House of Commons Hansard #102 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreements.

Topics

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Royal Assent

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, in response to the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville, I have here in my hands a copy of a letter, which I am quite prepared to table, written by the parent of a young student who was actually in the school when the member spoke and advocated what I said in my question.

I would be prepared to table the letter for all to see. In fact, the letter was written to the Minister of Public Safety.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Royal Assent

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to table this letter?

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Royal Assent

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Royal Assent

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to give the Minister of Health the opportunity to correct the record. In a laundry list of untrue things we voted against, the minister quoted—

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Royal Assent

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am sorry but it is well past 3:00 now, almost 3:15 p.m. We have had this before where members try to use points of order to correct the record. Previous Speakers have ruled that it is not the proper use of raising a point of order so we will move on.

If the member takes issue with anything that was said, he can have a supplementary on a future day and make the point then, but not through points of order well after question period.

The hon. member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, I hope, has a point of order.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Royal Assent

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am sure all members will agree that when it comes to matters of decorum in the House, where there is an opportunity to receive information to clarify exactly what the intentions were of any hon. member, that members would uphold the values and conventions of the House—

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Royal Assent

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Royal Assent

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. The hon. member for Trinity—Spadina is rising on a point of order.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Royal Assent

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, what do you plan to do with the point of order raised by the new hon. member for Toronto—Danforth?

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Royal Assent

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I will look at what was said. I did not hear anything at the time but I will certainly come back to the House if necessary.

Business of the House
Royal Assent

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, before I go to the question, I have a point to make. As we know, we will have the budget later today. What we have seen repeatedly is a breach of the long-standing tradition of the Westminster Parliament of not putting out in advance information that is in the budget. However, we have seen it repeatedly done by the government, not just in this budget but in prior ones.

My first question for the government House leader is whether that will be a continued practice and, if it is, why do the Conservatives not just do away with the sham of any confidentiality around the budget.

My next question is this. Could the government House leader confirm which four days will be dedicated to debate the budget? We have had various indications from him. If he could, we would ask that he be more specific at this time, assuming that it will start tomorrow.

Also, the government should accept the fact, as expressed by all Canadians, that Bill C-31 would dismantle our immigration and refugee protection policies and that the minister obviously does not understand the impact of that legislation.

Can the hon. member opposite confirm that the government is dropping that bill, yes or no?

We also have Bill C-30 outstanding, which is the so-called lawful access bill. It was up for debate at some point but it seems to have disappeared off the radar, along with Bill C-4. Both of them are quite misguided pieces of legislation. I am wondering if the House leader can tell us if the government will go ahead with these bills or come to its senses and either send them back for rewriting or just drop them completely.

Finally, there is a motion, which all parties in this Parliament accepted, with regard to the voter suppression scandal and it calls on the government to rapidly look at amendments to various pieces of legislation that would prevent that type of scandal and abuse of the democratic process from happening in the future. Is the government proceeding with any legislation and, if so, when will we see it?

Business of the House
Royal Assent

3:15 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, as we all know, in a little more than 40 minutes, the Minister of Finance will table this year's budget and I am sure all members are looking forward to that event.

Economic action plan 2012 will be a very strong, low tax, low debt plan that will include measures to create and secure jobs, economic growth and, most important, long-term prosperity for all Canadians.

In recognition of how important this budget will be, we have decided that we will schedule debate to follow immediately on the four following days: Friday and Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

There may not be the same level of suspense around this vote as in previous years, but on Wednesday, all members will have the opportunity to vote for jobs, growth and long-term prosperity and support our budget. Once the opposition has seen the budget, I am confident that their constituents will expect them to do just that.

On Thursday, we will continue debate on Bill S-4, the Safer Railways Act. If we have time, we will resume debate on Bill C-15, the Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act.

The opposition House leader had a long list of bills on which he inquired about their status. Insofar as our legislation to improve Canada's immigration and refugee system, that has been debated now some five days in this House and we look forward to it being debated further. It is a very important bill, not just for the strength of our immigration system but also for our economy. We will continue to take steps to ensure our immigration system meets the security, safety and economic needs of Canada.

