Mr. Speaker, as the member of Parliament for Garrison Petawawa, the training ground of the warriors, located in the beautiful riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, I welcome this opportunity to speak to Bill C-77.
The legislation would amend provisions of the National Defence Act governing the military justice system. As a veteran member of the Standing Committee on National Defence, I thank the women and men in uniform for placing their trust in me as a member of that committee.
Before I get to my remarks, I join my leader and observe it is time for someone to take a walk in the snow. Unlike the current federal government that has gone rogue with the criminal justice system, the Conservatives are committed to standing up for victims of crime and ensuring that victims have a more effective voice in the criminal justice system.
I am proud to confirm that it was as a member of the previous Conservative government that I supported the enactment of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. Just as I supported victims rights on behalf of the women and men serving in uniform, I support enshrining a parallel victims rights regime in the military justice system. Bill C-77, to a significant degree, replicates what the Conservatives brought forward in Bill C-71 in the 41st Parliament. So far as the current government follows our example, those elements of the legislation can be supported.
Unlike the current ethically challenged government, the Conservatives believe victims of crime should not be forgotten in the criminal justice system. Our previous Conservative government focused on restoring victims to their rightful place at the heart of our justice system. That is why we introduced legislation that would mirror the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and put it into military law. This was the result of several years of work and takes into account hundreds of submissions and consultations held with victims and groups concerned about victims and their rights for the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.
The proposed legislation would give victims enhanced access to information through the appointment of a victim liaison officer, and enhanced protection through new safety, security and privacy provisions, and the like. In addition to being the home of 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group and the 4th Canadian Division Support Group, which is made up of 2 RCHA, 1 RCR, 3 RCR, RCDs and 2 Combat Engineer Regiment, as well as 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron, and 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, Garrison Petawawa is also home to the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, CSOR.
The Canadian Special Operations Regiment, CSOR, which was stood up during the Conservative watch of the defence of our nation, is the first new regiment to have been set up in over 50 years. I am proud of the role I played in supporting that decision and the subsequent decision to locate 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron to Garrison Petawawa to train with the troops. The Chinook helicopters serve as strategic lifts, and helicopters save lives.
As Garrison Petawawa was the last home of the Canadian Airborne Regiment before it was disbanded for partisan reasons by the Chrétien government, military justice is a volatile topic at Garrison Petawawa. The words “military” and “justice” do not need to be mutually exclusive. What we need to keep in mind, as parliamentarians debate legislation such as Bill C-77, is the effect that it has on the lives of individuals and service morale.
Earlier, the parliamentary secretary to the House leader raised the issue of veterans and how they are now treated. I am going to expand on his comments.
I am now going to give voice to an individual who cannot speak in this chamber, by sharing the letter I received from that soldier. It states, “Good day, I am about to be released from the Forces after 28 years of service. I have sacrificed my mind and my body in the service of Canada. Having suffered physical injuries and PTSD, I have no complaints about anything that I did for the military and would do it all over again. I have received excellent medical care for all my injuries, as well as my treatment by VAC for almost everything. They have covered me for my physical injuries and my PTSD. I expect to be on long-term disability upon my medical release.
“My issue is this. VAC went through the process to add detainee to the POW policy for compensation. I was at first happy with this change. I was detained by Serbian forces for 18 days while serving with the UN in Yugoslavia back in 1994, with 54 others, only to find out the federal government won't consider a claim until you've been a detainee for greater than 30 days.
“I feel insulted by this policy. Apparently, fearing for your life for that time period is just not enough, and we did fear for our lives. We saw the atrocities the Serbs were capable first-hand. Then, to find out that the Prime Minister paid $10.5 million to an ISIS fighter because according to him we as Canadians did not protect his rights....
“We were ordered to submit to being detained by our chain of command. Ordered not to escape, only to find out later that the order was an unlawful order. After all that, I have sacrifices, both professional and personal, and this is the only thing that still haunts me. I believe a change in policy is in order, even just to recognize what we did for our country.”
First, let me thank this solider for his service to our country. He is a credit to his uniform, and I understand how hard it was for him to step forward and write that letter.
I also understand that the Minister of Veterans Affairs for this government, whoever it was, as there have been so many it is hard to keep track, was made aware of the situation by the New Brunswick member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, or so the solider was told. Judging by the lack of government response, the Minister of Health could not be bothered to be concerned about the health of our soldiers. She is too busy staging photo ops with the Prime Minister, using soldiers as props, to be concerned about something as mundane as military justice. Justice in this case is for the sacrifice of 55 Canadian soldiers who were held prisoner as UN peacekeepers during the conflict in the Balkans.
