Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to continue where I left off last Friday.
Just to recap, Bill C-77, which is before us today, aims to protect victims of military offences by providing needed updates to the current military justice system. Updating the judicial system of the Canadian Armed Forces can be a daunting task, but those in the service commit their lives to defending Canadian values and beliefs, and it is very worthwhile.
Whether on foreign soil or right here at home, they must regularly deal with the high-tension situations they are faced with. Therefore, their decisions and reactions can often be the difference between life and death, or war and peace. The importance of their work cannot be overstated. As such, they hold themselves to a higher standard. The armed forces judicial system is in place to maintain discipline and structure.
I am very proud to say that I represent Canadian Forces Base Shilo, our military base in Brandon—Souris, which is a very important part of our community. Many of us have family, friends and neighbours who serve on the base. They house the First Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery and the Second Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. It is worth repeating that the base is the home station of the Royal Canadian Artillery, as well as to a component of the Western Area Training Centre, 742 Signals Squadron Detachment Shilo and 11 Canadian Forces Health Services Centre. Other supported units include 26 Field Regiment and RCA Brandon's reserve unit.
Westman is awfully proud to be the home of our brave men and women in uniform. They are an essential and prominent part of our community, and have been for many years. Many develop strong ties and settle here when they complete their service and return to civilian life and retirement.
Bill C-77 seeks to align the military's justice system with the Criminal Code of Canada. I am pleased to see that it has built upon Bill C-71, which was presented by our former Conservative government, and seeks to enshrine the rights of victims in the National Defence Act.
The main premise here is common sense, which is that victims of any alleged crime should have the right to feel safe when navigating the judicial system. Therefore, I believe it is our obligation to treat them with compassion and respect, and to provide a secure environment so that they may tell their story. Their testimony is essential in better understanding what has occurred, and it is paramount they be able to provide it without fear of consequences and reprisals.
Victims are often overlooked in criminal proceedings, with most of the emphasis being on the offender. It is important they be given their opportunity to be heard. The system is there to provide justice, not only for the accused but also for the victim.
In this regard, a key feature of the bill is that it strives to provide better protection for both victims and witnesses in military trials. Military communities are often smaller and more tightly knit. This serves to foster a strong sense of solidarity among those in the service. While they can be an exceptional advantage in the field, those strong ties sometimes make it very difficult for victims to speak out against their wrongdoer. Ensuring that due consideration is given to the safety and security of victims would help give them the courage to stand up and speak out against the injustice they have faced. They should be given every opportunity to be involved in the proceedings. At the conclusion of the proceedings, they should emerge fully satisfied that justice has been properly served.
An important part outlined in this bill is that victims have the right to rely on the assistance of others when dealing with the justice system. If victims are incapable of acting on their own behalf, they may depend on their relatives to exercise their rights. Victims can now look to their spouses, parents or dependents to be their representatives during these proceedings, to help them through the difficult times.
The justice system can be intimidating. It encompasses many procedures, rules and regulations. Victims may not always be fully aware of their rights and can easily feel overwhelmed. Giving individuals the opportunity to request a liaison officer to help them navigate the workings of the case should encourage more people to come forward.
We should ensure that these liaison officers are properly trained in order to guarantee that they can provide the most assistance possible. A lack of awareness of their rights or of standard procedure should not prevent people from seeking justice. It is important not only to provide safety to those who have suffered at the hands of others, but we must be able to reinforce their belief in the justice system in order to offer them better peace of mind.
This would be best accomplished by making the process as transparent as possible. I firmly believe that all victims have the right to request information about the military justice system. They have been directly affected by a crime. They deserve to be assured of the fair proceedings of the case. These are people who have been wronged, hurt and betrayed. They need reassurance and evidence that their belief in the justice system is not misplaced. They need to see justice served.
I understand that under certain circumstances there is a need for discretion. The military conducts many sensitive operations, and often information will be classified to ensure the safety of our troops and our civilians. Those cases notwithstanding, I believe, whenever possible, victims should be provided with information concerning their cases. They should feel completely included in those proceedings and not have to plead for the most basic facts. Victims should not have to rely on outside media or gossip to scrounge incomplete information on a case that may have deeply affected them.
