members' bills to avoid the scrutiny that is applied to government legislation, and one important piece of that scrutiny is the charter defence of the legislation and so, in a sense, the Conservatives are using the back door to get government legislation through and move their agenda in another way, or the omnibus legislation, which has received so much controversy in Canada as the government has increasingly abused the use of omnibus legislation, or the F-35 fiasco, or the recent Auditor General's report, or the former parliamentary budget officer who was under much abuse and the new Parliamentary Budget Officer who has asked for the same things he did, or infamously, prorogation, time and time again the pattern is the same. The government has complete disdain for the House.
Whether it be the scandals in the Senate, or the China FIPA accord, or the recent problems with the Prime Minister's former chief of staff, or the employment insurance scandals, or the $3 billion missing, or the 300,000 jobs that have not been replaced, the government keeps trying to avoid proper scrutiny out of embarrassment. However, the House of Commons exists for one thing and one thing alone, which is to hold the government to account.
The government will make some claims that the urgency right now is because there has not been enough progress on legislation. Therefore, the Conservatives have to hit the panic button and would have the House sit until midnight, which has consequences beyond just being a late night, and I will get into those consequences in a moment because they support our notion that it infringes upon the entitlements of members of Parliament to debate legislation properly.
The Conservatives' record shows, and this is not speculation or conspiracy, that when they ram legislation through, they more often than not get it wrong. That is not just expensive for the process of law making, but it is expensive for Canadians. These things often end up in court costing millions and millions of dollars and with victims of their own making. The scandal that exists in the Senate is absolutely one of their own making. The Prime Minister can point the finger where he likes, but he appointed those senators.
Specific to the point of order I am raising, this motion would lower the amount of scrutiny paid to legislation. It would allow the government extended sittings, which are coming in the second week of June anyway, as the Standing Orders currently exist, to allow the government to do that, but the Conservatives want to move the clock up and have more legislation rammed through the House.
Also, as you would know, Mr. Speaker, the order of our day includes concurrence reports from committee, which allow the House to debate something that happened in committee which can sometimes be very critical, and many are moved from all sides. However, they would not get started until midnight under the Conservatives' new rules. Therefore, we would study and give scrutiny on what happened at committee from midnight until two or three o'clock in the morning.
As well, emergency debates would not start until midnight. Just recently we had a debate, Mr. Speaker, that your office agreed to allow happen, which was quite important to those implicated. We were talking about peace and war and Canada's role in the world. It was a critical emergency debate that certainly went into the night. However, the idea is that we would take emergency debates that the Speaker's office and members of Parliament felt were important and start them at midnight and somehow they would be of the same quality as those started at seven o'clock in the evening.
The scrutiny of legislation has become much less important than the government moving its agenda through, which is an infringement on our privilege as members of Parliament. The Conservative's so-called urgency, their panic, is not a justification for overriding the privileges that members of Parliament hold dear.
As for progress, just recently we moved the nuclear terrorism bill through, Bill S-9.
We also had much debate but an improvement on Bill C-15, the military justice bill, to better serve our men and women in the Forces. The original drafting was bad. The Conservatives wanted to force it forward and we resisted. My friend from St. John's worked hard and got an amendment through that would help those in the military who found themselves in front of a tribunal.
We have the divorce in civil marriages act, which has been sitting and sitting. It would allow people in same-sex marriages to file for and seek divorce. All we have offered to the government is one vote and one speaker each. The government refuses to bring the bill forward and I suspect it is because it would require a vote. It is a shame when a government resists the idea that a vote would be a good thing for members of Parliament to declare their intentions on, certainly something as important as civil liberties and rights for gay men and women.
I mentioned earlier why, in the infringement of this privilege, it causes great harm and distress not just to Parliament but to the country.
I asked my team to pull up the list of bills that were so badly written that they had to be either withdrawn or completely rewritten at committee and even in the Senate which, God knows, is a terrible strategy for any legislation.
There was the infamous or famous Bill C-30, the Internet snooping bill, which the Minister of Public Safety said something to the effect that either people were with the government or they were with child pornographers, which may be an example of the worst framing in Canadian political history. There has probably been worse, but that was pretty bad. The Conservatives had to kill the bill.