I was also shocked, but not surprised, to learn that the Chrétien government refused to recognize the heroism of all but one member of the Royal Canadian Dragoons battle group who were held hostage, who participated in Operation Cavalier, CANBAT 2.
Where is the justice in the Liberal government coming up with the arbitrary number of 30 as the cut-off for the detention benefit that was announced in the new veterans charter? It would appear this is another example, like the critical injury benefit, where the Liberal government announces a benefit that excludes soldiers and veterans who should qualify. This is another fake promise to soldiers and veterans.
I am honoured and privileged to put on the official record of the proceedings of the House of Commons during debate on military justice, the names of those soldiers who were held hostage, who their country refuses to recognize today. Many are still serving their country in uniform today. The rank mentioned reflects the rank at the time the incident occurred in 1994. While the listing includes the declared hometowns, 44 of the 55 were based out of Garrison Petawawa, which is located in my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke. The names of those soldiers are:
Major Dean Milner, 33, armor officer, Kingston, Ontario; Corporal Troy Cleveland, 24, crewman, Windson, Nova Scotia; Corporal Robert Carter, 26, crewman, Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia; Master Corporal Chris Maher, 31, crewman, Burlington, Ontario; Corporal Steve Tasnadi, 27, crewman, Toronto, Ontario; Corporal Richard Sheppard, 23, crewman, Fortune Bay, Newfoundland; Sergeant Daniel Berrigan, 31, crewman, Ajax, Ontario; Master Corporal Martin Nickerson, 34, crewman, Pembroke, Ontario; Corporal Sean Dunstan, 25, crewman, Petawawa, Ontario; Corporal Chris Neilson, 21, crewman, St. Catharines, Ontario; Corporal Brian Lecuyer, 28, crewman, Elliot Lake, Ontario; Corporal David Calissi, 33, crewman, Kelowna, British Columbia; 2nd Lieutenant Chris Renahan, 23, armor officer, Toronto, Ontario; Master Corporal Marc Tremblay, 31, crewman, Bagotville, Quebec; Master Warrant Officer Thomas Skelding, 39, crewman, Windsor, Ontario; Corporal Gordon Vanwesten, 25, vehicle technician, Ennismore, Ontario; Corporal Alex Vizino, 27, crewman, Port Colborne, Ontario; Lieutenant Chris Henderson, 30, public affairs officer, Ottawa, Ontario; Corporal Marc Bergeron, 33, photo technician, Alma, Quebec; Lieutenant Mark Poland, 23, reserve armor officer, Sarnia, Ontario; 2nd Lieutenant Greg Nette, 23, armor officer, Edmonton, Alberta; Master Corporal Stanley Potocnik, 27, crewman, Rawdon, Quebec; Corporal Paul Turmel, 28, crewman, Windsor, Ontario; Master Corporal Richard Biddiscombe, 27, crewman, St. John's, Newfoundland; Warrant Officer Richard Ritchie, 34, crewman, Cold Lake, Alberta; Corporal James Morgan, 23, crewman, Cormack, Newfoundland; Corporal Mark Jones, 24, crewman, Belleville, Ontario; Corporal Michael Meade, 24, crewman, Huntsville, Ontario; Corporal Mario Desrochers, 26, crewman, Petawawa, Ontario; Corporal Sean Donaldson, 23, reserve crewman, Windsor, Ontario; Corporal William Byrne, 29, crewman, Conch, Newfoundland; Corporal Sean Murphy, 25, reserve crewman, Brampton, Ontario; Master Seaman Kevin Kendall, 27, medical assistant, Esterhazy, Saskatchewan; Leading Seaman Daniel Williams, 23, medical assistant, St. John's, Newfoundland; Private Kristopher Boyd, 20, medical assistant, Forest/Sarnia, Ontario; Sergeant William Richards, 32, crewman, St. Stephen, New Brunswick; Master Corporal Michael Smith, 30, crewman, Kitchener, Ontario; Corporal Dana Crue, 30, crewman, Summerside, Prince Edward Island; Corporal David Walker, 30, crewman, Halifax, Nova Scotia; Corporal Marc Kemp, 23, crewman, Winnipeg, Manitoba; Master Corporal Dean Smith, 24, reserve crewman, Gooderham, Ontario; Master Corporal William Thomas, 32, infantryman, Canning, Nova Scotia; Corporal James Predo, 27, infantryman, Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia; Sergeant Tom Moran, 30, crewman; Master Corporal Richard Allinson, 31, crewman, Port Hope, Ontario; Corporal Michael Bolger, 27, crewman, St. John's, Newfoundland; Corporal Sheldon Clarke, 24, crewman, Grand Falls, Newfoundland; Corporal Scott Cairns, 27, crewman, Lachine, Quebec; Corporal Davis Balser, 22, crewman, Weymouth, Digby County, Nova Scotia; Sergeant Gordon Campbell, 31, crewman, Kensington, Prince Edward Island; Corporal David Clark, 30, crewman, Toronto, Ontario; Corporal Darren Burgess, 26, crewman, Windsor, Ontario; Corporal Russell Robertson, 23, Squamish, British Columbia; Corporal Bruce Rose, 27, crewman, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia; Trooper Paul Smith, 23, crewman, Oil Springs/Petrolia, Ontario.