In terms of Bill C-30, I think he is well familiar that it is our intention to have that debated and sent to committee before second reading and, in so doing, being able to allow a broad ambit for the committee to consider amendments of all types. I think that responds to the particular concerns that he raised on that.

In the case of Bill C-30, Bill C-4 and the immigration bill, we can see from the program I have read that there will not be an opportunity, barring some dramatic progress on other legislation on the final day, to deal with those bills before the Easter break, so we will have to wait until after that.

The House resumed from November 4, 2011 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.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to Bill C-15 at second reading. This is a law that has to do with military justice. It is an act to amend the National Defence Act in order to strengthen military justice.

First, I need to make some general remarks about the whole notion of military justice in our law. As some members know, I served as defence critic in Parliament prior to October of last year. We had Bill C-41 before us in the last Parliament, which was intended to bring some changes into the military justice regime in Canada.

It is important that we have a good look at our whole military justice structure because there are a number of problems that need to be resolved. Military justice needs to fit in with our entire justice system. We need to ensure there is conformity between the kinds of laws we have in relation to military justice, as well as our general justice system, certainly in terms of the fundamental principles of law.

We need to understand that there are differences between military law and our general legal system, and there are good reasons for that. We have a military justice system that recognizes the relationship between the justice system and discipline within the military.

There is a significant importance to discipline in the military. I will quote an expert in military law, retired Colonel Michel Drapeau, who is a lawyer in private practice and has considerable experience in the military. In fact, he is the author of the only significant military legal text in Canada used in law schools and has an annotated book on the military aspects of the Department of National Defence Act. It is quite a useful source of knowledge. This is what he says in relation to the importance of discipline in military law:

Few professions are as dependent on discipline as is the military. Discipline is fundamental to military efficiency, cohesion, esprit-de-corps permitting commanders to control the use of violence so that the right amount and type of force can be applied in exactly the right circumstances, the right time and the right place. At the personal level, discipline ensures that at all times of great danger and risk, the soldier can and will carry out orders even if his natural instinct for self-preservation and fear tells him otherwise. Likewise, group and individual discipline ensures adherence to laws, standards, customs and values of civilian society, even during combat operations.

He went on to say, “Therefore, discipline is integral not only to the maintaining of an efficient armed forces, but also ensuring that the rule of law predominates within the military, particularly when engaged in great peril and danger in combat”.

We see that it as important for two reasons, not only for maintaining discipline so that when someone violates the law there is quick action and a speedy response to breaches of discipline but also that there may well need to be procedural differences available in the military context. However, it is also extremely important that when engaged in combat there always be an adherence to the rule of law.

Our country certainly wants a military force and troops who are capable of carrying out their use of force in a lawful manner, regardless of the circumstances of great peril that others take. Therefore, we say that not only the military justice system exists to punish wrongdoers, it is also a central part of command discipline and morale.

We have a voluntary military and the military justice system must be seen as equitable and fair. Otherwise, we will not only have a justice problem but could also have an operational and recruitment problem. We must recognize that people who volunteer for military service must know that they have to be treated fairly. Therefore, we must also emphasize the justice side as well as the military side. We want, expect and need a high level of morale in our system among our troops and we demand loyalty, but that is a two-way street and the system must be seen as fair.

When Bill C-41 was before the House, we brought it to the defence committee where our party sought to do two things. First, we sought to ensure that the procedures in the military justice system were effective, insofar as it was possible and consistent with the need for speedy resolution of disciplinary matters in some cases. Moreover, we also sought the protections, as far as possible, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In other words, we did not want the fact that we needed efficient military justice to take the place of fundamental principles of justice for people just because they happened to be in the military.

Therefore, we focused on making changes to the proposed legislation that would see the summary trials provision conform as much as possible to the existing law for civilians. Where that could not be done, we recognized that we would use this procedure, which could involve people going to detention for up to 30 days or having substantial fines levied against them and, under our current system, result in a criminal offence, even without the protections of the charter, without the right to counsel, to make full answer in defence or having an impartial tribunal. These ought not to be regarded as criminal offences, which after service would require a person to go through the parole board and seek what was then available, a pardon. It is not available any more, because the members opposite have decided that pardons are no longer available through the parole board. That is all the more reason we have to make sure this is done right.