We have also seen Bill C-10, Bill C-31, Bill C-38 and Bill C-42, all of these bills were so badly written that oftentimes the government had to amend them after having voted for them. After saying they were perfect and ramming them through, invoking closure and shutting down debate, the Conservatives got to committee and heard from people who actually understood the issue and realized the law they had written would be illegal and would not work or fix the problem that was identified, and so they had to rewrite it. That is the point of Parliament. That is the point of the work we do.
We have also seen bills that have been challenged at great expense before the courts. Former Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act, with huge sections of the government's main anti-crime agenda, was challenged and defeated in court.
Bill C-38, arbitrarily eliminating backlog for skilled workers, was challenged and defeated.
Bill C-7, Senate term limits, was after years just now deferred to the Supreme Court. It is called “kicking it down the road”.
The essential thrust of our intention is in identifying the rules that govern us, and specifically Standing Order 13. The government has time and again talked about accountability before the Canadian people and talked about doing things better than its predecessors in the Liberal Party, the government that became so arrogant and so unaccountable to Canadians that the Conservatives threw it out of office. History repeats itself if one does not learn true lessons from history.
As I mentioned, Standing Order 27(1) already exists, and it allows the government to do exactly what we are talking about, but not starting until the last 10 sitting days. The Conservatives have said that there is so much on their so-called agenda that they have to do this early, allowing for less scrutiny, allowing for emergency debates to start at midnight, allowing for concurrence debates that come from committees to start at midnight and go until two, three or four o'clock in the morning.
This is contrary to the work of parliamentarians. If the Conservatives are in such a rush, why do they not negotiate? Why do they not actually come to the table and do what parliamentarians have done throughout time, which is offer the to and fro of any proper negotiation between reasonable people?
We have moved legislation forward. My friend across the way was moving an important motion commemorating war heroes. We worked with that member and other members to ensure the bill, which came from the Senate, made it through speedy passage.
Parliament can work if the Conservatives let it work, but it cannot work if they keep abusing it. Canadians continue to lose faith and trust in the vigour of our work and the ability to hold government to account. We see it time and again, and I am sure, Mr. Speaker, you have as well, in talking to constituents who say that they are not sure what goes on here anymore, that it just seems like government will not answer questions, that everyday they ask sincere and thoughtful questions and the Conservatives do not answer. Bills get shut down with motions of closure.
Let us look at the current government's record.
Thirty-three times, the Conservatives have moved allocation on legislation, an all-time high for any government in Canadian history. Through war and peace, through good and bad, no government has shut down debate in Parliaments more than the current one.
Ninety-nine point three per cent of all amendments moved by the opposition have been rejected by the government. Let us take a look at that stat for a moment. That suggests that virtually 100% of the time, the government has been perfectly right on the legislation it moves. All the testimony from witnesses and experts, comments from average Canadians, when moving amendments to the legislation before us, 99.3% of the time the government rejects it out of hand. It ends up in court. It ends up not doing what it was meant to do.
Ten Conservative MPs have never spoken to legislation at all. I will note one in particular. The Minister of Finance, who has not bothered to speak to his own bills, including the omnibus legislation, Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, which caused so much controversy. He did not bother to stand and justify his actions. I find it deplorable and it is not just me, Canadians as well, increasingly so.
This is my final argument. We cannot allow this abuse to continue. This pattern has consequences, not just for what happens here today or tomorrow, but in the days, weeks, months and years to come and the Parliaments to come. If we keep allowing for and not standing up in opposition to bad ideas and draconian measures, we in a sense condone them.
We say that Parliament should become less irrelevant. We think that is wrong. We think what the government is doing is fundamentally wrong. It is not right and left; it is right and wrong. When the government is wrong in its treatment and abuse of Canada's Parliament, that affects all Canadians, whatever their political persuasion. We built this place out of bricks and mortar to do one thing: to allow the voice of Canadians to be represented, to speak on behalf of those who did not have a voice and to hold the government of the day to account. Lord knows the government needs that more than anything. It needs a little adult supervision from time to time to take some of those suggestions and put a little, as we say, water in its wine.
