Mr. Speaker, we are here today really on an emergency basis because of problems arising from the Federal Court of Appeal decision in the R. v. Trépanier.
The problems we are addressing with regard to the military justice system precede Trépanier. That decision came down at the end of April of this year. The problems the court was addressing in that case, and which were resolved rather summarily by dismissing the charges against Corporal Trépanier, stem from a long-standing frustration on the court's part that successive governments have not dealt with the needed reforms in the military justice system.
In this regard, it is important to recognize that Justice Lamer was commissioned almost six years ago to prepare a report. He prepared a very lengthy and detailed report of the analysis of the problems with the military justice system and set out very clear and specific recommendations on how to deal with those problems. That resolution surfaced first in a bill under the former Liberal administration and then in the form of Bill C-45 under the current Conservative administration.
The process has been very slow. We heard from the parliamentary secretary that Bill C-60, which is before us today, was a very quick process, and he is accurate in that regard.
The overall process has been extremely slow and unacceptably slow for the Federal Court of Appeal. For that reason, the court struck the section down in the National Defence Act that dealt with this part of the military justice system and, in effect, dismissed the charges against Corporal Trépanier.
Those are serious charges against him, with no reflection on whether he is guilty or innocent of the charges. The reality is, at this point, if that decision stands, then the charges will not be dealt with on their merits.
What was determined in the Trépanier decision was the system that allowed exclusive authority to the prosecutor to determine the type of trial an accused person would have within the military justice system was simply unacceptable in the context of Canada today, and in particular with regard to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Bill C-60 addresses this issue. Again, the bill is the same as in the recommendations from Justice Lamer and what is still contained in Bill C-45.
The government has been very slow on moving Bill C-45 ahead. It has given priority to a number of other bills and let this one languish, and that is unacceptable. Any number of other issues may be confronting our military justice system, in terms of issues under the charter, that could find us in the same situation in the next few months or the next year or two.
We absolutely demand that the government move Bill C-45 forward rapidly so we can deal with it. It has substantial support from all the opposition parties. Some specific provisions need to be corrected and some additions need to be made to it, but the bulk of the bill is one that has wide support among all the parties. I urge the government to move rapidly on it when we come back in the fall.
With regard to the specific provision in Bill C-60, as we have heard from some of the other speakers, with the exception of a couple of the paragraphs and clauses, it had all party support. In particular, by limiting the jurisdiction or the authority of the prosecutor and giving much more democratic and civil libertarian provisions to the accused, so the nature of the trial would appear at least on the surface to be more equitable, these have all been incorporated in the legislation in the form of Bill C-60.
I point out in particular that we have done away in Bill C-60 with the former format of having four different types of trials that there could be. We have reduced the number to two, which again, to a great extent, mirrors the situation in our criminal justice system generally for civilians in this country.
If Bill C-60 is passed, we will have a system where there will be a single judge, and generally speaking that will be for the less serious offences, and the accused will have the right to choose a judge and a five member panel, which would be in the form of a jury, if I can make the analogy with the civilian system.
In addition to that, although we have had panels in the past, a combination of a judge and a three member panel, there will now be five members on the panel. As opposed to the current system, the panel will have to be unanimous in its decision if a person is to be acquitted or convicted, again mirroring the situation in our criminal justice system and generally in our society.
That is a major step forward. There were several others perhaps of less significance, but it is a bill that all the parties were prepared to support.
Yesterday in committee we made two changes to the bill. One was to delete a whole clause. There was quite some disagreement over this in terms of the discussion. In particular, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence argued strenuously at the time, as he is wont to do every so often, that by deleting clause 28 in its entirety, we would be taking rights away from the accused. I know he still believes that.
My assessment of clause 28 was just the opposite. By leaving it in, we were curtailing the rights of the accused. Ultimately we were able to reach a consensus among the opposition parties to delete it. I know I have not convinced my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, but I will continue to try to do that to establish that we were right in deleting it. In the end, the opposition parties voted that down.
Another issue came up for debate in committee, which resulted in a change, not the one we necessarily wanted or not the only one we wanted. We were quite supportive of the position that the Bloc Québécois took, its critic in particular, in wanting a sunset clause. It is simply bad legislative process to run bills rapidly through the House. We know from many years of bad experiences that when we do that, we expose ourselves, as a legislature and our community as a whole, to mistakes being made.
I know my colleague from the Bloc has been very clear on a number of occasions that he is experienced. I have had the same experience as well where we have agreed to run a bill through rapidly and then, in retrospect, have realized that we made a mistake or simply left a gap in the legislation. The Bloc member's proposal to put in a sunset clause seemed to me to make good sense. We were supportive of it and, unfortunately, could not gather enough support to press it through.
The mandatory review that the Liberals proposed, which was adopted ultimately by a majority of the committee, and is in the bill before us today, has two major problems. We know, again, from many years of experience in analyzing mandatory reviews that all too often they are never conducted.
One of the flaws in our legislative process is that there is no penalty to the legislature or the government if we in fact do not put in place a mandatory review. Even though the legislation is clear that we have to, if it is not done, there is no penalty. There have been repeated occasions where bills have passed through the House, become law and the mandatory review is never carried out, or is carried out years after it is supposed to be.
The other problem with the mandatory review, and my colleague from the Bloc mentioned this, is that even if it is done, there is no imperative on the government to accept the recommendations that come out of it. It can simply say that it will not proceed with the recommendations and the changes needed are never pursued. Whereas with the mandatory sunset clause, the government would no choice but to address the issue if in fact a major problem arose.
Although overall we in the NDP support the legislation, we have serious problems with not having the sunset clause. Beyond that, hopefully the bill will resolve the issue that Trépanier has created and we can continue with the criminal justice system within the national defence system.