Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to this amendment.
My party is in favour of the amendment. However, my party remains opposed to the bill. The bill addresses military justice and my party agrees with re-examining the issue that is long overdue. Like everything this government does, no matter how noble it appears to be, all we have to do is scratch the surface and we will find there are always ulterior motives. Those motives are generally to look good rather than to be good. Again today is one of those days.
Addressing the issue of justice in the military is both important and urgent. My party understands that if we are to do something at all it is worth doing right. Unfortunately while there are some interesting points in the bill it leaves far too much out and it does not address the real problems Canadian forces face today.
What events brought us to this point? I think all members are aware of the events that transpired as a result of other events in Somalia. However, they are worth repeating. The Somalia inquiry was shut down for political and personal reasons early last year. That is what brings us here today.
Inquiry commissions are created because there is a public concern that needs to be addressed. As elected officials to the House it is incumbent on all of us to take such matters very seriously. It seems to me that if there a good enough reason to begin an inquiry commission then there is probably a good reason to complete an inquiry commission.
Canada's fine military is dragged through the mud and still there is no resolution. The government did not learn from these actions. Last week the public complaints commission looking into RCMP behaviour at APEC was shut down because there is a question of whether it was biased. The government should appoint an independent judicial inquiry that will get to the truth on that matter.
The government does not want the truth. It is not interested in the truth. Why? Because the truth hurts. We are not here because the government all of a sudden cares about justice in the military but because the government knows it made a mistake and now it wants to hide that mistake as well as possible. It is not because the government all of a sudden cares about military justice. The government shut down the Somalia public inquiry and the armed forces were left with no resolution. The government not only hurt the people involved directly in the Somalia case when it shut down the inquiry, it hurt the entire Canadian forces.
There is much in the bill that my party agrees with. The problem, however, is that when one tries to cover something up rather than address the real issue, as this government so often does, the result is often very inadequate.
Similarly, because the government introduced the bill for the wrong reasons, it does not go far enough in addressing the real problems.
The government missed an excellent opportunity to instil new confidence in the military. The government could have taken measures that would truly make a difference, measures that the Canadian public could point to and say the government listened, and they now have faith in the way the military operates, but the government did not listen. Instead it shut down an inquiry and stifled debate.
Now the Canadian public feels cheated, and justly so. The government feels proud when it says it is fulfilling 80% of the recommendations of the Somalia inquiry. I want to make two points on this not so great accomplishment.
First, the Somalia commission was cut short and so we do not know what the full recommendations would have been. Second, while the government thinks 80% is something to brag about, my party's answer is that quality is much more important than quantity.
The Somalia inquiry commissioner recommended that the judge advocate general be a civilian. The government ignored that recommendation. The Somalia inquiry commissioner recommended that an office of the inspector general be created. The government ignored that recommendation.
My party proposed in our election platform last year and we maintain today that creating the office of the inspector general would be the best way to make the military accountable and increase transparency to give the public more confidence in its armed forces.
We proposed in our platform establishing an inspector general for the armed forces to act as an ombudsman to address concerns that cannot be dealt with in the routine chain of command.
In the government's response to the Somalia inquiry, a document that for one reason or another which my party has not yet figured out is called “A commitment to Change”, the government turns down the proposed inspector general.
Why is this minister convinced that the Department of National Defence does not need an independent inspector general when experts who have studied for months and made recommendations to this department tell him he does need an inspector general?
The Minister of National Defence said the Canadian forces do not need someone looking over their shoulder. He went on to say that the role of the inspector general is being fulfilled in other ways. He mentions the grievance board made up of eminent Canadians. He mentions the new ombudsman.
If the minister really thinks the role of the inspector general is being fulfilled in other ways, why does he react so violently when my party recommends such an office?
It seems to me that if this grievance board and the ombudsman truly did the same thing as the inspector general, the minister would not be so quick to shut down the idea of inspector general by saying such a thing as the military does need someone looking over its shoulder.
Could it be that the grievance board and the ombudsman do not do what an inspector general could do? The way the bill would have it, these bodies have absolutely no teeth. They can make recommendations and the CDS can ignore them.
The Canadian public has little reason not to believe the recommendations will be ignored. The Canadian public is looking for a Canadian forces justice system that is fair and transparent. The Canadian public needs such a thing if it is to continue supporting the Canadian forces.
Unfortunately the government squandered the opportunity when it refused to listen to the advice of its own commissioners and ignored their recommendation for an inspector general.
The government does not listen. It does not hear. It does not want an office with teeth, with real authority. The government ignored the Somalia commissioner's recommendation and what my party cannot accept is the way the government picks and chooses what recommendations to follow.
My party wholeheartedly agrees with the need to change the military justice system. The bill needs to go further to create real change. We want people to know their military serves them and not itself. The bill fails to do that and the government has failed to do its job.