It has the majority. This is the irony of what the government is doing. In moving more time allocation than any government in history and shutting down debate more than any government in history and using what it is today, it speaks to weakness not strength. The Conservatives have the numbers to move legislation through if they saw fit, but they do not. They move legislation, they say it is an agenda and they hold up a raft of bills.
Business of the House
May 9th, 2013 / 3:05 p.m.
Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, this afternoon we will continue the debate on today’s opposition motion from the NDP. Pursuant to the rules of the House, time is allocated and there will be a vote after the two-day debate.
Tomorrow we will resume the third reading debate on Bill S-9, the Nuclear Terrorism Act. As I mentioned on Monday, I am optimistic that we will pass that important bill this week.
Should we have extra time on Friday, we will take up Bill C-48, the Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012, at report stage and third reading.
When we come back from constituency week, I am keen to see the House make a number of accomplishments for Canadians. Allow me to make it clear to the House what the government's priorities are.
Our government will continue to focus on jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. In doing that, we will be working on reforming the temporary foreign worker program to put the interests of Canadians first; implementing tax credits for Canadians who donate to charity and parents who adopt; extending tax credits for Canadians who take care of loved ones in their homes; supporting veterans and their families by improving the balance for determining veterans' benefits; moving closer to equality for Canadians living on reserves through better standards for drinking water, which my friend apparently objects to; giving women on reserves the rights and protections that other Canadian women have had for decades, something to which he also objects; and keeping our streets and communities safer by making real improvements to the witness protection program. We will of course do more.
Before we rise for the summer, we will tackle the bills currently listed on the order paper, as well as any new bills which might get introduced. After Victoria Day, we will give priority consideration to bills which have already been considered by House committees.
For instance, we will look at Bill C-48, which I just mentioned, Bill C-51, the Safer Witnesses Act, Bill C-52, the Fair Rail Freight Service Act, and Bill S-2, the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, which I understand could be reported back soon.
I look forward also to getting back from committee and passing Bill C-60, , the economic action plan 2013 act, no. 1; Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act; and Bill C-21, the political loans accountability act.
We have, of course, recently passed Bill C-15, the strengthening military justice in the defence of Canada act and Bill S-7, the combating terrorism act. Hopefully, tomorrow we will pass Bill S-9, the nuclear terrorism act.
Finally, we will also work toward second reading of several bills including: Bill C-12, the safeguarding Canadians' personal information act; Bill C-49, the Canadian museum of history act; Bill C-54, the not criminally responsible reform act; Bill C-56, the combating counterfeit products act; Bill C-57, the safeguarding Canada's seas and skies act; Bill C-61, the offshore health and safety act; Bill S-6, the first nations elections act; Bill S-10, the prohibiting cluster munitions act; Bill S-12, the incorporation by reference in regulations act; Bill S-13, the port state measures agreement implementation act; Bill S-14, the fighting foreign corruption act; Bill S-15, the expansion and conservation of Canada’s national parks act, which establishes Sable Island National Park; and Bill S-17, the tax conventions implementation act, 2013.
I believe and I think most Canadians who send us here expect us to do work and they want to see us vote on these things and get things done. These are constructive measures to help all Canadians and they certainly expect us to do our job and actually get to votes on these matters.
I hope we will be able to make up enough time to take up all of these important bills when we come back, so Canadians can benefit from many parliamentary accomplishments by the members of Parliament they have sent here this spring.
Before taking my seat, let me formally designate, pursuant to Standing Order 81(4)(a), Tuesday, May 21, as the day appointed for the consideration in a committee of the whole of all votes under Natural Resources in the main estimates for the final year ending March 31, 2014. This would be the second of two such evenings following on tonight's proceedings.
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
May 1st, 2013 / 5:30 p.m.
The House resumed from April 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-15, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the third time and passed.
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
April 30th, 2013 / 5:20 p.m.
Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am sure that if the Minister of National Defence had introduced Bill C-15 with the amendments from Bill C-41, we could have perhaps avoided a few hours of debate. However, I do think it is important for this bill to pass. That is why we have decided to support it. We will see what happens, but I think that we should be prepared to vote quickly so it can pass.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence understands there are still some flaws and I hope that he will continue to work on the issue of military justice along with the Minister of National Defence, so they can introduce other bills in order to enhance and improve the military justice system.
