Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today on Bill S-3, which is before us today.
This bill is not very complicated. In December 2004 the House of Commons passed a series of measures requiring sex offenders to be listed in a registry. After this legislation passed and came into force on December 15, 2004, if memory serves, people realized that the military justice system did not have a similar provision.
I think it is important to explain for a few minutes what the difference is between civil justice and military justice. Some people will want to know whether this means that military personnel are treated differently in the military system than we are in the civil system. We have a typical example of this in the bill before us today.
When advances are made in the civil justice system, it is important for them to be incorporated into the military system as well. Some of the people watching us today may well wonder whether military system can be more permissive than the civil system. The answer is no. It is important, though, to have a military justice system and for it to be distinct from the civil system, even though it follows this system and adapts to it. The military environment is very distinctive. It has codes of honour. I have had the opportunity to attend courts martial and can assure the people watching us today that the application of the law in the military system is just as valid as in the civil system.
Everything needed for a valid justice system is there. There is a court, called a court martial. There is a judge, who listens to the case, and there are military defence attorneys and military Crown prosecutors who present the evidence. Then the judge decides. As I said, it is distinctive. It is true that it seems different because we are accustomed to seeing large provincial, federal and even municipal courts, and that is not the case at a court martial. For example, there are regular courts martial at the base in Saint-Jean. The trappings may be a little different, but when it comes to the gist of the matter, justice is done.
This bill just ensures, therefore, that Bill C-16 will apply and the military justice system will reflect the goals and objectives of that legislation.
The current Minister of National Defence, who was formerly the Conservative defence critic, stated something that was a bit different, though, back in 2005. He slightly criticized the forerunner of this bill, that is to say Bill C-16, saying that military personnel found guilty of sex offences should be taken out of the Canadian armed forces because the military is set up so that everyone can be replaced in every operation.
We must not confuse the sentence with the registry. The problem now is that the sentences are carried out. For example, someone from the Canadian Forces who was sentenced for a sexual offence before the implementation of Bill S-3 could receive a sentence, could actually be discharged from the armed forces for a serious offence, but they did not have to enter their name in a registry that already exists for civilians.
The bill before us simply opens up the possibility that, from now on, a convicted member of the military who has received a sentence, whether or not they are discharged from the armed forces, will have to register their name. As several of my colleagues have said, there will be registration offices here and there throughout Canada for people to register and the measures will be pretty strict. I think that is a good thing. In fact, I get the impression that is why Bill S-3 before us is being fast-tracked, that is, that one representative for each political party will speak to the bill and then it will be deemed to have been adopted at all stages. We must not think that the matter is extremely complicated. It is simply an adjustment.
I also said a while ago that military justice is just as valid as civil justice, but it must be recalled that it operates in a very different context.
There are some exceptions in the bill. For example, someone could be sentenced in a sensitive theatre of operations. The example is often given of the special forces, whose numbers are not known and who operate in a theatre in an unknown location. If someone is convicted of a sexual offence in a court martial, obviously the event cannot be given a lot of coverage. The chief of staff can even say that, although there are time limits in the act for registering, he will have to exceed these limits because he is in a specific theatre of operations and national security requires him not to reveal where he is. We must understand that this is an exception. We acknowledge this.
Furthermore in the bill before us there are provisions that ensure that this is not a loophole. Not only will the person convicted of a sexual offence be sentenced, but they will also have to register their name. It was said earlier: these are tools that will help the police forces carry out their investigations. The person must register their name in any case. There are even provisions for revisiting a case every 15 days and determining whether the exemption on grounds of national security is still valid. I think that this is something important in the bill.
People must not get the idea that anyone is trying to get away with something or that someone in the military who is charged with a sexual offence, and convicted, is to be exempt from the law. We do not want people to get the idea someone can get away with something, or avoid their obligations. That is not the purpose of the law, or of this provision. It is not to allow someone to evade the law. In circumstances in which military operations are underway, it is important that there be allowance for taking the theatre of operations into account, and for sentencing the guilty person when it is over. The person will have to serve a sentence, and may even be expelled from the army, but in any event will have to register. The law did not provide for that, and now it does.
We are pleased to support this bill. We believe that this is simply a matter of consistency with Bill C-16. There will no longer be any exceptions in society. Even though we have a military justice system parallel to the civilian justice system, there must still be some logic in how they apply, and previously there was not.
In fact I believe that the Senate realized this. I should say, rather, that the other house realized there was a problem. That is why it decided to send the bill to the House of Commons.
I think they have done a good job. I do not believe that we need an exhaustive study of this matter. We may have made mistakes at certain times, for example on the question of the Veterans Charter. At the time, we thought that an election was coming and that the bill had to be passed at top speed, skipping some stages. We may have made mistakes, because not only was the bill longer, but it also had more impact on veterans as a group.
This bill, however, is not particularly long, and it really does not have many consequences, apart, as I said, from updating the law to be consistent with what was done in Bill C-16.
I do not think that there will be any national outcry if we say today that we go along with Bill C-16, that we will fast-track it through the stages, as we have decided to do and as the House leaders have also decided to do.
In conclusion, I would like to reassure the public. The military justice system will now be as effective and as stringent, in dealing with sexual offenders, as the civilian justice system is. Those people will not be able to avoid their obligations. They will have to be registered in the database like everyone else.
I therefore believe that there will be unanimous agreement in this House, at least from the Bloc Québécois. I have heard my colleagues say that they support the bill. The Bloc Québécois also supports Bill S-3.