We did take some measures. We introduced a series of amendments in committee. Some of them were accepted. In fact, some those accepted were even proposed by the Judge Advocate General and his advisers. Bill C-41 did not pass but died on the order paper when the election was called last year. We had gone through first and second reading, committee and third reading, but it did not get passed in the dying days of the last Parliament.

Therefore, we are back at it again with a new bill, Bill C-15. However, a number of amendments that were accepted by the committee and would have ameliorated some of these problems do not appear. They are gone, out the door. So we are back to square one now with respect to a number of provisions that were in Bill C-41 that were fixed and improved, and some that were even proposed by the Judge Advocate General as a compromise to fix the system in an acceptable way, taking some of the offences and adding some more offences, in fact, back to the list of those that would not result in a criminal record. However, these offences are back in again.

I do not know why we are doing this. Is there any respect for this Parliament by the government? Are the Conservatives saying that now they have a majority they can do what they want? Never mind what they did last time or what they agreed to last time, never mind the compromises and the proposals that came from the Judge Advocate General's office, they are going to go back to square one and not do it.

These are important matters because we are not talking about simple changes to legislation. We are talking about people's fundamental rights, and when I am talking about rights I am talking about the Charter of Rights. When section 11 of the Charter of Rights states that a person charged with an offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in accordance with law, in a fair and public hearing, by an independent and impartial tribunal, it means just that. However, if their commanding officer who knows them, knows all of the witnesses and everyone else, has the file and is not even telling the accused what is in the file, that is not a fair and impartial tribunal.

I am not saying we cannot accept that if we are dealing with an administrative disciplinary system, but we should not add the extra piece of saying that it would result in a criminal record, which he or she would have to deal with that later on and pay $600 to the parole board, hope for the best and maybe get what is called a record suspension. These are serious matters.

Some would say that the Charter of Rights should not apply to the military. When the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was being drafted and adopted as a fundamental part of our Constitution in 1983, the drafters contemplated whether or not the military justice system should or should not apply. It was thought about because there is one section, for example, were the right to a trial by jury is being discussed in the Charter of Rights. For anyone who is interested, it is paragraph 11(f) of the Charter, which talks about when one can have a trial by jury, and states:

except in the case of an offence under military law tried before a military tribunal, to the benefit of trial by jury where the maximum punishment for the offence is imprisonment for five years or a more severe punishment.

It is equating a military tribunal in a court martial to a jury. Therefore, they thought about military law when they were crafting the Constitution. There is no exception for a fair trial before an impartial tribunal. There is an exception for a jury trial because a trial by a military tribunal is considered to be equivalent in the charter to a jury.

Why are we doing this? It is beyond me to understand why a government that takes such great pride, we hear, in our troops and looking after our service men and women and military personnel who volunteer for service and risk their lives and, in some cases, sadly, give their lives in defence of their country and in doing their country's work, does not treat them and give them the same rights that the Charter of Rights provides for citizens of this country.

We tried to fix that. It is a fundamental problem in military justice. It does not just affect a few people. I do not have the latest statistics but I cited the statistics for 2007-08 and 2008-09. There were over 2,600 offences in 2007-08, and 2,600 in 2008-09, the vast majority of which were dealt with by what is called a summary procedure, a procedure that does not have those protections. Someone would be tried by his or her commanding officer and, in most cases, would end up with a criminal record if found guilty.

These are essentially a lot of discipline offences having to do with going AWOL, et cetera. I will not bore members with a list of the number of offences for each one, but we have things like conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline. These are there to try to keep everyone in line and to keep morale up. There are offences such as being AWOL, which could be as much as being 10 minutes late after a night out on leave. In fact, 29% of the offences are absences without leave. However, these are offences against the National Defence Act. Drunkenness is another one, accounting for 6% of the offences. For soldiers, it is amazing that only 6% of the 2,600 offences we are talking about here from five years ago relate to drinking. Soldiers are supposed to be famous for going to bars and drinking, but obviously we have very disciplined soldiers in our Canadian Forces, of which we are very proud.

