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

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jerome Berthelette  Assistant Auditor General, Office of the Auditor General
Jody Thomas  Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence
Andrew Hayes  Senior General Counsel, Office of the Auditor General
Geneviève Bernatchez  Judge Advocate General, Canadian Armed Forces, Department of National Defence
Pat Kelly  Calgary Rocky Ridge, CPC
Randeep Sarai  Surrey Centre, Lib.
James Bezan  Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, CPC

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

Often, for instance, people talk about timeliness. Five weeks is actually very short for a military unit that is in operations and has a very high tempo. Five weeks to do an investigation for someone like me is a very short period of time, in fact, to turn it around, because often we're deployed at the same time or doing other things that have a lot of other priorities. If we have a year, we don't want to get to that year, but we have that time period.

I'm actually concerned about the education within the justice system. Who's actually responsible for the education of non-commissioned members, the ones who actually lay the charges and do all the hard work, the groundwork? Who's actually responsible for that education system?

4:30 p.m.

Cmdre Geneviève Bernatchez

Mr. Chair, I want to correct myself. I talked about one year, and I had forgotten that the regulations pertaining to Bill C-15 had come into force on September 1, 2018. That statute of limitations has been reduced to six months—six months for charges to be laid after the alleged commission of an offence.

The responsibility for legal education as it pertains to the military justice system falls to me. I define the standards. I define the content of the legal education. For example, presiding officer courses are developed under my authority. Of course, I do not have the wherewithal to ensure there's proper delivery, so I rely heavily on the defence academy to support and to ensure there is distributed training and support for training, and more to the point, that this training is decentralized and carried out at the unit level. The chain of command has also a great role to play in that regard.

October 22nd, 2018 / 4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

This is actually my criticism of the report from the Auditor General. In fact, I don't think you look at anything related really to the education system within the Canadian Armed Forces—for instance, in the Osside school for the non-commissioned members, the senior NCOs and the non-commissioned officers who actually do disciplinary hearings and charges and who actually have to come up and read the code of service discipline to find out what the charges are, obviously in conjunction with prosecutors. I don't think you reviewed that.

One of the things that irked me quite a bit is that you have a chart here, which is exhibit 3.2, “Primary roles and responsibilities for military justice”, and you have commanders of military units, but you actually don't have the NCMs. Once again, you're going back to the old way of doing the military system, where you have officers but everyone else is kind of forgotten about.

For me, obviously you could delegate some of these authorities, but often they are always delegated to people like me who have to carry out that work.

What I found in my time in the Canadian Armed Forces was that there was a lack of education. We had a very, very brief overview of some of these issues and what needed to occur. Because of that lack of education.... For instance, in the advanced leadership course or the intermediate leadership course, because they're so short—two weeks, three weeks—there is not enough time to really gain any greater understanding of the military justice system. We look at the charges in front of us and sometimes it makes it very difficult for the NCMs, the non-commissioned members, and the senior NCOs, the non-commissioned officers, to actually proceed with charges in a timely way.

Because obviously the Canadian Forces are supposed to be about team and how we work together, I'd actually like the Auditor General's office to reconsider their report and what they have done, because I think they've actually missed a major component of the report. I can read it here and what you have examined, and while it's very good and interesting, I think you've missed the essential component of it and who is actually responsible for doing that.

I must say that I was also—

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Would you like to give Mr. Hayes an opportunity just to respond to that?

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

I understand that he is....

One question I do have for him—because I have a limited amount of time—I must say I'm actually quite impressed—

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Actually, it's a minute over, and that's why I said that I wanted to give some time.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

Really quickly, I was really impressed with the justice round table, but once again, I think you missed including non-commissioned officers in that issue. I think you missed including the units that actually have to lay the charges, like the operational units and not just simply units that have a lot of administrative personnel, but units that are actually doing the combat, fighting on the ground and on the ships, and the regulating petty officers and the senior NCOs, the chiefs and the adjudants-maîtres—all these personnel who are doing all this work. They're so important to the justice system. If we forget about them, the justice system will never be at its full potential.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Monsieur Ouellette.

I'm going to go to Mr. Hayes just in response to some of the concerns in regard to the study itself.

4:35 p.m.

Senior General Counsel, Office of the Auditor General

Andrew Hayes

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Of course, as the honourable member mentioned, training is important. Obviously the success of the military justice system falls on the people who have to implement it.

Our audit focused on those who were accountable, so of course powers are delegated, but at the end of the day there is an accountability that rests with the commanding officers for the military units. Training, of course, as the commodore has mentioned, is going to be an important feature in how this military justice system is improved.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you.