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
April 30th, 2013 / 4:55 p.m.
Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-15 at third reading. The bill seeks to strengthen military justice.
As some members know, I serve on the Standing Committee on National Defence. For obvious reasons, I have been following the debate surrounding this bill closely. As some members also know, I am a former member of the military. In my opinion, the military justice system is a really important part of the Canadian Armed Forces, but it can be difficult to understand. Discipline is crucial and requires a unique justice system. The goal is to strengthen the Canadian Armed Forces' operational capability.
I would like to mention that it is important for our men and women in uniform that we take this seriously and carefully study legislation that will apply to them. They make incredible personal and social sacrifices for our country. It is essential that we try to provide them with the best military justice system possible.
Clearly, justice systems are complex. We are not talking about new paint colours; we are talking about a justice system, which is extremely complex. Sometimes, there is no perfect solution, and sometimes it is too complicated to find the one solution that will fit and make everything work.
When the bill was debated at second reading, one of the first things my colleague from St. John's East, the official opposition's defence critic, said was that an amendment passed when Bill C-41 was being studied had not been included in this bill.
A minority government was in power when Bill C-41 was being studied. It had no choice but to work with the other parties. A consensus was reached about Bill C-41, which, at the time, had support from all the parties. Unfortunately, the Conservatives prorogued Parliament. Bill C-41 was not voted on at third reading.
In his speech, my colleague from St. John's East emphasized, as I did, that the proposed amendment to Bill C-41 would have lengthened the list of offences eligible for summary trial under the National Defence Act. It would have increased the number of offences that would not result in a criminal record. The Minister of National Defence promised that the parliamentary secretary would bring that amendment back to the Standing Committee on National Defence during the study of the bill, and that is what he did. The amendment was passed.
Because of that amendment, Bill C-15 was improved at the committee stage.
Since we are talking about amendments, I will quickly point out that the Conservatives proposed only that amendment and one other to correct a date. That is all.
For its part, the NDP proposed 22 amendments and five subamendments that were rejected in committee. Still, we did our work, we studied the bill and we proposed amendments to improve it.
I believe that we demonstrated our support for our men and women in uniform. We showed that this bill was important to us, that it was important to study and improve it. Unfortunately, our amendments were rejected, but at least the Conservatives' amendment was passed, which improved the bill. I do not think that amendment would have gone through without the persistence of my colleague from St. John's East and all NDP members.
Although this was a Conservative amendment in the beginning, it is important to understand that it was made because of the NDP's work.
Before I go into more detail about criminal records resulting from convictions at summary trials, I would like to briefly mention that the Liberal Party did not propose any amendments in committee. I think that this is an important bill and that we must at least try to improve it. Nevertheless, the Liberals did not put forward any amendments.
A quick look at the record shows that the Liberal Party did not have anything to say when this bill was examined clause by clause or during the votes. We also see that no Liberal members voted during the recorded votes.
In my opinion, this serious issue deserved careful examination. I think that it is unfortunate that all parties in the House did not show the same commitment to our men and women in uniform. That is what I wanted to say about what happened in committee.
I would like to deal more specifically with the issue of criminal records resulting from convictions at summary trials. Clause 75 was amended to expand the list of offences included in the National Defence Act that can be dealt with by summary trial and that will not result in a criminal record following a conviction.
Right now, 95% of summary trial convictions are exempt from a criminal record, which leaves only 5% of people who can end up with a criminal record even though they would not necessarily have one for a similar offence in civilian life. At least things are improving.
It is important to understand that the issue of summary trials and criminal records is extremely complex. On one hand, summary trials are known to be efficient and they make it possible to deal with cases quickly. On the other hand, we also know that the rules of law for these summary trials are not followed.
For example, we would not want soldiers to be exempt from receiving a criminal record for offences that would have resulted in a record in the civilian world. However, we also would not want soldiers to have criminal records for offences that would not have resulted in a record in the civilian world. We need to find a balance. The issue of military justice is therefore extremely complex.
