Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to be addressing the House today on the subject of this important bill. This is my first time speaking as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence.
Before I begin, I want to thank all the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces for the outstanding service they give every day to this country and to all Canadians. We are deeply grateful to them.
I also want to thank the staff of the Department of National Defence. I am very much looking forward to working with them. They work hard every day to make sure we get solid policy and strong legislation, and we greatly appreciate their efforts.
Lastly, I want to thank all our veterans. We owe them a tremendous debt. They fought tirelessly so that we could live in this big, beautiful country.
I am also really looking forward to working with the Minister of National Defence. I think we are going to get some amazing things done this year.
The Prime Minister asked our colleague, the Minister of Justice, to do a comprehensive review of the justice system. In the same spirit, our government is committed to reviewing, modernizing and improving our civil and military justice systems.
Bill C-77 will bring our military justice system in line with the kind of justice system the Canadian Armed Forces are entitled to and the kind Canadians expect.
Canada's military justice system is rooted in centuries of practice around the world. Monarchs, army generals and political leaders have long recognized the importance of having a disciplined military.
A series of studies and public inquiries were conducted following the legislative changes made between 1998 and 2013. Those changes resulted in the system we have in place today.
Today, we are proposing a number of changes to the National Defence Act. Some are minor changes, while others are more significant. Central to those changes are the members of our military forces. The women and men in the Canadian Armed Forces make extraordinary sacrifices for their country every day.
Bill C-77 provides for changes that will improve the military justice system by ensuring that the system provides proper support for the Canadian Armed Forces in its efforts to maintain discipline, efficiency and morale within its ranks.
These changes will also reflect our government's promise to promote reconciliation and renew our relationship with indigenous peoples.
These changes will discourage prejudice- or hate-motivated behaviour toward the LGBTQ community based on gender identity or expression. They will also ensure that the rights of victims will be protected throughout the judicial process and that both people and support for military families are our top priorities.
Before I continue, I would like to come back to the Auditor General's report on the administration of justice in the Canadian Armed Forces, which was released last spring, shortly after Bill C-77 was introduced.
We thank the Auditor General for his important work, and we accept his recommendations. Unfortunately, this report shows how the previous government neglected not only our troops but also the military justice system, which is an important part of military discipline and morale within the Canadian Armed Forces.
These recommendations were very timely, since the government had just introduced a bill to improve the military justice system.
Unlike the previous government, we are determined to ensure that we have an effective military justice system. What is more, I can assure the House that the judge advocate general is already engaged in the implementation phase of her action plan to respond to each of the auditor's nine recommendations.
These measures include a new case management system that makes it possible for cases to be monitored in real time, as well as a new performance evaluation tool to help us assess how well the military justice system is working.
This will help significantly reduce delays by improving the way military justice cases are managed. However, this is not just about speeding up the process. We also want to ensure that the system works well for everyone.
Now I would like to talk about some of the changes we are proposing in the bill. I hope I can count on all my colleagues to support this important initiative for all our women and men in uniform.
The proposed summary hearings will help improve the flexibility and effectiveness of the military justice system by allowing the chain of command to address minor service infractions quickly and fairly at the unit level.
Naturally, the most serious cases will be referred to the courts martial. There will be no summary process and military commanders who preside over a summary hearing will only be able to impose non-criminal penalties for service offences.
Since launching our “Strong, Secure, Engaged” defence policy last year, we have worked very hard to strengthen the culture of the Canadian Armed Forces and improve support for our members. Accordingly, another important change set out in the bill being debated in the House today concerns the sentencing process for indigenous offenders.
The Prime Minister has stated that there is no relationship more important to our government and to Canada than the one with indigenous peoples. We are all greatly concerned by the fact that indigenous people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. I would like to point out that this is not the case in the military justice system. Thanks to real measures such as this one, we will strengthen our nation-to-nation relationship and continue our journey of healing.
The amendments proposed in Bill C-77 are in line with what we are doing with Operation HONOUR, and they will help us create a positive, respectful environment within our armed forces. I must digress a little bit to say that, regardless of this bill, all forms of inappropriate sexual conduct are completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated within the Canadian Armed Forces or within our society. This is why we are taking decisive action as part of Operation HONOUR to combat and eliminate this type of behaviour. We will continue working until all of our members are able to carry out their duties in an environment free from harassment and discrimination.
The biggest change this bill will bring about is that it will enshrine the rights of victims in the military justice system. This is a victim-based approach that protects victims' rights.
We will make sure that military justice aligns with the civil system with respect to LGBTQ2 rights. In 2017, our government added gender identity and expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination set out in the Canadian Human Rights Act. At the same time, we have been working hard to change the culture, through Operation HONOUR and other initiatives, to make our forces more diverse and inclusive. This bill is another step in that direction.
It calls for harsher sanctions and penalties for service infractions or offences motivated by prejudice or hate based on gender identity or expression. The biggest change proposed in Bill C-77 is clearly aimed at establishing rights for all victims within the military justice system. A new division entitled “Declaration of Victims Rights” will be added to the Code of Service Discipline to specify that victims have a right to information, protection and participation throughout the military justice process.
The new provisions of this act will have a clear, perceptible and real impact on the military justice system. The declaration will give victims a voice and support. It will protect four new rights for service offence victims.
The first new right is the right to information, which will ensure that victims understand the process and the services and programs at their disposal, including the process for filing a complaint if they believe that their rights under the declaration have been infringed or denied. The military justice system can be intimidating and hard to understand. That is why we are adding this provision.
The bill provides for the appointment of liaison officers to guide the victim through the process and explain how the system works. Victims also have the right to be informed about the investigation and prosecution of the offence and the sentence handed down to the person who caused them harm.
Then, there is the right to protection, which guarantees that the safety and privacy of victims will be taken into account at every step of the military justice process. That includes protection of victims' identity, when necessary, and measures to protect them from intimidation or retaliation.
The right to participation guarantees victims the right to share their views with military justice system authorities and ensures that those views are taken into account when authorities make their decision. Victims can also present a victim impact statement before the court martial so that the military judge fully understands the harm done to the victim when determining the offender's sentence.
However, victims are not always just people, which is why Bill C-77 also allows military and community impact statements to be considered so that judges are aware of the extent of the damage that an offence caused to the Canadian Armed Forces or to the community.
Finally, the right to restitution means that victims have the right to seek compensation for any financial losses or damages incurred as a result of an offence.
Bill C-77 proposes much-needed changes to the military justice system so that it can continue to meet Canadians' expectations and the needs of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Lastly, the bill introduces a more victim-centred approach that protects victims' rights. Clearly, the bill deserves our support so that we can implement a better military justice system for Canadians. I believe it is the right thing to do, and I hope that all my colleagues in this House will support this bill so that it can move forward.