Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you, members, for giving me the honour to appear before you.
Over the past decade I have watched our army transform itself into a world-class organization whose performance in Afghanistan has gained the unrestricted admiration and respect of both our allies and Canadians. This is due, in my estimation, to two interconnected factors: a second-to-none field leadership and the unremitting performance by the rank and file who serve above and beyond the call of duty.
At the end of the day, I hold a firm belief that we owe our soldiers an immeasurable debt of gratitude for bringing glory to the Canadian flag, for bringing unflinching solidarity to our allies, and for impeding a global threat to national security.
In deploying to Afghanistan, our soldiers carried with them our rights and values. In the process, they put their lives at risk so as to give the Afghan people a taste of democracy and the rule of law. Sadly, many did not return.
I believe that Bill C-15 should in many ways be in recognition of, and be the incarnation of, their courage, their commitment, and their sacrifices. Out of gratitude as well as justice to these soldiers, Bill C-15 should be first aimed at protecting their rights, not creating more bureaucracy, military lawyers, and military judges. It should be written from the perspective of soldiers and their commanders, not the military legal staff serving in the safe enclave of National Defence Headquarters.
I have five major concerns with Bill C-15.
First is the summary trial system. Although they are by law part of the criminal process, these trials are heard not by a judge, but by a member of the chain of command. There are close to 2,000 such trials each year. Since summary trials had an average conviction rate last year of 97%, this means that one out of every 30 Canadian Forces members ends up each year with a record of conviction by a quasi-criminal tribunal, yet Bill C-15 totally ignores summary trials.
However, so does Canadian jurisprudence. Why? It's because someone accused before a summary trial has no right to appeal either the verdict or the sentence. This is despite the fact that the verdict and sentence are imposed without any regard to the minimum standards of procedural rights in criminal proceedings, such as the right to counsel, the presence of rules of evidence, and the right to appeal.
In Canada, these rights do not exist in summary trials, not even for a decorated veteran, yet a Canadian charged with a summary conviction offence in civilian court, such as Senator Patrick Brazeau, enjoys all of these rights. So does someone appearing in a small claims court or in a traffic court.
I find it very odd that those who put their lives at risk to protect the rights of Canadians are themselves deprived of some of these charter rights when facing a quasi-criminal process with the possibility of loss of liberty through detention in a military barracks.
If Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland have seen fit in the recent past to overhaul the summary trial process when it was found to be non-compliant with universally recognized human rights, it raises the question of why Canada is not at the very least considering the same sort of overhaul.
My second concern is grievances. If Bill C-15 is enacted in its current form, the Chief of the Defence Staff will become almost totally disengaged from the grievance system. I believe that the CDS, the most senior officer in the Canadian Forces—not the minister, not the ombudsman—has a moral and legal duty to look after his people and become personally interested in and aware of what is causing disgruntlement and why an individual soldier finds it necessary to use a grievance process to receive a modicum of justice. This is what leadership, at least in the armed forces, is all about.
My third concern is military judges. I am surprised at the amount of beneficial attention being paid in Bill C-15 to military judges. Currently the four military judges handle a total of 65 courts martial per year. In 2011-2012, this required each military judge to spend approximately 4.5 days per month in court. In my estimation, this is by far the lowest caseload of any criminal court of record in Canada. Perhaps the time has come to have the Auditor General conduct a performance audit of this military justice system. Canada and the military simply cannot afford such extravagance.
Be that as it may, one would think that government should be reducing the number of military judges or transferring that function to the Federal Court of Canada. Instead, in Bill C-15, there is a call to appoint a deputy chief military judge and, worse, to form a reserve force military judges panel. The only ones who could possibly benefit from this would not be the military at large, but a very small handful of senior military lawyers who would qualify for such extra appointments in the first place.
My fourth concern is the military police. During the past year I have acted as counsel for Mr. and Mrs. Fynes concerning their allegation against, inter alia, the alleged lack of independence of the military police and in particular the National Investigation Service.
In its investigation, the Military Police Complaints Commission conducted 62 days of hearings, during which disturbing evidence was presented on that very subject. The proposed new subsection 18.5(3) in Bill C-15 would, in my estimation, make the current lack of independence worse by granting authority to the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff to issue instructions or guidelines in respect of a particular investigation.
Keep in mind, please, that already the CDS and the VCDS have the power to call in the NIS to conduct an investigation on any issue that is of concern to them. Quite frankly, under the existing command arrangement it is most unlikely that the NIS would ignore such a request. Also, the CDS does not feel inhibited about commenting publicly on an open NIS investigation, but to now give the VCDS the authority to issue instructions or guidelines in respect of a particular military police investigation will remove any pretense that the military police are independent from the chain of command.
Lest we forget, the CDS, the VCDS—and, for that matter, the Judge Advocate General—are each subject to the code of service discipline. None of them should have the power to direct or influence either the initiation, the suspension, or the conduct of a particular police investigation, let alone to issue instructions or guidelines as to the conduct of a specific examination.
Fifth is the civilianization of the military justice system. There are growing worldwide concerns regarding the compatibility of the military justice system with international human rights standards. In Europe, the European Convention on Human Rights has had an impact on national military law, particularly in the United Kingdom, Germany, and France, to name a few. These countries have concluded that the presence of a civilian judge in military tribunals would reinforce the principle of civilian supremacy over military justice and also the impartiality as well as the independence of such tribunals, since they are no longer part of the military hierarchy.
Would this work in Canada? Absolutely. All one has to do is to look at what happened to Sub-Lieutenant Delisle last Friday in a Halifax sentencing courtroom. In the vernacular, the civilian judge got it right. Moreover, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand have gone one step further: they have now civilianized the positions of the Judge Advocate General and the Director of Military Prosecutions and moved their offices outside the military headquarters to the corresponding civilian department or ministry. We should do no less.
In closing, Mr. Chair, let me say that it is an honour for me to play a part in your examination of this bill. In my respectful submission, both as a former soldier and as someone who reads military law day in and day out, I urge you to balance the proposition being made to you by the proponent of this bill against the rights of ordinary Canadians serving our Queen and country in uniform.
I appreciate your attention and I am now available to take your questions.