What is more, the National Defence Act is somewhat problematic in the sense that certain offences are very broad in scope and can include both very serious crimes and offences that are more benign. That is part of the reason why I wanted to make subamendments in this regard when we examined this bill in committee.
In the case of a demotion, the individual could still end up with a criminal record. It only makes sense that someone who commits a serious offence should be demoted. It would not be possible for a new recruit, who cannot be demoted, but it would be possible for all of the other ranks. If the offence is serious enough, the person should logically be demoted and the soldier would therefore have a criminal record.
I would like to talk about some sections that are very broad, such as section 113, which deals with fires. The problem is that section 113 of the National Defence Act covers a wide range of offences related to fires, whether those fires are caused wilfully or otherwise.
Here is an example of an accidental fire. A recruit could be tired when he is on training in the countryside, and he may not necessarily have any camping experience, any experience being in the forest or any life experience to rely on in this situation.
I mention this because it is something I have experience with. He could mistakenly put kerosene instead of naphtha in the stove. This could cause a fire. This person is not doing so wilfully or for the purpose of hurting the Canadian Forces. He is simply tired and is not following directions, yet it is all the same offence. If someone wilfully burned down a building, he would be charged with the same thing, and section 113 on causing fires would apply. These two people would have criminal records when they leave the Canadian Forces. However, everyone at home understands that these two situations are drastically different.
That is why this issue is so complicated. We understand that someone who wilfully causes a fire in civilian life would have a criminal record. Logically, we do not want this person to be exempt from having a criminal record. However, we would also want this person to have a trial that observes the rules of law. We cannot give someone a criminal record if the rules of law are not observed. The issue was examined from this perspective.
Also, someone who accidentally made a blunder would have a criminal record too. I assume the fines would not be the same for the two offences and that the punishment would fit the crime. We need to understand that the same section can in fact mean two different things.
Another section was rather odd. It had to do with setting a prisoner free without authority or helping a prisoner escape. That may seem odd, but in clause 75, under the Conservative amendment, escaping from prison does not warrant a criminal record. However, if you help someone escape, you can have a criminal record. I think it is a little unclear. It makes no sense that the person who escapes has no criminal record.
An unauthorized release or helping someone escape can also include involuntary actions. If someone who is very tired does not properly lock a door, the action was not voluntary. The person had no intention of letting the prisoner escape, but they made an error. Of course people should be punished for the error, but should they have a criminal record? Twenty years later, if they have a job interview, a potential employer will see the criminal record and may or may not ask why. That is the problem. At least, if the employer asks why the candidate has a criminal record, the person will be able to explain what happened and how the military justice system works. Perhaps that might not be such a problem, but the potential employer will not necessarily ask the person to explain why they have a criminal record in their file. The details of the story are not recorded. That is why I felt these subamendments were important.
I want to say once again that there has been an improvement because 95% of the cases are covered. This is a very complex issue. It is very difficult to come up with a perfect solution. We must focus on the fact that there has been change for the better, and that the provisions have been expanded considerably, which means that the NDP will support this bill.
Naturally, there will be more work to do as we continue to improve the military justice system. All parliamentarians want to improve it, or at least I hope they do. Improving the military justice system is of great importance for our men and women in uniform. I am hopeful that we will continue to try to make improvements, to find the flaws and to make good laws to correct them. This is a complex issue, and it is important that we address it for the sake of our military personnel.
I spent a great deal of time talking about criminal records. I would now like to briefly speak again about potential interference from the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff into military investigations.
I would just like to say that interference can be defined in different ways. It is important to understand that we must make a distinction. For example, someone from command could tell investigators that, for operational reasons, it is not the right time for an investigation. In that case, there is no interference in the investigation. They are simply saying that it is not safe to be investigating at that time, and that the investigation could be carried out at another time. That is not the same as really interfering in a case. It is important to make that distinction because there has been a lot of hearsay and misunderstanding about this subject. It is important to make that clear.
I have worked very hard on this bill in committee, and I am very interested in hearing my colleague's questions and comments. I will be happy to respond.
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
April 30th, 2013 / 4:40 p.m.
Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC
Fortunately, I have the defence critic sitting next to me here. He is a fine defence critic and knows the bill inside out. He has been briefing members of our caucus with great skill and knowledge of the bill.
