House of Commons Hansard #143 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.

Topics

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

10:35 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, the answer is clear. There are not enough lawyers. In my city, there are between 300 and 500 lawyers, and not one of them knows how to defend someone charged under this law. The same is true across Canada. Michel Drapeau is one of the experts in Canada. He wrote about this bill and he said the same thing. There may be a hundred or so lawyers in Canada who can defend our military personnel with some degree of expertise.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

10:35 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the hon. member on his presentation. He applied his vast knowledge and made a real impact on this debate.

I would like him to say a few words about what Colonel Michel Drapeau said in February 2011, before a committee:

I strongly believe that the summary trial issue must be addressed by this committee. There is currently nothing more important for Parliament to focus on than fixing a system that affects the legal rights of a significant number of Canadian citizens every year. Why? Because unless and until you, the legislators, address this issue, it is almost impossible for the court to address any challenge, since no appeal of a summary trial verdict or sentence is permitted. As well, it is almost impossible for any other form of legal challenge to take place, since there are no trial transcripts and no right to counsel at summary trial.

This seems to pose fundamental problems of natural justice. Why would we have double standards? I understand that the soldiers are in a unique situation, but are there no improvements that could be made to avoid this type of situation? Should we not be improving the bill before us because it does not satisfy these concerns?

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

10:35 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his question. It is very clear that the government's response is not enough for military staff.

There are no transcripts and no defence lawyers. The judge gives the orders. Decisions cannot be appealed. I want to be clear: this does not pose a problem for most investigations. The charges are not too serious and the punishments are even less so.

However, when the defendant acquires a criminal record for very simple charges, it is clear that this law is not a satisfactory response for military staff. These amendments are essential.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

10:40 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I, too, would like to avail myself and this House again of my hon. colleague's deep knowledge of the law. We have heard, through some of the questions from the government side, that somehow due process and discipline are mutually exclusive terms. I wonder if the member could shed some light on why this is a false route for the government to go down, not just in this instance but in many others.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

10:40 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, the argument that the Supreme Court has said that the summary trial process is an acceptable one is accurate. Then to extrapolate from it that there should not be any due process, that they should not have the right to avoid criminal records in any number of other areas, is pervasive with the government. Unfortunately, it is all too pervasive in some of the upper echelons in the military, which is not the case in any number of other militaries. We have heard several times this evening that Australia, which is probably the closest to us, has gone a great distance to guarantee just about all of the same civil rights and civil liberties within the military justice system as it has in the rest of its criminal justice system. We are nowhere near close to doing that.

When we see this kind of bill and see that particular section that would impose these criminal records on our military personnel for no good reason whatsoever, other than it is their way or no other way and the opposition is not allowed to have any input. If it has any input, the Conservatives will strip it out, and it is too bad if our military personnel suffer. That is the result of this.

Again, we can point to other military establishments, such as Ireland and Australia again, where they have done this. It has not had any negative impact on discipline within their military. In fact, since they shifted to treating their military personnel with firmness but fairness, it has actually reduced the number of charges.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

10:40 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today against the second reading stage of Bill C-15. Before my colleagues across the way start saying that I do not like the military and all of those things, I will stress that it is because I so strongly support the men and women in our military who sacrifice so much to serve our country and put themselves on the line that I find it very difficult to support this legislation. Surely, our men and women who serve us at home and overseas in unimaginable circumstances deserve due process, and that is what this is all about. It is about transparency, accountability, t doing the right thing and natural justice.

When I look at Bill C-15, I do acknowledge that the government has taken a baby step in the right direction. However, it is only a baby step and does not go far enough.

As I look at the legislation, I experience déjà vu. Not too many days ago I stood in the House and talked about another bill, Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which was legislation that the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism praised as being a miracle. It was legislation that all political parties worked on and together they included elements that would address human smuggling, put processes in place that would speed up processing times and short-term detention for people who did not have identification verification, all of those things. I want to acknowledge my colleague from Trinity—Spadina who did such an amazing job on that file. The government side and the other opposition party also praised that legislation.

