Mr. Speaker, before I go into the details of the bill, it is important that those watching on television understand that there is a civilian justice system and a military justice system. Many people that I meet often wonder why military personnel are not governed by the same system as other citizens. It is important to understand that the military justice system is not new, and neither is the history and the definition of courts martial. Members of the military have always been judged by their peers. This is important.
Right away I want to reassure anyone who thinks this could be problematic. It is possible to appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court, which can evaluate cases and demand changes. By the way, Justice Lamer, one of the great chief justices of the Supreme Court of Canada, studied the military justice system. He also reassured Quebeckers and Canadians that this does not pose a problem. The judge said that he would make some minor amendments in order to reassure everyone and to make it known that the system is effective.
That being said, it is important to bear in mind that soldiers and military personnel are not an exception. This is another kind of justice, which is sometimes even more expedient. Trials can be held in theatres of operation. If someone's actions require discipline, we must not wait for that individual to return from the theatre of operations to resolve the matter externally. Swifter justice can often be achieved in this way, which is important.
As for the act's provisions, they are rather straightforward. Soldiers face summary trials for minor offences. Those who rule in such cases are not necessarily lawyers or judges, but rather they are often the commander or a superior officer. However, this is only for cases that are not overly serious. More serious cases are tried at courts martial. Four exist at this time, but the bill before us would eliminate two of them in an attempt to condense things and simplify the situation.
I would now like to address the fast tracking process. I would remind the House that this is not the first time that bills have been introduced near the end of a session, with claims that it is an emergency and that we must hurry up and pass the bills before the end of the parliamentary session. We have been fooled in some cases. The best example I can think of was the bill to implement the new veterans charter. The bill passed quickly at first, second and third readings, and that was it. However, there were some problems later on.
Thus, it is important to do two things. We must first assess the urgency of the matter and then pass the bill before the end of this session, for all the reasons we have already heard and others that I will explain later on. Furthermore, if we want to avoid making mistakes, we must write a sunset clause into this bill. I do not see a difference between what my hon. Liberal colleague is suggesting, that is, a mandatory review in two years, and a sunset clause. I am anxious to see how this problem will be solved in committee.
If we pass a bill quickly and go to committee this afternoon to try to resolve this once and for all, it is important to give ourselves room to say that if we make the slightest mistake with this bill we have the possibility, even the obligation, to come back to it under a sunset clause. In my opinion, it is very important to keep a sunset clause available in such cases.
What is the urgency with this bill today? That is not terribly complicated. It has to do with the Trépanier decision. As I was saying earlier, there are several levels of appeal in military justice. There is court martial and also the Court Martial Appeal Court. The latter was the level in question: the judges decided that the provisions of the legislation were unconstitutional and contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. When the government said it was complicated and that it would like to delay the application of the legislation for a year in order to clean things up, the Appeal Court refused.
This means that as of April 24, no court martial can sit because it was determined that they were in conflict with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The director of military prosecutions caused the problem. Under the old legislation, he was the one who determined which court martial would hear a case. The judges ruled that this was not fair to the accused. Furthermore, in a civil proceeding, the accused can often choose which type of court to be tried in and can choose to appear before a judge or a jury. This was not possible under the act and that is why it was amended.
In closing, I would say that the work we are doing today is important. The Bloc Québécois understands the urgent need for action. It is clear that we will support this bill at second reading stage.
Nonetheless, we want to do serious work in committee this afternoon, but we know that will not be possible. When we have just half a day to study a bill, we risk making mistakes. To ensure that we have a safety net, adding a sunset clause would be the best course of action. That is why we will introduce one in committee this afternoon.