Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak on behalf of my constituents in Surrey North.
I want to start by talking about what the Minister of National Defence pointed out in his speech. He pointed out that this bill is long overdue and should have been addressed before the Conservatives became government. That is due to the slow pace of the government in addressing the criminal justice system and the military. It is the government that has been dragging its feet over a number of years.
Having said that, I know the minister has had a rough run over the last couple of years, whether it was the military procurement or the pay difference in Afghanistan recently. I point out that this bill is a small step in the right direction, and I have to give the minister kudos for the small step in the right direction, but more could have been done with regard to the criminal justice system.
As the minister pointed out, this bill was introduced in the House back in October of 2011 and was an act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, basically strengthening military justice in the defence of Canada act. Bill C-15 would amend the National Defence Act to strengthen military justice following the 2003 report of the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, and the May 2009 report of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Again, Justice Lamer made recommendations back in 2003, and it is only now that the government is getting around to addressing our broken military justice system.
Among other things, this bill would provide greater flexibility in the sentencing process. The bill would provide for additional sentencing options, including absolute discharges, intermittent sentences and restitution, and it would modify the composition of court martial panels according to the ranks of accused persons and would modify the limitations, among many other things.
Bill C-15 is a step in the right direction. However, the government should have done more. Bill C-15 suffers from the Conservatives' slow-footed response to the LeSage report, which was not incorporated in the bill, along with the lack of wall-to-wall review of the sections of the National Defence Act pertaining to military justice.
Bill C-15 falls far short of key issues when it comes to reforming the summary trial system and the grievance system and strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission. We are letting our soldiers down with this unnecessary slow pace of change. The NDP will continue to lay the groundwork for a larger review of the need for the modernization and civilization of the military legal system and the implementation of greater civilian oversight.
I am proud of my colleagues on the defence committee, who forced the government to make some amendments to the bill. As members may recall, I spoke on second reading of this bill about some of the shortcomings of the bill that New Democrats would like to strengthen. One thing was with regard to military personnel having criminal records. We were not comfortable with that particular clause in the bill. My NDP colleagues on the defence committee forced the Conservatives to accept an amendment, which would force changes so that over 90% of disciplinary offences would not result in criminal records. We will support Bill C-15 at this point. The NDP is proud to vote for the significant, tangible result that we have been vocally and legislatively in support of for the members of our Canadian military forces.
Our efforts have established one more important reform in building fairer military justice. It is important that the amendments that were offered by the New Democrats were accepted by the Conservatives. It is a small step, one aspect of the bill, not the entire bill. We would like to see more changes to the military justice system, so we can have a robust justice system in the military. This would be a small step in the right direction. One of the key elements was regarding the criminal records for military personnel, so 90% of those military personnel would not have a criminal record after going through this. That was an important first step.
Members of the Canadian Forces are held to an extremely high standard of discipline, and they in turn deserve a judicial system that is held to a comparable standard. The New Democrats will support Bill C-15's proposed improvements because it is a step in the right direction. However, the government should have done more. The Conservatives voted against several prudent NDP amendments at committee that asked to fully incorporate Justice Lamer's 2003 recommendations and some of Justice LeSage's 2011 amendments. They even voted against a clarification to the letter of the law in clause 35, as proposed by Justice LeSage. This has resulted in a failure to strengthen the proper safeguards for independence in the grievance system, military police or judicial elements of the military justice system.
The New Democrats are calling on the Conservatives to approach the military justice system in a holistic way. What the Conservatives have been doing is taking a piecemeal approach, a little bit at a time. The National Defence Act is a relic. We need to look at it in detail to reform it wall to wall and bring our criminal justice system in the military to the 21st century. The Conservatives had a chance to do this for the last six or seven years. However, they have not done it. They have taken a very piecemeal approach to the military justice system, and we are doing an injustice to the men and women who serve this country proudly. We can do much better. We can support our men and women by ensuring they receive justice when they need it.
Going back to Justice Lamer's recommendations, in 2003, the Rt. Hon. Antonio Lamer, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, presented his report on the independent review of the National Defence Act. The Lamer report contained 88 recommendations pertaining to military justice, the Military Police Complaints Commission, the grievance process and the Provost Marshal. Bill C-15 would be the legislative response to these recommendations.
Former chief justice of the Superior Court the Hon. Patrick LeSage provided an additional review of certain sections of the National Defence Act, which was handed to the government in December 2011. The Minister of National Defence tabled the report in June 2012.
The Conservatives took over a year to table that report. They had it sitting on the minister's desk and he did not act at all. They have had a number of years to bring forward legislation so we can reform the military justice system, yet, as I have mentioned before, the Conservatives are foot-dragging on the issue of reforming our justice system. Even though we are supporting this particular bill, one of our major concerns is that, while it would be one little step in the right direction, there are numerous recommendations from the LeSage report and the Rt. Hon. Antonio Lamer recommendations that are not part of Bill C-15.
That is what the government needs to work on. It needs to take on a wall-to-wall review of the National Defence Act. The Conservatives have voted against amendments attempting to incorporate several of LeSage's recommendations.