Military justice is about more than adding pages of rules and regulations filled with confusing words. Military justice should also be about recognizing the sacrifices soldiers and their families have made in representing their country.
Does Bill C-77 contribute to or diminish camaraderie among soldiers? Does Bill C-77 hurt operational efficiency? We need to keep on asking these questions with real life experiences in mind, such as those of the people who were detained.
That was my purpose when I put on the record the names of the 55 soldiers who were held hostage during the United Nations mission in Bosnia, Operation Cavalier, during the conflict in the Balkans. The government has forgotten these soldiers. The Prime Minister may state that veterans are asking for too much, as he did before. Veterans are only asking for what they are promised.
Psychological experiments and troop cohesion will end up getting soldiers killed, the same way that political expediency led to the loss of soldiers' lives in Afghanistan with the cancellation of the EH-101 helicopter contract by the Chrétien Liberal government. When Chrétien cancelled that contract, he also got rid of the Chinook helicopters in the military fleet.
Just like the sponsorship scandal and the Lavalin scandal of today, the Liberals have not learned a thing with the decision to buy secondhand, cast-off jets from the Australians rather than equip our troops with what they really need. When Chrétien cancelled the sale of the new badly needed helicopters, he should have halted the sale of the Chinook helicopters to the Dutch government. A lot of good women and men died in Afghanistan as a consequence.
Justice in the military should also provide the right equipment to do the job we ask our soldiers to do on our behalf. It should be about recognizing our soldiers, like the 55 forgotten soldiers.
We need enhanced participation through impact statements at sentencing and enhanced restitution with the court martial required to consider making restitution for losses.
The Auditor General's fall 2018 report on inappropriate sexual behaviour in the Canadian Armed Forces shows that there is a great need for victims' rights, which Bill C-77 is introducing.
Again, I would like to offer my condolences to the family of our late auditor general, Michael Ferguson.
Operation Honour is a plan to reduce inappropriate sexual behaviour toward women serving in the Canadian Armed Forces. The Auditor General's report found that Operation Honour was severely lacking in providing proper support for the victims of inappropriate sexual behaviour, which includes crimes like sexual assault, rape and harassment. In fact, the report found that Operation Honour was not even designed with victim support in mind and that the services it did offer were poorly coordinated. Even worse, the victims were often not even told that there were support services available to them, despite the legal requirement to do so.
Disregard for legal requirements appears to be a theme with the government. Victims did not even have a say if their case was investigated, as the vast majority of reports were done via third party from a duty to report, which Operation Honour created. Investigations were undertaken inside the chain of command, whether the victim was ready or even willing to pursue justice for the crime against them. All reports were acted upon. Victims had no recourse to stop the investigation if they did not want to proceed with a complaint.
The Auditor General's report also found issues with the training and briefings given to Canadian Armed Forces members regarding the inappropriate sexual behaviour. He found that the briefings were fragmented and led to confusion, frustration, fear and less comradery among soldiers. Briefings raised awareness of inappropriate sexual behaviour, but did little to nothing to address or bring awareness to changing habits or understanding the root causes of inappropriate sexual behaviour.
The report also highlighted a lack of awareness of support services for victims, insufficient training to support the victims and a lack of availability to support those services. People providing services had a lack of subject matter expertise and there was little coordination between the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, which handles the support services, and the Strategic Response Team, which has the actual investigative responsibilities.
Operation Honour was inspired by an investigation and report by former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps. We had Justice Deschamps appear before the Standing Committee on National Defence earlier this month and she gave us her insights as to whether Operation Honour aligned with her original 10 recommendations.
It is important to remind the government that for the members of the Canadian Armed Forces, when they put on a uniform, they are soldiers first, and that is an important distinction. In an operational setting, they need to be able to rely on their fellow soldiers.