The bill would achieve a good balance between aligning with the current military justice system and still supporting victims within that system. The bill is very conscious of the importance of the chain of command within the military, and it makes sure not to impact the system in a manner that would hinder it.
The declaration of victims rights contained in this piece of legislation is careful to describe the specific rights afforded to victims in this situation without creating any barriers that might impede the system. I am aware that circumstances in the military may differ widely from those encountered in civilian life, as I have said before. The bill would ensure that the victim's rights are properly represented within the important confines of the current system. It does not interfere with the more unique aspects of the justice system, such as the court martial process or the code of discipline.
With the bill, we are taking a step in the right direction when it comes to defending the rights of victims of military offences. However, there is one area of concern with the current legislation that I would like to speak to. It involves the long-term consequences that minor military offences may have on individuals when they retire from service.
Presently, there are uniquely military offences that do not have a counterpart in the civilian code. Among them are the five minor offences of insubordinate behaviour, quarrels and disturbances, absence without leave, drunkenness and conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline. These are infractions that can only be committed by members of the military, yet they can result in a criminal record in the civilian world.
People found guilty of insubordinate behaviour could retire from the military only to have this offence follow them into civilian life. As Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Guy Perron said in his testimony to the Standing Committee on National Defence on this topic:
The consequences of having a criminal record are significant. Applying for employment or attempting to cross the Canadian border are but two of the everyday consequences that can have an important impact on a veteran's life. Do we truly wish to burden a veteran with a criminal record, when he or she has committed a service offence, which may have no equivalent in our criminal justice system or in Canadian society?
Imagine trying to look for work after leaving the military, only to be flagged with a criminal record due to being absent without leave. A large portion of veterans seek employment in the security sector, which requires security checks. When it is seen there is a criminal record, getting a job is all but impossible.
It is important to remember that we have a separate justice system in the military for a reason. There are unique circumstances that apply to our forces that require a separate process to properly address it. It would not be fair to our Canadian Forces members that minor offences that occurred in a very unique setting, a setting known to be high stress at times, remain with them and affect their lives long into the future.
Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Guy Perron went on to provide a recommendation to the committee that stated, “The Criminal Records Act and the [National Defence Act] should be amended to only include service offences that truly warrant the creation of a criminal record.”
Based on his testimony, there was an amendment to Bill C-77 proposed by my fellow Conservative members who sit on the defence committee to address this issue. The amendment put forth would have ensured that those five minor offences I listed would not be given a civil criminal record, no matter the severity of the sentence received. The amendment was flagged to be potentially outside of the scope of the current bill. As such, the committee on national defence did get the opportunity to briefly study the matter, but I would like a more in-depth analysis on the topic.
I mention this because I firmly believe that it is an important issue that should be addressed, and that it would greatly benefit the present members of the House to examine. I wholly encourage members to study this subject, because it is a topic that should be reviewed in the near future so that we can do right by those who dedicate themselves to protecting us.
There is still much that can be done when it comes to providing proper justice to our brave men and women in uniform. The bill before us today would do much to help protect victims of military offences, but we must always strive to do more to help those in our armed forces.
Justice may be blind, but it should not be deaf. By better defining victims rights, we give a voice to those who seek justice. We give them a better platform to stand on and tell their story.
I will be voting in favour of the legislation, as I believe this is a non-partisan issue, and we should all unite to support victims of crimes. It is important we review Bill C-77 and we move it forward, as there are many good things in it, but there are still some things that need to be reviewed.
I hope that there has not been any undue pressure put forward on any of the persons involved in the formation of Bill C-77, considering that the former attorney general was there. We have already seen that undue pressure was put on her in many other areas. This is one situation where I believe that it is not appropriate either.
We need to make sure that we look at the Gladue decision. We are reminded that when sentencing is coming forward in those areas, the Supreme Court requires continuing to look at the situations facing our indigenous persons. We also must remember that there was a resignation that took place by the former attorney general when she was the veterans affairs minister, and also we are reminded that she was the associate minister of national defence at that time.
With that I look forward to questions.