Then, lo and behold, out of the blue we then had legislation that went backward and undid so much of the work that was done. Bill C-11 was the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and we ended up with Bill C-31 in its place, which undid all the work that was accomplished in Bill C-11. That is exactly the déjà vu I am experiencing now.

Once again we had legislation that was in Parliament, Bill C-11, which had been acclaimed but was still not fully implemented, and then it was undone. On the other hand, Bill C-15 undoes the amendments that were accepted in Bill C-41. Once again, we need to look at what the drive is behind this. The drive behind it seems to be the majority my colleagues are experiencing across the way. I was really hoping that after a year of being a majority government it would have gotten over that and gone on to do the work of Parliament in a way that respects the role of the opposition and, of course, the contributions the opposition has to make when it comes to legislation.

As I was saying, I was experiencing déjà vu. Here we are with this iteration of Bill C-15, and none of the compromises, amendments that were made in Bill C-41 are in it. Why? It is so tiring to hear about how the Conservatives are all about the military and how the opposition does not care about the military.

When I look at this legislation, I wonder how much my colleagues sitting across the aisle really care about the men and women who serve in our military and put their lives at risk and why the Conservatives have chosen to ignore key recommendations from a critical report written by Antonio Lamer, which was issued in 2003. There were 88 recommendations in that report. Out of those 88 recommendations, only 28 have been dealt with to date.

I am not fully blaming my colleagues across the aisle. The other opposition party also had an opportunity to implement the recommendations that were made in the Lamer report and it chose to sit on them. I do not know why, maybe it was dealing with a lot of other issues. Surely, no other issue can be as important as ensuring that the men and women who serve in our military get justice and get treated fairly.

We have all of these things going on. One good thing that I suppose we could say, as could my colleagues across the aisle, is that Bill C-41 was never acclaimed.

My colleague who spoke just before me is such an eloquent speaker. I just hope that one day in the future I can emulate even 10% of what he is able to express so clearly and so succinctly.

As my colleague said, the government had the opportunity, because the bill was at the report stage, to deal with it before Parliament was shut down for the last election. However, it chose not to.

Here we are a few days before Parliament closes and, again, through bullying tactics, we will sit until midnight every night this week. Why was the legislation not introduced earlier so we could have dealt with it? It could have gone through all the stages.

Here we are at 10:50 p.m. on the Tuesday night, before Parliament recesses on Friday, debating the treatment of our men and women who serve in the military to give them the kind of fairness that we expect as civilians. Where are the priorities of the government? Certainly not with the men and women in the military. The government seems to have other priorities.

When I looked at all of this, and I will go through this in detail, I was struck by a quote from the Minister of National Defence in February 2011, when he appeared before the Standing Committee on National Defence, the same defence minister who occupies the seat today. This is what he said when he endorsed the summary trial system:

—the summary trial system strikes the necessary balance between meeting the unique disciplinary needs of the Canadian Forces and the needs to respect the rights of individual members of our military....Canadians similarly need to know that their country's military system will treat those who serve fairly and in a way that corresponds to Canadian norms and values.

Does the minister still believe in those words? If he does believe them, why is the minister not accepting the fact that the summary trial system is tainted with undue harshness? Sentences are resulting in criminal records for minor offences. Why is the minister ignoring the need for greater reform than the baby step that is being proposed in this legislation?

When we look at all of this, we really begin to question the motives and what drives the government.

In the previous iteration last year, the NDP put forward some amendments. Quite a few were accepted. Other important amendments that were passed at committee stage at the end of the last parliamentary session are not in Bill C-15, although a couple are. The ones that are not there include the following.

First, the authority of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process, responding directly to Justice Lamer's recommendation, is not included in the bill. Second, changes to the composition of the grievance committee to include a 60% civilian membership is once again not included in the bill. Third, a provision ensuring that a person who is convicted for an offence during a summary trial is not unfairly subjected to a criminal record. Once again, that is not included.

