Madam Speaker, I am quite pleased to rise today to debate Bill C-25, an act to amend the National Defence Act. I can only say I am pleased to contribute to this debate in the sense that it has been 50 years since this act first made it through Parliament.
It is important that we get down to some of the very basic needs in our military. It has been kicked around for so many years for the most part by Liberal governments. I find it unsettling that the Liberal government of today wants to look at itself as being the saviour of the military when in fact it has been the opposite; it has been the destroyer of the military. We in this country are paying the price now for what was done some 20 years ago under another Liberal regime.
Bill C-25 is supposed to be a response by this government to the Dickson report and the Somalia inquiry report. As far as I am concerned it does not adequately respond to all of the needs of the military. This was the government's chance. The government had a chance to amend the act with this bill. Unfortunately, it made a mockery of much of the commission's final report.
Amending the National Defence Act at this time represents a rare opportunity to address many of the concerns which have been voiced regarding the military justice system and the manner in which the Canadian forces interacts with and responds to its members.
It has been a real eye opener to travel this country, to speak with military personnel at the various base locations and to hear what they think of the government, the treatment of the forces and how it has impacted the communities in which they live. For the most part it is a shame. What has happened to the military community at the hands of the government is it is a disgusting mess. We have not been their protector, even though they lose many rights by joining the military forces. They have had an extremely difficult struggle during these past few years.
The events in Somalia opened up a Pandora's box of issues which set the stage for a great deal of investigation, criticism and self-examination. The excessive budget cuts the government has delivered to the defence department have dealt a serious blow to the forces' operational capabilities, their procurement plans and among other things, their morale. Particularly serious is the diminishing state of the living standards of the lower ranks.
Many had hoped that the government would seize this opportunity to put in place the reforms which have been proposed by those who have closely examined the state of the Canadian Armed Forces, not the least of which was the Somalia commission of inquiry.
While Bill C-25 is a step in the right direction, it unfortunately does not go nearly far enough. C-25 is full of half measures which on the surface appear to address many of the concerns which have been raised. However, underneath the surface the measures are clearly not going to get to the heart of the troubles within DND.
Before I get into a more specific examination of the bill, I think it would be appropriate for me to remind the House of some of my party's wish-list for reforms to the defence department, particularly with respect to military justice matters.
The official opposition would like to see three qualities built into the National Defence Act. In particular, we would like to see the military justice system reflect the following qualities. We feel very strongly that unless these qualities are included, there can be no substantive reform. The first quality is accountability, the second is openness and the third is independence.
I am talking about the military justice system. The government refuses to address any of these qualities in any serious way. I think we can all agree that the military justice system is in serious need of repair. That is presumably why the government commissioned both the Dickson report and the Somalia commission. I would suggest that is at least what most people were led to believe.
When it became clear that the government was going to come under fire for some of its friends' handling of the events in Somalia, the Liberals shut down the inquiry. This unprecedented move placed a permanent blight on the history of apparently independent government sponsored inquiries in this country.
When one thinks about the ramifications of that closure, this should never happen on an independent inquiry which was commissioned to search out the truth. This government is a leader, if one wants to call it that, in actually shutting down an inquiry for the first time in our history.
Despite the government's best efforts, the Somalia inquiry commissioners did produce a comprehensive report. Among other things the report provided an extensive recommendation on how the military justice system could best be reformed to provide openness, accountability and independence.
The government of course made every effort to ignore the commissioners' report. The government downplayed it, mocked it and the defence minister denounced it. Now we see in Bill C-25 that the government has rejected it. In fact, Bill C-25 is largely the government's attempt to pay lip service to the commissioners' recommendations while escaping its obligation to provide the kind of comprehensive, meaningful change that would be required to properly bring justice to the defence department.
Much of Bill C-25 is smoke and mirrors. Of the hundreds of recommendations the Somalia inquiry report made, three of them were most important. Each remains unfulfilled in the amendments proposed by the government.
The first recommendation that remains unfulfilled is that the military police be taken out of the chain of command and be given greater independence and that they should report to the solicitor general in matters relating to the investigations of major disciplinary offences and criminal misconduct.
The second recommendation is in regard to the judge advocate general. The Somalia inquiry recommended the creation of the office of the chief military judge as well as the separation of the judge advocate general's office into the defence and prosecutorial roles. Again this was not done.
The third recommendation that is unfulfilled is the creation of the office of inspector general which would among other things create more accountability in the Canadian forces. In other words, when a complaint would be filed it would be acted upon independently and not subject to the whims of the commander or someone else in DND.
The above three recommendations are entirely consistent with what my party has been saying in this House since 1993. Surely a primary goal of any justice system should be the creation of a system whereby all participants are treated fairly, equally, openly, and where all participants are held accountable for their actions. Such a system would also be able to act independently and impartially. As evidence has shown, that is not the case with the military justice system.
What changes have been made are superficial at best. We will see how much accountability will be registered in those superficial changes. In the absence of those qualities being fulfilled, there can be no justice. Bill C-25 fails these tests.
In fairness, the bill takes several steps in the right direction. Bill C-25 clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the various players in the military justice system.
Instead of the base commander calling in the military police for an investigation, the provost marshal will have direct influence in handling that investigation. That may prove beneficial in some cases but the provost marshal is still in the chain of command, still subject to influence from the top. That is a concern to us and it should be a concern for the military. If it is looking for independence and fairness in the system, it should take that out of the chain of command and give it to an inspector general.