Nonetheless, we are talking here about fundamental justice and the need to ensure that our military justice has the same respect for fundamental justice as does our regular legal system.

I am hoping that we are not going to hear from the other side that, “This is the NDP going on again. It loves criminals. It even loves criminals when they're in the military”. Instead, I am hoping that we will hear from the other side that they have enough respect for our military that they want to ensure that even when military personnel act in a manner that gets them into trouble with their commanding officer, they will respect the rights of these personnel, they will recognize that they need to maintain morale, that they need to maintain discipline but that they also need to ensure that they are not saddling someone with a criminal record when that person does not have the protection of the fundamental rights, the fundamental justice, contained in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that very constitution that we are asking our soldiers, our men and women in uniform, to go and fight for and defend. They are being denied the protection of that in a fundamental way.

What we are trying to do and what we have tried to do in the committee in the past is as I said.

Here I see the parliamentary secretary who, unfortunately, was not part of that committee the last time. He was not even in this Parliament. When this comes before the committee again, maybe I will join him to talk about the motions we passed the last time and the sections we changed. I have a list, which I can give him, of the ones that were actually passed, amending the bill and ensuring there was better protection for our soldiers, sailors and air men and women, and are now missing from the bill. The member was not there when they were passed.

If this is just an error, a mistake, or they just went to back to the drawing board and produced the same bill we had before, I hope he will willing accept those changes. I am looking for some signal to that effect from the member when he speaks to this legislation.

We do have an important task at hand, and that is to ensure that our soldiers, sailors and airmen are treated with respect and dignity and given the protections under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

There is another aspect of this bill, which I will touch briefly on. It is the issue of grievances. There is a significant problem with the grievance procedure within the military. This legislation deals with it, but not well enough. We did amend clause 6 of the National Defence Act in that regard. There was a series of amendments that were important, giving the Chief of the Defence Staff the power to settle a grievance. It passed the committee, but I do not know if the Chief of the Defence Staff wants it. The government does not seem to want to give it to him.

He is the person who makes the final decision, but he cannot say to people who were denied overtime or a certain special pay, which cost them $1,500, that they would get the $1,500. He cannot decide that. It has to go to some legal people in the Department of Justice. It does not go to the Judge Advocate General.

The CDS cannot say “Give that man the $1,500 that he was denied”, whether it be for work or moving expenses or whatever. That has to go to somebody in the Department of Justice part of DND who can say “Well, we do not think it is really appropriate to give money in this case”. Then that person cannot get his grievance resolved.

We made changes that ensured the CDS could resolve that problem, being the final voice and being able to settle a grievance. That is something that is necessary and desirable. I hope we are able to get that change made once again.

We also wanted to ensure that are some timelines on grievances that need to take place. There was also a series of amendments with respect to oversight by civilians, a whole series, including the amendments we made to clause 11, which would enforce and allow the grievance committee to deal with grievances in a proper manner, with civilians rather than just military people.

There are a number of changes that have to be made. Unfortunately, the Conservatives did not accept in their new bill the changes that were already made.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering
Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. friend, the member for St. John's East for his very learned speech on this important issue.

The member asked for a signal from our side. I am not sure, but I think Signal Hill is in his riding. I am not absolutely sure of that. It is close to it, so I am not surprised by the request. The signal is given that we on this side are looking forward to consideration of this bill in committee, consideration of his arguments, and we hope to see him there as we have seen him in previous Parliaments on these important issues.

My question for the hon. member is the following. Given the urgency of this bill, given the fact that some of these changes have been pending since the Lamer report in 2003, given the fact that this Parliament and previous Parliaments have considered this bill in different forms three times, Bill C-7 in the 39th Parliament, Bill C-45 in the 38th Parliament, Bill C-41 in the 40th Parliament, and now Bill C-15, would the member not agree with us, and this is really an appeal to his common sense and his sense of duty to do right by our men and women in uniform, that the best place to discuss the details he has proposed, the very technical aspects of this bill that deserve discussion, is in committee and that we as members of Parliament have a duty to get it to committee as soon as possible?