What would address some of our concerns with this legislation? We absolutely need further amendments and we need to ensure that the summary trial system is fixed. Summary trials are held without the ability of the accused to consult counsel. There are no appeals or transcripts of the trial. The bit that I find very hard, maybe because of the background I have had, where I have always believed that if people are accused of something, they have the right to representation. Then they have the right to go before a person who is fairly neutral. In this case, people end up having to go in front of one of their commanding officers. If they go before one of their commanding officers, I am not sure how independent that is and what kind of pressure that puts individuals who are there to advocate for themselves without legal counsel. This absolutely puts undue pressure on our armed forces when they can be convicted for very minor service offences.

I am sure that some members previously had employers somewhere, other than the Canadian people. Perhaps they had some kind of an accusation against them, or maybe they came to work late or whatever and before they knew it, there was a grievance. They then had to defend themselves, in other words, put their case forward. First, they could not get representation. Second, they had to go before their employers. Imagine the kind of depressing effect that has on people when they have to go in front of someone who has that much power and authority over them? That actually has a chilling effect on even the accused's desire for justice because they are afraid of the kind of impact that could have on their career and so on.

The kind of minor offences we are talking about, and I think I could often be accused of these, are: insubordination, and I think I was born with that one; normal quarrel and disturbances, almost everyone in the House would have to be charged at some time or other; absence without leave, imagine all those young people at school ending up with criminal records because they were away without leave; drunkenness and disobeying an officer's command.

This is a very serious business. I really do not want to make light of it because it actually affects our military. However, at the same time, when I am reading some of these trivial things, I am thinking that we are going to give our men and women who serve our country, without holding anything back, a criminal record for these. If they end up with a criminal record, once they are out of the army, crossing that border could become almost impossible.

I deal with cases of people who were stopped, had charges of drinking and driving even 10 years ago and were still finding it difficult to cross the border.

Is that the way we want to treat our men and women when they go looking for certain jobs? As members know, there are jobs where people deal with the public and there is a requirement for criminal record checks. If we did any of these things, as long as we were not too far out there, we would not end up with a criminal record. Military members are already held up to such high standards, so why are we, in the idea of criminality, stooping so low as to give them a criminal record? We really need to pay attention to this.

It is not easy living with a criminal record, but I will not get into that. The members know that anyway. If they have not experienced it themselves, I am sure they have had constituents who have come and talked to them about it.

Regarding reform of the grievance system, I absolutely understand grievances and I also understand accountability and transparency. Whenever we have professionals, whether the RCMP, teachers or any other profession that we hold to account, one of the key things is that civil society has engagement. Once again, this bill fails to address that. It is really critical when grievances are under review, there be a representation from civil society on the panel. This would give it that authenticity that we often talk about, and the accountability.

At this stage, I will read a quote from the Lamer report. It is quite amazing. I did not know this gentleman, but he is very learned obviously, because he gets to the heart of the matter. He writes:

Grievances involve matters such as benefits, personnel evaluation reports, postings, release from the Canadian Forces...all matters affecting the rights, privileges and other interests of CF members...unlike in other organizations, grievors do not have unions or employee associations through which to pursue their grievances...

I want to stress this. He says:

It is essential to the morale of CF members that their grievances be addressed in a fair, transparent and prompt manner.

That becomes really critical when we take a look at reforming the grievance system.

I will read a quote from Colonel Michel Drapeau, a retired colonel from the Canadian Forces and military law expert. In February 2011, before the committee, he said:

—I find it...odd that those who put their lives at risk to protect the rights of Canadians are themselves deprived of some of those charter rights when facing a summary trial. If Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland have seen fit to change the summary trial system, it begs the question: why is Canada lagging behind?

I plead with my colleagues across the way to see the light of day and please address and give fairness to our military men and women who serve us so unselfishly.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

11 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member is sincere in wanting to see this move forward, then we need to move it to committee where it can have the kind of discussion and work that needs to be done. We can have witnesses called and the bill can be studied.

