House of Commons Hansard #167 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was military.

Topics

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
Oral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Whitby—Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Jim Flaherty Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her question.

Once again, privatization of that organization is merely a rumour. We have absolutely no intention of doing so at this time. We will protect the interests of Canadians as much as possible. Our government is focused on the implementation of our economic action plan, which includes improvements—

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
Oral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Montcalm.

Persons with Disabilities
Oral Questions

2:55 p.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, two years after recording a $102 million surplus, the Public Service Disability Insurance Plan is now in posting a deficit because the Conservatives stopped funding it. And yet, the number of claims is on the rise. This seems to be a completely fabricated crisis that will allow the Conservatives to start denying benefits to people in trouble, especially those grappling with mental health problems.

Will the Conservatives adequately fund this plan?

Persons with Disabilities
Oral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Parry Sound—Muskoka
Ontario

Conservative

Tony Clement President of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario

Mr. Speaker, we are working with officials and the unions in order to establish a viable plan for the future that will protect the interests of public servants and also be accountable to taxpayers, of course.

That is our government's policy, a policy that will continue in the future.

Foreign Investment
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, since the hon. Minister of International Trade did not seem to understand the question asked moments ago pertaining to the constitutionality of the China-Canada investment treaty, I would like to ask the Prime Minister the following.

Does he not agree that the provinces will be forced into arbitrations where they do not have the right to appear? Do arbitrations for damages against Canada for decisions at the provincial level not demand explicit agreement within the treaty before it is approved?

Foreign Investment
Oral Questions

October 23rd, 2012 / 3 p.m.

Calgary Southwest
Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, once again, the foreign investment promotion and protection agreement establishes reciprocal obligations between the parties. Canada has had a situation with the People's Republic of China for some years where the latter's investment has been virtually unrestricted here and we have had more difficulty with our investment there.

This agreement is an important step forward. That is why it has been so well received by the Canadian investment community. I would urge all members to look at it carefully and support it.

The House resumed 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 second time and referred to a committee, and of the motion that this question be now put.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

3 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-15 today. This bill would modernize the military justice system to make it more consistent with the civilian justice system. In essence, the provisions in the bill stem from several recommendations made in 2003 by the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, concerning the National Defence Act. I should point out—

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

3 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin

Order, please.

Could I ask people to please take their private conversations outside the chamber. I have no way of hearing the current member speaking.

I repeat, would people please take their conversations outside the chamber.

The member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles may continue her remarks.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

3 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, in essence, the provisions in the bill stem from several recommendations made in 2003 by the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, concerning the National Defence Act. I should point out that the military justice system is an integral part of Canada's legal system, and its existence is recognized in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is separate from but parallel to the civilian justice system. The distinct military justice system within the Canadian Forces has an important role to play because it meets the specific needs of the military community in terms of discipline, efficiency and troop morale.

To begin with, it is important to note that several legislative attempts have been made to implement recommendations in the 2003 Lamer report. Prior to the last election, members worked studiously to amend the precursor to Bill C-15, Bill C-41. The NDP was successful in getting several amendments passed to better protect the interests of the men and women who serve in the Canadian Forces. For example, the NDP made changes concerning the authority of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process. We were also successful in changing the composition of the grievances committee so that 60% of members would be civilians, and we were successful in ensuring that a person convicted of certain minor offences in a summary trial would not receive a criminal record.

The Conservative government took advantage of the fact that the bill died on the order paper and of its new parliamentary majority to scrap the compromise reached in the previous Parliament. That is wasteful and undemocratic.

We support several measures contained in Bill C-15. For some time, we have supported the modernization of the military justice system. After all, members of the Canadian Forces are subject to very strict disciplinary standards and deserve a justice system that is subject to comparable standards. However, we believe that the bill could go a lot further. We must take advantage of Bill C–15 to reform the summary trial and grievances systems, and to strengthen the Military Police Complaints Commission.

Let us start with summary trials. It is important to know that most disciplinary matters are judged at a summary trial level. Usually, they deal with less serious offences, such as insubordination, quarrels, misconduct, unauthorized absences, drunkenness and disobedience. There are two problems with this system, in our opinion. To begin with, several minor offences can result in a criminal record. These offences are undoubtedly very important in terms of military discipline, but they do not warrant a criminal record.

A lot of Quebeckers and Canadians would be shocked to learn that the people who served our country so bravely could end up with a criminal record for a simple offence such as insubordination. It is an even greater pity that this type of offence significantly complicates the lives of these individuals after they leave the military. Criminal records make it difficult to get a new job, limit opportunities to travel abroad and make getting an apartment more difficult.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association noted in February 2011 that the primary concern of the military officers imposing sentences in a summary trial is likely to be unit discipline and deterring future violations, not the effect that a criminal record will have on an accused in the civilian world.

Allow me to digress for a moment while I am talking about the transition of military personnel to civilian life. Just today, the Auditor General of Canada published a report that came down very hard on the Conservative government in terms of the transition of ill and injured military personnel to civilian life. The report revealed a web of red tape that complicates this transition. Here is an excerpt from that report:

Canadian Forces members and veterans, as well as...staff...find the transition process complex, lengthy, and challenging to navigate....[I]t remains difficult to access services and benefits in a timely manner. Reasons include the complexity of eligibility criteria, lack of clear information on support available, the amount of paperwork involved, and case management services that require further improvement.