We have the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff who can intervene in any disciplinary process. I would like members, especially members of the NDP, to look at the parallel with the RCMP and the Commissioner of the RCMP. There is a complaints process within the RCMP in cases where an RCMP member has been found to have violated the code of conduct. However, the Commissioner of the RCMP does not have a right to get involved in that investigation.
The members opposite say it is very important that the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff has that right because he can bring the operational context to bear in the investigative process. However, the same could be said for the Commissioner of the RCMP. The argument could be made that he or she should have the right to intervene because he or she could bring some operational context into the process. There is a contradiction here. In the case of the RCMP, the Commissioner cannot intervene. In the case of the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, he or she can intervene. I do not quite understand why the distinction.
Let me read a quote regarding the danger of this right to intervene, which I am told is a new right that did not exist in preceding years. This is from testimony before the defence committee by Mr. Peter Tinsley, the former chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission. He said:
My very brief summary submission is that if Bill C-15 is passed into law in its present form, inclusive of the new subsection 18.5(3) authorizing the VCDS to interfere with police operations and investigations, it will be inconsistent with the principles of police independence as recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada a[s] late as 1999 as underpinning the rule of law, as well as run counter to the norms of police-government relations, certainly in Canada, and I can tell you internationally in developed countries, which recognize the importance of police independence and prohibit police service boards or similar executive bodies from giving directions regarding specific police operations.
This is a very interesting quote. We like to compare ourselves to other countries, which is proper because we can learn from what is being done elsewhere, as other countries can learn from us.
I would mention that in other countries, they appear to have understood that the military justice system needs to change. We cannot just say that it has always been like that since time immemorial, and therefore it should remain like that. Maybe some people can say that, but that is not the Liberal perspective on things.
Justice Gilles Létourneau, in providing criticism of the summary trial system, which remains, as I said, largely unaddressed in Bill C-15, said the following:
This form of trial has been found to be unconstitutional in 1997 by the European Court of Human Rights because it did not meet the requirements of independence and impartiality set out in Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. As a result of this decision and others, the British Parliament enacted legislation which now provides guarantees to an accused soldier. These provisions include the following:
(a) the accused may be represented by counsel; (b) the accused is entitled to an Appeal to the newly created Summary Appeal Court; (c) the Summary Appeal Court is presided by civilian judge, assisted by two military members who are officers or warrant officers; and (d) as a general rule, imprisonment or service detention cannot be imposed where the offender is not legally represented in that court or in a court martial.
In our system, not only does the accused have to stand through the whole process, and not only is there no transcription of the process, but the accused does not have the right to legal counsel. That sounds pretty retrograde to me. That just does not sound like modern Canada to me.
All of that having been said, I will say that there has been one improvement to the system that would be brought by Bill C-15. That would be, of course, security of tenure for military judges so that they feel that they can exercise their independence. As a result of Bill C-15, military judges would have security of tenure until they reached the retirement age of 60 or until they were removed for cause on the recommendation of an inquiry committee or if they resigned.
This bill would also allow for the appointment of part-time military judges, which I suppose sounds like a fairly good idea if the caseload is not high enough to have full-time judges or if full-time judges need some supplementary help. Why not use part-time military judges? I do not see a problem with that.
All in all, we cannot support this bill. We have been consistent in our voting throughout the process. We have not voted against it at second reading only to flip and vote for it at third reading even after all our amendments have been rejected.
I think consistency is important in this place. I am proud to say that we will continue with our previous line of argument, and we will continue to not support this bill.
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
April 30th, 2013 / 4:30 p.m.
Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC
Mr. Speaker, I have the distinct pleasure of rising for the second day in a row to discuss and debate Bill C-15 on the military justice system.
I would like to begin by saying that, philosophically, the founding tenet of liberalism is that we never accept the status quo if there is no good reason to do so. In other words, a Liberal will never say that something must be done a certain way just because it has always been done that way and for no other reason.
In some debates on the military justice system, people rely heavily on that line of reasoning. They say that it is a different system and that it has always been different. They say that military culture has been around for thousands of years, that that is how it works, and that it should continue to work that way. That is not good enough for a Liberal.