This report goes back to 2003. The bill was brought to the House a number of times: we had it as Bill C-7 in 2006, as Bill C-45 in 2008 and as Bill C-41 in 2010. Going back to the recommendations of 2003, this has been too long in coming.

If the member is serious about wanting to get it studied and done, then why not let this pass to committee so that we can look at it and make the necessary changes?

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

11 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would laugh if I did not want to cry at this stage.

The bill has been through committee. It was amended. I read out some of the elements that were addressed. That work was done by all sides of the House. Yet the government, because it is not serious despite the rhetoric, has presented the House with a bill that is stripped of the amendments that were made.

Absolutely, we are serious. We moved those amendments and they passed. It is a shame that the government is playing games with such an important piece of legislation.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

June 19th, 2012 / 11:05 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, this is more of a comment. We have been debating this now for over two hours. We have had a number of speakers, even some from the other side. Not a single member on the opposite side who wants this to go to committee has indicated that one single amendment would be presented or accepted in committee.

What we know so far is that the amendments that were accepted and the consensus that was developed in committee the last time were stripped out of the bill. Now we have the bill as it was when it was first presented to Parliament several years ago. It came back to the House and the government did not even call it. The Conservatives were so anxious to get it passed, they did not even call it. That is what we are left with here. We are left with a government stonewalling this by saying that we should bring the bill to committee so that we can study it. Well, the Conservatives have a majority on the committee. We know that, they know that. Is this a game?

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

11:05 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, over the last five or six weeks I have spent more hours in committee than I care to count dealing with different pieces of legislation and with amendment after amendment that were defeated. I sat in this House looking at the Trojan Horse budget bill where over 800 amendments were accepted, but not one passed in this House. It is very difficult to think that when this bill gets to committee the amendments we bring to committee will pass.

However, I am an optimist. I am still hoping that my colleagues across the way will see the rising sun and light of day and do the right thing.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

11:05 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for all the fine work she does back in her riding.

Certain individuals may very well be facing summary conviction without the benefit of professional legal counsel. Does the hon. member have any thoughts on that?

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

11:05 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, the presence of my colleague in the House always brings some calmness. His thoughtful input is always appreciated.

One of the basic concepts that we have in the western world is the right to representation. When we see that someone may end up with a criminal record, that right to representation becomes critical.

Members of our military do not have access to lawyers to represent them in summary trials. They also have to appear before their commanding officer. That has a chilling effect when one is advocating for oneself. I would say that it does a great deal of injustice to our men and women who serve us tirelessly.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

11:05 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for her speech tonight and many of her other speeches. They are some of the more memorable moments in this place.

We hear noise from the other side about bringing this legislation to committee. Yet, as my hon. colleague pointed out, not one amendment put forward by our side has been deemed worthy of the government's meat grinder when it comes to legislation. Committee has looked at this legislation in the past and some sound amendments were passed.

My colleague says she lives in hope that the government will see the light of day. Does she not think that light of day is probably in 2015?

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

11:10 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have always been called an optimist. No matter how bleak things look I always have an absolute belief in the human spirit. I hope we will begin to see some light long before 2015. The Canadian public needs to see some hope, it needs to see some light. The Canadian public needs to see a government that does not use its majority like a hammer to shut down Parliament constantly and not address legislation in a fair and balanced way.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
Government Orders

11:10 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, from a process point of view, I just want to know if the member could illustrate other times during second reading where a government, whether it was us or a previous government, stood in its place and accepted amendments prior to an item going to committee?

The process that works here is that at second reading we have a debate. The bill would then go to committee where amendments can be put forward. The bill would come back to the House at report stage to be debated. This is what we did ad nauseam last week. The bill then goes to third reading. That is the process.

Could the member give me any examples when the government of the day accepted amendments to a bill at second reading prior to it going to committee?