Bill C-15 has appeared in earlier forms. Just going back through the history of it, first Bill C-7 and Bill C-45 died on the order paper due to the prorogation in 2007 and an election in 2008. In July 2008, Bill C-60 came into force, simplifying the structure of the courts martial and establishing a method for choosing the type of court martial more closely aligned with the civilian system.
In 2009, the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs considered Bill C-60 and provided nine recommendations for amendments to the National Defence Act. In 2010, Bill C-41 was introduced to respond to the 2000 Lamer report and the LeSage report. It outlined provisions related to military justice, such as sentencing reform, military justice committees, summary trials, court martial panels, the Provost Marshal and limited provisions related to grievance and the military complaints process.
In essence, Bill C-15 is similar to the version of Bill C-41 that came out of committee in the previous Parliament. The amendments carried over included those on court martial and military judges and security of tenure, appointment and age. There are other important amendments to Bill C-41 proposed at the amendment stage and incorporated at the end of the last parliamentary session. However, those amendments that were introduced to the previous bill were not taken into consideration in Bill C-15.
That is unfortunate, because we had a bill that went through the process. We heard from witnesses in the committee. Experts, judges and many people associated with the military justice system testified. We had reached a compromise. We reached across different parties. The Conservatives, Liberals and NDP worked together to bring about amendments that would serve our military justice system in a way that is fair. In committees, input is heard from key witnesses and amendments are reached. When that process takes place, all sides can be heard from. The committee recommended a number of amendments that would have helped make the system better.
However, as we have seen in the past from the Conservatives, they have failed to incorporate those very amendments that were agreed upon in the last session of Parliament. That is very unfortunate. The amendments that came out of the last session were a consensus from all three parties.
However, the Conservatives are not listening, and they do not want to incorporate those very amendments that would have formed more consensus towards how we could take a larger leap forward in forming our military justice system. They have backtracked a little from that. This is a smaller step in the right direction.
There was one amendment, a compromise that the NDP fought for in Bill C-41, clause 75. At the prompting from the NDP and in recognition of amendments absent, the Conservatives introduced this amendment into clause 75 of Bill C-15.
While this compromise that the NDP fought hard for in Bill C-41 and Bill C-15 is an improvement on the current legislation, it does not go far enough to improve the summary trial process for our Canadian Forces. It does not guarantee that a person who is convicted of an offence during a summary trial is not unfairly subject to a criminal record.
Furthermore, the Conservatives voted against prudent NDP amendments that would have ensured that the proper legislative mechanisms were in place to apply clause 75 retroactively.
We brought forward a number of other improvements at committee. I believe that is what committees are for. That is where we improve bills to make the laws we make in this place better to serve Canadians in a better way. Yet the Conservatives voted down every single one of those amendments.
This is a small step in the right direction. I think we could have taken a bigger step. In fact, I believe we need a wall-to-wall review of the National Defence Act to bring the act into the 21st century. Yet the Conservatives did not want to take even a slightly bigger step.
Here are some of the amendments we proposed at committee. One of the amendments voted down by the Conservatives would have given the Chief of the Defence Staff the financial authority to compensate CAF members in the grievance process. It amended clause 6 in Bill C-41, responding directly to Justice Lamer's recommendations. An amendment to clause 11 in Bill C-41 would have changed the composition of the grievance committee such that it would include 60% civilian membership and would exclude active-duty Canadian Forces members, thus enhancing the independence of the board.
These are common sense amendments that would improve the military justice system. These amendments in the previous Parliament were approved by the committee. Yet the Conservatives failed to bring them into Bill C-15.
Again, this is a small step in the right direction. They could have done more. They could have taken some of the testimony we heard at this committee for Bill C-15 and also at the committee in the previous Parliament. That committee had agreed to these amendments. Yet the Conservatives took those amendments out. That is puzzling. One year they agreed to them, and the next year, in a new parliamentary session, they are going back on their word. That is failing the very people who serve this country.
Another amendment we introduced was a provision to ensure that a person convicted of an offence during a summary trial would not be unfairly subjected to a criminal record. It amended clause 75 in Bill C-41.
These were very common sense amendments. I could go on about some of the changes we proposed and some of the things we would like to see in our approach to reforming the military justice system. The least this House could do is provide the Canadian Armed Forces with a modern National Defence Act so that they can carry on their jobs.
I want to go back to what I started with. The Minister of National Defence has had bad news over the last two years. He has bungled the F-35 procurement. It is a mess. It is a fiasco. I could use a number of other adjectives to describe it. We have seen a number of other scandals in the ministry of defence. We have seen recently a differential in pay in Afghanistan.
The Minister of National Defence could use a little bit of good news, and I would say that this is very little good news, which is going to reform the military justice system. We are calling for a wall-to-wall review of the National Defence Act so that we can reform the criminal justice system in the military and provide the support, encouragement and resources to our military personnel who serve us proudly.
I have a free voice to speak up in the House, to speak on behalf of my constituents from Surrey North, because of the very sacrifices the men and women in the military have made. The least the House could do is provide them with a modern National Defence Act so that they can carry on their jobs.