Mr. Chair, I can assure you there is no conspiracy here.
Members of the Standing Committee on National Defence, distinguished colleagues, it's great to be here alongside the Judge Advocate General to discuss Bill C-77 and the important changes we are proposing to the National Defence Act. I look forward to answering your questions at the end of my remarks, as always.
As you know, Bill C-77 proposed a number of changes in the National Defence Act and at the heart of these changes it's about our people, the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces who make the great sacrifices every single day in service to our great country. This includes the military justice system that ensures that victims receive the support they need and deserve and a system that promotes a culture of leadership, respect and honour.
The Canadian Armed Forces members are held to a high standard of conduct and they're expected to uphold and reflect Canadian values in everything that they do. Whether stationed in Canada or deployed around the world, we ask a lot of them every single day, so we have a responsibility to ensure that the rules that guide their conduct are transparent, equitable and fair. These rules must reflect the current times and must be aligned with the Canadian values and those of the Canada civilian criminal justice system.
Much of what is within Bill C-77 is an extension of work that our government is already doing to ensure that a more victim-centred approach to justice; to build on Bill C-65, our government's legislative against workplace harassment; to strengthen truth and reconciliation with indigenous peoples; and to change military culture through Operation Honour in order to ensure the Canadian Armed Forces is a respectful workplace of choice for every Canadian.
I'd like to take a moment to expand on the importance of Operation Honour. As many of you know in this room, Operation Honour aims to eliminate sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. Both I and the chief of defence staff have been very clear that we have a zero tolerance for sexual misconduct of any kind in our Canadian Armed Forces.
Through Operation Honour, we have introduced a new victim response centre, better training for the Canadian Armed Forces personnel, and easier reporting. I would also like to note that the Canadian Armed Forces Provost Marshal recently released the result of a comprehensive review of previously unfounded sexual assault cases. Of the 179 cases examined, 23 cases have been reopened and identified for further investigation, and we commend the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service and the Provost Marshal for their work in ensuring victims are heard.
I would also like to acknowledge the important work of the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, which recently released its annual report. We thank the SMRC for continuing to support Canadian Armed Forces members affected by sexual misconduct. I am also pleased to note that the SMRC is looking at providing case workers to victims of inappropriate sexual behaviour to ensure they have continuous support from when they first report an incident to when their case concludes.
The work of the SMRC has been exceptional, and I know that the victims are being well supported as a result of their efforts.
I would now like to turn to the legislation at hand and highlight Bill C-77 , which will give victims a voice and change our National Defence Act in four important ways.
First, like the civilian criminal justice system, it will enshrine important rights for victims.
Second, it will seek harsher penalties for crimes motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on gender identity or expression.
Third, it will ensure that the specific circumstances of indigenous offenders are taken into account in the sentencing process.
Fourth, it will reform the manner in which the chain of command administers summary trials.
Bill C-77 proposes the inclusion of the declaration of victims rights in the National Defence Act. This declaration mirrors the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, which strengthens and guides how we support victims in the civilian criminal justice system.
Specifically, the bill would legislate four new victims' rights within the military justice system. They are: the right to information, the right to protection, the right to participation, and the right to restitution.
In order to ensure victims are able to exercise these rights, they will be entitled to the support of a victim liaison officer, should they request it. These liaison officers will be able to explain how service offences are charged, dealt with, and tried under the Code of Service Discipline.
They liaison officers will help victims access information to which they are entitled, and they will remain available to assist victims throughout their interaction with the military justice system. This ensures victims understand each stage of the process and how they can engage meaningfully throughout. The support they offer will be comprehensive and fair, and it will always be offered in the spirit of preserving victims' dignity.
Bill C-77 also specifically addresses issues of gender-based prejudice and hatred in military service offences and infractions. The bill proposes harsher sentences and sanctions for service offences and infractions motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on the gender expression of identity. Our women and men in uniform, and those who work and live alongside them, must feel welcomed and respected at all times. The Canadian Armed Forces has zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind. This amendment will better align the military justice system with that principle.
On that note, the defence team has been working hard, through programs like the positive spaces initiative, to help create inclusive work environments for everyone regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. I commend them for their work on this initiative, which provides training to ambassadors in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirited community members who work with us every day.
The next change I would like to focus on is how we propose updating the military justice system to better reflect the realities of historic injustices inflicted upon indigenous peoples. In the civilian criminal justice system, the Criminal Code mandates that judges must carefully consider circumstances during sentencing. Specifically, for all offenders, they must consider all available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable under the circumstances and consistent with the harm done to victims or to the community. This principle is to be applied with particular attention to the circumstances of indigenous offenders. It is our shared responsibility to repair and renew our relationship with indigenous peoples. As our Prime Minister has said on many occasions, no relationship is more important to our government, and to Canada, than the one we have with indigenous peoples.
By incorporating these considerations into sentencing, this legislation will ensure that our Canadian Armed Forces and our government continue on the right path forward. This is one of the elements that distinguishes Bill C-77 from similar legislation introduced by the previous government in the dying days of the 41st Parliament. I believe this addition strengthens this bill, and I'm proud to have it included here. To that end, I trust that I can count on everyone's support to get this legislation passed in a timely manner.
The last significant area of change brought about by this legislation relates to the summary trial process. The JAG can speak to these changes in greater detail, but I want to quickly address the changes and their effects, as well. To date, minor breaches of military discipline have been handled through summary trials. Our proposed legislation would implement a non-penal, non-criminal summary hearing process to replace the summary trial system. This change would ensure that minor breaches of military discipline are dealt with efficiently, while maintaining the fairness of the overall system.
An example of a service infraction that could be caught up by these changes would be something like being absent without leave, or AWOL for short. It is these types of offences that we are looking to address with this legislation. It also demonstrates trust and confidence in military leaders who can address minor breaches of discipline at their level.
Taken together, these changes proposed through our new legislation are important in modernizing the military justice system and maintaining its responsiveness toward breaches of military discipline.
Our Prime Minister gave me a mandate to establish and maintain a workplace free from harassment and discrimination. Our defence policy—strong, secure, engaged—emphasizes the importance of looking after our women and men in uniform and ensuring that victims are supported through the military justice system. That is why I'm extremely proud to be speaking to Bill C-77 today. Not only will Bill C-77 ensure that our Canadian Armed Forces members are protected by a military justice system that keeps pace with Canadian concepts of justice, but it will make sure victims are supported and heard.
I look forward to the committee providing a full review analysis of this legislation, and I look forward to your questions.
Thank you very much.