I would like to continue with what I was saying yesterday about how a soldier is a fully fledged citizen who has the same rights as any other citizen. Soldiers are simply citizens who have decided to dedicate themselves to their country, to wear the uniform with pride and to serve either in conflict zones overseas or here in Canada when they are called to help communities cope with natural disasters, for example.
The soldier's role and place in society has changed a lot. As I was saying yesterday, there was a time when soldiers were either slaves or mercenaries. Members of the society they served did not respect them. They may have had no choice but to do as they were told because they were slaves or mercenaries. That is no longer the case; society has changed.
Soldiers today stand up for their rights. We see that every day. The person sitting next to me is the Liberal critic for veterans affairs. He has risen several times in the House to ask the government why it is not treating veterans fairly on many fronts, including its efforts to claw back disability pensions.
Soldiers know that they have rights and they are ready to stand up for those rights. Modern soldiers expect society to grant them the same rights as any other citizen. This bill maintains a justice system apart from the one that we civilians enjoy as members of society.
I want to share a quote from a witness who testified in committee. The witness in question, retired colonel Michel Drapeau, has been quoted many times during debate today and yesterday. During his testimony, he said:
...someone accused before a summary trial has no right to appeal either the verdict or the sentence... [He does not have] the right to counsel, the presence of rules of evidence, and the right to appeal.
As we have heard many times, soldiers are made to stand for the entire trial. In addition, there is no transcript that could be used for appeal.
Colonel Drapeau went on to say:
In Canada, these rights do not exist in summary trials, not even for a decorated veteran, yet a Canadian charged with a summary conviction offence in civilian court, such as Senator Patrick Brazeau, enjoys all of these rights. So does someone appearing in a small claims court or in a traffic court.
In other words, I have more rights than a soldier who is accused of speeding. However, this person willingly chose to join the armed forces and to serve Canadian society.
There are big differences between the military justice system and the civilian justice system. I understand and accept that the military justice system is a separate system and must always be unique, but I am not sure that the differences should be so drastic. That makes me very uncomfortable with this bill.
It may be because the military justice system is not as open as the civilian justice system, but there is something else I want to point out. I heard that 98% of trials end in a guilty verdict. In other words, the accused is found guilty 98% of the time. That seems high to me.
This raises some questions about the nature of the military justice system and about whether we should make more significant changes than what is proposed in Bill C-15.
The government needs to recognize that society in general, but specifically in this case, the legal system, is a system of interrelated aspects, that is in a kind of delicate balance. What may have been acceptable a couple of years ago, before this bill, may no longer be acceptable because a certain important change has been brought to another aspect of the legal system making the current system less fair for military personnel accused of wrongdoing.
Of course, I am talking about the fact that the government has removed from the legal system the possibility of obtaining a pardon and erasing a record based on continued good behaviour after a mistake has been made. When that is taken away, all of a sudden the fact that the military justice system is less fair becomes a bigger problem.
Now, if someone is falsely accused and found guilty, based on a trial process that has not respected the principles of fairness and justice that exist, even for someone who gets a speeding ticket, then that the person is really stuck. The individual would have no recourse, and that would impede his or her ability to perhaps obtain gainful employment after leaving the military.
We recognize now that many former servicemen and servicewomen suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. However, this is something that was not recognized a few years ago, and it was certainly not recognized after the Second World War.
We are talking about people coming out of the military who may have gotten into trouble because of post-traumatic stress disorder and now they cannot get a pardon. They are out of the military, trying to find a job and may be having trouble adapting to the demands of employment. Not only that, they are dragging this offence around, which they cannot have pardoned. Therefore, we have a whole new set of problems that flow out of this situation of unfairness.
We have to understand that society has changed. We have PTSD, which is something we did not understand a few years ago. Therefore, this creates a problem that is perhaps going to get worse because of not having properly thought through Bill C-15.
There is a delicate balance, but the government has upset that balance in the judicial system by making certain changes that it thought might have some value for it politically.
I would like to speak to the issue of the VCDS. I can never remember what that stands for. The vice chair of disciplinary services, is that correct?