We'll now move to Mr. Christopherson, please.

Mr. Christopherson.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

I suspect I am sharing some of the frustration I think Mr. Nuttall is showing.

Part of this process is that, yes, we acknowledge that we screwed up and we're going to make it better and here is how we're going to do it, but that doesn't end the accountability. I haven't heard a lot of accountability. This is a bad report. There is not much in here, Deputy, that is positive. I can't think of anything. There might be, but it certainly doesn't stand out. It's all negative.

My first question is this. Has anybody been personally held to account at a supervisory or senior management level for this boondoggle?

4:40 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

Jody Thomas

Thank you for the question, Mr. Christopherson.

The answer to that is no. There is a new judge advocate general, and she has a new staff. She came into the job in June 2018, and she exercised leadership to change the process before the Auditor General's report came out, but in conjunction with it. I don't think she disagreed with a single recommendation that was made, and she has worked with the Auditor General.

Sorry, she came in, in June 2017.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

That's fine. I hear your answer, thank you.

Was the previous commodore—the previous JAG—the problem?

4:40 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

Jody Thomas

I think there's been a series of problems.

The previous JAG retired and he did not put in monitoring and oversight, as required. The department did not ensure that there was monitoring and oversight, as required.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

I know we can't go this far publicly, but it makes me wonder whether the retirement was part of the solution, whether that was an escape hatch, or a push out....

If you're telling me it was the previous JAG, it would have been nice if we had heard that earlier, instead of having to wait towards the end of the meeting before we actually get a drip of accountability.

Deputy, in 2008 and 2009, the Bronson Consulting Group was brought in. They did two reviews. It looks to me like they were ignored, twice ignored. Why?

4:40 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

Jody Thomas

If we want to talk about accountability, there has been a habit in the Department of National Defence, as well as other departments, to not fully implement...or to say that perhaps the department—or the JAG or whomever—agreed with previous recommendations and actually did nothing about them.

We have been very clear that we do agree and we are implementing every single recommendation. The JAG has—

4:40 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

I appreciate that.

That also suggests that every major oversight system that was in place didn't work.

4:40 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

Jody Thomas

It didn't work to the extent it should have. That's the conclusion, and we agree.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

We're going to be following this, as you know.

I want to ask about the cases that were dropped because of the delay. It comes back to where Mr. Nuttall was, I believe, in terms of, okay, you have new standards.... It's on page 4:

In the 2016–17 fiscal year, a court martial dismissed charges in one case because of delay, and delay was a reason why military prosecutors decided not to proceed to trial in an additional nine cases.

Even though there are new standards in place and new tracking, there must have been something in place. We're talking about lawyers who, for the most part, care about the justice system. How could they let that happen? How could all of this keep going on? It would still be going on if the Auditor General hadn't come in. How could that be? Are we back to, “We didn't have a very good JAG”?

4:40 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

Jody Thomas

Mr. Chair, I did not say that we did not have a very good JAG. I would not like that to be on the record.

We have said that Commodore Bernatchez came in as the audit was going on, has started to implement change and has pushed forward with the change recommended by the Auditor General.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Deputy, you can appreciate that I asked the questions, “How could that be? Who is held accountable?” and I'm not getting much of an answer.

When I push it a little more and say, “Okay, we had a real problem with the JAG”, you say, “Well, I don't want to say anything not nice about the previous JAG.” Okay, that's fair. Maybe they don't deserve that. Who does?

4:40 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

Jody Thomas

I'm sorry, Mr. Chair. I don't think that I can answer that to a person. The system is responsible. The system is accountable, and I am accountable as the deputy to ensure that we implement everything that the Auditor General has recommended.

I will not name a person.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

I don't expect you to. I have to tell you, Canadians are getting....

Phoenix is another example. We're getting a little bit tired of all of these major screw-ups and nobody is really held to account.

I'm held to account on the doorstep, every election and every day I'm in my riding. This is the bureaucracy being held to account.

Account for yourselves.

4:40 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

Jody Thomas

We are accounting for ourselves in that we are not arguing with the Auditor General. We are not arguing with you. We acknowledge that this was not well done and in six months we will have evidence for you that we have taken this seriously and changes have been made. Changes have already been made.

In my opinion, Mr. Christopherson, this is not the same as Phoenix. This is a problem that we have to resolve within the department. We have the leadership in place to do that with Commodore Bernatchez.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thank you, Chair.