In short, the Conservative government still has a long way to go to help our military personnel transition smoothly to civilian life, whether they are injured or not. We believe that the federal government should take advantage of Bill C-15 to make this transition easier by significantly reducing the military offences that carry a criminal record.

The Conservatives will say that Bill C-15 already reduces the number of offences that carry a criminal record. That is one of the good things about it; however, in our opinion, the bill should go much further. In the last Parliament, we proposed that the list of offences that could be considered minor and thus not worthy of a criminal record be expanded, if the offence in question received a minor punishment. The amendment also expanded the list of sentences that could be imposed by a tribunal without an offender incurring a criminal record, such as a reprimand, a fine equal to up to one month's basic pay or other minor punishments. Clearly, we will once again propose these amendments in committee.

Moreover, with the summary trial process, neither the procedures nor the rights of the accused are the same as in civilian courts. For example, it is not possible to appeal the verdict or sentence from a summary trial in a court of law. Any form of legal appeal is virtually impossible, because there is no transcript of the trial and the accused cannot be represented by counsel.

We in the NDP believe that if a person risks serious consequences such as acquiring a criminal record or serving a prison term, that person should be entitled to the best protection the law can provide, in terms of procedure. This principle was reiterated by the Supreme Court of Canada in Wigglesworth in 1987.

I have talked a lot about the issue of summary trials, but I also want to raise two other problems with Bill C-15.

For years, the Canadian Forces Grievance Board has been the subject of many complaints. We believe that part of the problem is that it is not an independent, external, civilian body. Some current members of the board are retired Canadian Forces members. To highlight the independent nature of the grievance board, clause 11 of the bill amends subsection 29.16(1) of the National Defence Act to change the name of this board to the Military Grievances External Review Committee.

We think that the government should follow through and require that at least 60% of the members of the grievance committee must never have been officers or enlisted personnel in the Canadian Forces. This proposal was adopted in March 2011, in relation to Bill C-41. However, it was not retained in Bill C-15. It saddens us that the Conservative government is thus undermining the serious work accomplished by all the members of the Standing Committee on National Defence and disregarding the earlier recommendations made by representatives of the Canadian Forces. It is important for this amendment to be considered again.

We also believe that the military grievance system could be substantially improved by granting more power to the Chief of Defence Staff to settle the financial aspects arising from grievances. We will have more amendments on this issue.

Finally, I would emphasize again the importance of protecting from unfair punishment the people who file grievances in good faith. We believe that the powers of the Military Police Complaints Commission should be strengthened so that it can act as a watchdog. The commission should have the power to investigate and to report to Parliament.

In conclusion, I hope the government will take the time to consider our amendments, in order to better protect the men and women who serve in our armed forces.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering
Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's remarks are not logical. She is suggesting, along with her colleagues, that 700,000 Canadians who have military experience should not be allowed to serve on the grievance committee. How can we increase the committee's professionalism and independence if we exclude these candidates?

Furthermore, the government has agreed that 27 sentences will no longer lead to a criminal record. Twenty-seven sentences have been taken off that list. If we all agree with this, then why not go to committee stage? Logic has eluded the House today, with this debate.

How can the hon. member justify undermining our chance to modernize the military justice system as quickly as possible, when this delay has such a negative impact on Canadian troops' morale and discipline?

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question. I believe he means well.

We can do a lot more. The hon. member mentioned the military grievance external review committee. As I said in my remarks, if we want the committee to be perceived as an external and independent entity, we need to change its make-up. We suggest that at least 60% of board members must have no experience as a Canadian Forces officer or member.

Also, amendments to the act were suggested during the last Parliament. It is very undemocratic for the Conservative government to exclude these amendments suggested by civilians and stakeholders, now that it has a majority. These amendments were proposed at committee.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I, too, would like to respond to the parliamentary secretary, who focuses on the fact that 700,000 Canadian veterans will not be able to sit on the grievance board, which is an external committee. He has the wrong focus. The goal here is procedural fairness.

Does my colleague think the parliamentary secretary is focusing on the wrong thing by siding with those who should have the right to sit on the board instead of siding with those who should have the right to be judged by civilians, who will lend more objectivity to the decision-making process?

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my colleague from Saint-Jean. This question has often been raised by myself and my NDP colleagues. I hope the government will listen, because our goal is to introduce amendments that will improve the bill.

I would also like to highlight the important role the federal government must play by involving itself in military personnel's civilian life. A criminal record makes travel and renting an apartment very difficult. I hope the government will agree with me when I say that these men and women who have so courageously served our country deserve better.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, after this exchange we can only conclude that the NDP does not trust veterans, Canadian Forces members. The New Democrats are limiting the participation of former military personnel in the grievance committee.

I put the question again to the hon. member and to all opposition members. If we want to increase the professionalism and independence of that committee, why not rely on those people who have the best knowledge of the military justice system and of life in the Canadian Forces?