Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to a bill that is very important for the concept of justice in our nation.
As has been said by other members of the House, I am very disappointed that the bill emanates from the other place and that the government has not seen fit to bring forth this legislation and move it forward through the proper channels, which would be through the House of Commons, so that the bill on this very important topic would originate here. At the same time, I commend the hon. senators of the other place who put their time and effort into working on this very important issue.
This enactment, as has been indicated, would amend the National Defence Act to authorize military judges to issue DNA warrants in the investigation of designated offences committed by a person who is subject to the code of service discipline. It also authorizes military judges to order military offenders convicted of a designated offence to provide samples of bodily substances for the purposes of the national DNA data bank. These authorities are similar to those that may be exercised by a provincial court judge under the criminal code.
This enactment would make related amendments to the DNA Identification Act and the criminal code. The DNA Identification Act amendments would allow bodily substances and the DNA profiles derived from them, which are taken as a result of an order or authorization by a military judge, to be included in the national DNA data bank.
The criminal code amendments extend the prohibition against unauthorized use of bodily substances and the results of forensic DNA analysis to include those obtained under the National Defence Act. In this bill there are other amendments to the criminal code which clarify and strengthen the existing regime concerning the taking of bodily substances for the purposes of forensic DNA analysis.
The important thing is that the legislation brings about consistency between the justice system for those who are in the national defence regime and those who are not. I have often spoken to members of our Canadian forces. I have been saddened to hear some of them tell me that quite often in the areas of health and justice they feel that they are second class citizens.
One young man talked to me in confidence about the fact that if he had a medical problem he did not feel he got the same kind of treatment as he would if he were on civvy street so to speak. The same sentiment was echoed with respect to the justice system. Quite often they saw the justice system as a kangaroo court. Because of the rank and file structure of national defence, they felt that they were not getting fair justice and that they were in a lot of cases facing a kangaroo court. These sentiments were expressed to me by members of the Canadian forces.
Any step that can be taken to make the justice system fair for all of our citizens is a very important step to take. Certainly this legislation moves in that direction by making sure that provisions for DNA collection and sampling are similar across the justice system. This is a very important aspect of the bill.
The bill touches on many topics and I will not get into all of them. It outlines the information that is required for taking the DNA warrant. It talks about the various investigative procedures, the contents of the information and how this information must be filed with the courts, the marshal administrator, certain formalities that are involved respecting the taking of warrants, the issue of the detention of people, privacy, transmission of results to a commissioner and the transmission of bodily substances. All these topics are dealt with in the bill, as is the role of the peace officer. These are all very important items.
The bill repeats a lot of things that were mentioned in previous legislation, Bill C-3. This bill has widespread support with the law enforcement agencies and the public. The concern of many people in the public is that our justice system bring about speedy and just results. They see the collection of DNA and the taking of samples and so forth as being one means to ensure that kind of justice.
I recall speaking with some law enforcement officers not that long ago who were very concerned about this issue. They wanted the support of the members to make sure that appropriate legislation was passed to facilitate them with their most difficult job of trying to handle the crimes that come before them. The bill is certainly a step in that direction.
The NDP supports the idea of the bill, the collection of DNA via warrants. It is important that due process be built in when this kind of system takes place.
While there is a great deal of support by police officers and members of the public, a number of people also have concerns about the bill. Many civil liberties groups have some concerns about it. We recognize that these are valid concerns. They range from economic concerns, the money that could be spent on other issues, to ethical concerns of DNA testing itself and the probability that the forcible taking of DNA samples may be challenged under the charter of rights.
A number of issues need to be addressed when this legislation goes to committee. Some of these are the indefinite period of keeping DNA on file; the inclusion of young offenders in the bill; and the issue of who has access to the DNA data bank and how the information may be used. The latter is very important because when we are talking about DNA we know that it is very peculiar to an individual. It is a part of the individual's identification, a part of that person. There has to be a certain amount of privacy and respect for privacy. We have to be careful as to how this information is used.
The fact that DNA may be taken even while a case is under appeal is another issue which should be discussed in committee and dealt with. The taking of DNA is mandatory upon conviction rather than at the discretion of the judiciary or upon request of the accused. That is an issue of concern to many people.
Finally, there is the fact that a person can be detained for what is defined as a reasonable amount of time for the taking of samples as opposed to setting a clearly defined period of time. What is reasonable in one person's eyes may not necessarily be reasonable in another person's eyes. There should be some kind of consideration given to specifying the amount of time involved when we are implementing that part of the legislation.
There are also the costs, maintenance and security of the DNA bank.
While we in the NDP support this legislation, we are supporting it cautiously with the caveat that the issues we have defined and talked about are extremely important and must be dealt with. They should be dealt with in a way that is going to make sure that we are improving the justice system and creating fairness and justice for all.
DNA is an extremely valuable and reliable tool for crime fighting. We support this legislation and urge that when the bill goes before committee that the very important issues I have talked about be discussed and dealt with.