Evidence of meeting #113 for National Defence in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was victims.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Geneviève Bernatchez  Judge Advocate General, Canadian Armed Forces, Department of National Defence
Stephen Strickey  Colonel, Deputy Judge Advocate General, Military Justice, Department of National Defence
Richard Martel  Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, CPC
Julie Dzerowicz  Davenport, Lib.
Geneviève Lortie  Director of Law, Military Justice, Policy, Department of National Defence

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Stephen Fuhr

I call the meeting to order.

Good morning to everyone, and welcome to the defence committee and the committee's first look at Bill C-77, an act to amend the National Defence Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other acts.

Appearing today is the Honourable Harjit Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, and Commodore Bernatchez, Judge Advocate General, Canadian Armed Forces. Thank you very much for appearing.

We have the minister only until the top of the hour, so I want to commence without delay.

Minister, you have the floor.

11:30 a.m.

Vancouver South B.C.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan LiberalMinister of National Defence

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Members of the—

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

I have a point of order, Mr. Chair. We had the minister slated in for an hour. I want to put on the record that the motion in the House to force a vote took away half an hour here. I think it was done on purpose by the department—

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

This is not a point of order.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

It is, because it is reducing the amount of time we have with the minister. I think the Liberals should have taken that into consideration before they moved that motion so that we could have the opportunity to have the minister for the entire hour, which had been promised to us.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

What's your point?

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

I hope that the minister—

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Stephen Fuhr

We're just exacerbating the time that we do have.

Minister, you have the floor.

October 23rd, 2018 / 11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Thank you.

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.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Stephen Fuhr

Thank you, Minister.

I'll just remind everyone in the room that if you have a cellphone or an iPad, it would be appreciated if you turn the ringer off.

To members, if you see this, wind down in 30 seconds or less. I will be very disciplined on passing the floor to the next speaker, because we have limited time.

Go ahead, Mr. Gerretsen.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Minister, for coming today to appear before the committee to talk about this very significant piece of legislation.

We know that the former Conservative government introduced a similar bill just days before the House rose prior to an election, which I guess was at best just bad timing, as it would have been nearly impossible to get this through the House and the Senate in five or six days.

However, I do note that there are two major differences between that piece of legislation and the one that has been presented to the House and is now before committee. They actually differ on two points. One is the Gladue principle and the other is defender identity and gender expression components.

Can you comment on how these two were introduced? Was it done through the consultative process that you've been undertaking over the last few years? How important do you see these in the piece of legislation?

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

That's a great question.

We can all agree on the importance of this bill and the importance of moving it through as quickly as possible through our parliamentary process. When we conducted our defence policy review, while having these greater discussions, the JAG branch was also conducting a thorough review on what changes we needed to make.

We needed to make sure that when we're putting forward this legislation, it's in line not only with our government policy and the direction that we're going with in the criminal justice system but also with our defence policy. These changes do just that.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Can you talk about the consultation that did occur over the last few years to get us to this point? What consultation was involved in the process? Can you share any of the outcomes or any other specific clauses of the bill that stem from those consultations?

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

I'll get the JAG to speak to the actual detailed consultations, but when it comes to the defence policy review and looking at the wider aspect, we're going to be looking at the Canadian Armed Forces, which guides how we need to manage almost everything that we do. As you know it was extremely thorough right across the country, and we made sure that we spoke with experts, community leaders and military, and we especially made sure that members of Parliament had the opportunity to weigh-in.

Commodore Bernatchez, would you comment?.

11:40 a.m.

Commodore Geneviève Bernatchez Judge Advocate General, Canadian Armed Forces, Department of National Defence

When we are looking at the analysis of the bill and the legal policy considerations that need to come into play, we consult with all of the military justice system actors in order to ensure that the changes that are being proposed will also meet their requirements.

We consult with our colleagues from the Department of Justice, because one of the aims that we're trying to achieve with the military justice system is to ensure that it keeps pace with Canadian law, and that it keeps pace with Canadian values. That cannot be done in isolation. That needs to be done in consultation with all of the legal actors in Canada. Those would have been the consultations that would have occurred.

The other very important piece is consultation with the chain of command itself—actors who use the military justice system on a daily basis—to ensure that the military justice system continues to meet the needs of the Canadian Armed Forces every single day.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Can you comment on how the bill helps to discourage behaviour that motivated prejudice or hatred based on gender identity or gender expression in the military justice system?

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

With the changing of the system to a summary hearing process, it allows for a much quicker response. When you have minor infractions or things of discipline that need to be dealt with, it allows the chain of command to be far more responsive. That is very important. It allows the chain of command to deal with disciplinary issues very quickly, and that, in essence, also provides the ability at the lower level to make sure that issues can be dealt with at the early stages rather than letting them become a lot bigger over time.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Can you comment on how many, or what percentage, of the matters that were before the court prior were those smaller offences or the less significant offences?

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

I don't know if the JAG has the numbers for that.

Having gone through the system myself as a former CO, a lot of burden was put into it when it was a summary trial, a very legal mechanism. Commanding officers have a qualification for it, but there's no way for anybody to be...unless you're a lawyer.

What this does is put that complexity in the legal system where it needs to be, with the experts, and allows for the discipline piece to be kind of managed.

I don't have the exact numbers, but the point is that this will speed up the process and allow for even the bigger cases to move faster.

JAG, can you add to that?

11:45 a.m.

Cmdre Geneviève Bernatchez

Yes, thank you.

I will refer here to the annual report that I am mandated by the National Defence Act to present to the minister on a annual basis and that was tabled in Parliament at the beginning of the month. We have statistics there that indicate 90% of matters that are dealt with by the military justice system are currently dealt with by summary trial. This is the vast, vast majority of it.

Bill C-77 would go to the heart of addressing the ability of the chain of command to maintain an ability to address disciplinary issues at the unit level.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Do you think going to the chain of command to deal with these less significant offences will be more effective?

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Absolutely. This is something that the chain of command was very responsive to, because it's going to allow greater flexibility for commanding officers.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Stephen Fuhr

Thank you.

MP Bezan is next.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the minister and Madam JAG for being with us today.

Minister, it was just brought to my attention that there was a security forum in Victoria that you weren't able to attend. I haven't heard whether or not you are going to be at the Halifax security forum. Are you going to be able to make that this year?