Bill C-25 separates on an institutional basis the military justice system's investigative, prosecutorial and judicial functions. That is certainly warranted. It tends to go in the right direction as far as having a little independence but there is still not enough. It still falls within the chain of command, is still subject to influence, even political influence nowadays. It seems to be very much directed in that fashion and we object to that. We want to see greater independence. It can be achieved if it is taken right out of the chain of command.
Complete summary trial reform is the third point. The fourth is to establish two oversight bodies that are apparently external to the defence department and the Canadian forces, namely a Canadian forces grievance board and a military police complaints commission. How much teeth they will have remains to be seen.
The bill requires those two new bodies and the judge advocate general to file annual reports with the minister who in turn would have to table them in Parliament. There is a little more openness and a little more accountability. If the reports are scrutinized and they are not sanitized before they reach this House, then fine. At least we can look at what is going on in that fashion.
The bill requires the chief of the defence staff, the new provost marshal and the ombudsman to file annual reports. It requires the Minister of National Defence to report to Parliament after five years with a review of the act.
The amendments have been subject to scrutiny. A group of individuals will oversee the implementation of the amendments. It is unfortunate that this group will be subject to two years of scrutiny to ensure the amendments are introduced in an adequate fashion and then it will be disbanded. There will be no oversight agency. Most of the implementation of the amendments will be over a five-year period. The board will be disbanded after two years and to what end? What is the value of the board in the first place?
Many of these amendments are good ideas. It is about time the roles and responsibilities of the players within the military justice system were established. It is hard to imagine that the system has functioned for as long as it has without such definitions.
It is about time the judge advocate general's responsibilities were further defined and divided. This is one of the major areas of concern for the Somalia commissioners, although they recommended total reform of the JAG's office. We argue that it would be much more advisable to formally separate these functions into separate offices and to do away with the judge advocate general's office in its present form altogether.
It only makes sense to have the investigative, prosecutorial, defence and judicial functions separate. The creation of the Canadian forces grievance board and the military police complaints commission are two of the most often noted amendments in this act. Both cause me some concern.
Both these new organizations will exist within the chain of command and therefore will remain vulnerable to influence from within the department. This will be of little comfort to many members of the Canadian forces who have had to deal with the military justice system in the past or who will come in contact with it in the future.
The creation of the ombudsman is frankly a joke and a poor one at that. This is a half hearted attempt at satisfying the Somalia commission's call for an inspector general. The ombudsman will be a paper tiger. It will have no teeth and will likely provide more frustration than good. Many provinces have ombudsman offices and we can see how much influence they really have in resolving the concerns that are delivered, little or none. They certainly do not have any influence or power to change anything.
The bottom line is the Canadian forces need an inspector general. The most obvious omission in Bill C-25 is the absence of the creation of that office. America, Germany and Britain have inspectors general. The Reform Party has called for one. The Somalia commissioners have called for one.
Everyone outside this government for the most part thinks Canada should have an inspector general. Why is it that Canada has independent investigators in the civilian justice system but does not allow the same to apply in the military justice system? What is it that this government is so afraid of happening if an individual outside the chain of command and independent of rank structure were able to investigate allegations of wrongdoing?
I can relate to one that should have been thoroughly investigated. This situation impacted on the security of this country. I am talking about the problem of personnel at CFB Leitrim using drugs. Leitrim is probably the highest security area we have in the military involving the collection of data pertinent to the security of this country. Yet at CFB Leitrim there were individuals using drugs. Where do drugs come from? Ultimately from organized crime. They were associating with such suppliers. Some individuals even had questionable personnel backgrounds yet they were sitting in a seat of high security.
I do not think that is acceptable. It should not be acceptable in this country. The information the military often involves itself in deals with what? Organized crime. Who deals with drugs? Organized crime. Information on terrorism, terrorists and aid to civil power comes through CFB Leitrim.
I do not find it acceptable that a commander can have control but cannot investigate in an adequate sense a situation that involves the security of this country. This is exactly what has happened.
I think these investigations definitely have to be outside the realm of DND. If a complaint is laid it should be handled in a very professional and appropriate manner, always with the security intent in mind and always with the intent to convict the wrongdoer, not to warn him.
The Somalia inquiry commissioners went into great detail regarding the need for an inspector general. Yet this government chooses to ignore the recommendation. It seems to be more intent, happier I guess, to appoint committees and ombudsmans and boards but is really not willing to have a definite line drawn to create a genuine independent structure or infrastructure that would name names and hold individuals accountable.
I think the matter of the Somalia inquiry might not have happened if there had been an inspector general willing to pick up the investigation and make sure it was carried through and handled properly.
That is the independence we are looking for. Ultimately it frightens the Liberals. They do not want independence. They do not want an investigation to be conducted in a thorough manner even if it means selecting those at the top who were not accountable, who were responsible, and removing them or having them disciplined in some fashion. That should be happening. Unfortunately that inquiry was cut short.
I do not think there should be a culture of secrecy, cover-up, intimidation to exist unchecked. It was evident some of that took place during the whole Somalia affair.
Bill C-25 is an opportunity for this government to correct the wrong. It refuses to do it. As a result we in the Reform Party will not be supporting the bill without substantial amendments.