Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to support this bill to amend the National Defence Act. This bill will ensure that Canadians can maintain their trust in our military justice system. This bill will improve the speed and fairness of the military police complaints process. Furthermore, this bill will give members of our armed forces access to a faster, fairer and more flexible grievance process.
In 1998, Bill C-25 made significant amendments to the National Defence Act. One of the amendments was the requirement for an independent review of those portions of the National Defence Act amended by Bill C-25.
The late right hon. Tony Lamer, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, was appointed to conduct the first independent review, and his report was tabled in Parliament in November 2003. In his report, former Chief Justice Lamer made 88 recommendations: 57 pertaining to the military justice system; 14 regarding the Canadian Forces provost marshal and the military police complaints process; and 17 concerning the Canadian Forces grievance process.
The bill that we are debating today is the Government of Canada's proposed legislative response to recommendations made in the Lamer report. Implementing the proposed response will require changes to the National Defence Act, the Queen's Regulations and Orders to the Canadian Forces and some administrative practices.
A similar bill, Bill C-7, was introduced in April 2006 but it died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued. A successor bill, Bill C-45, was introduced in March 2008 but that bill also died on the order paper.
While the bill before us today largely mirrors the contents of previous bills, some changes have been made, and I will discuss those changes in a few moments. It should also be noted that some amendments to the National Defence Act related to changes suggested in the Lamer report were made in June 2008 by Bill C-60. Bill C-60 was required to respond to the judgment of the Court Martial Appeal Court in the case of R. v. Trépanier.
Further, during consideration of Bill C-60, the minister requested members of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs to consider studying the provisions and operation of Bill C-60 and to provide a report on their findings and recommendations, which the committee did in May 2009.
In October 2009, the Minister of National Defence responded to the Senate committee members thanking them for their recommendations and indicating that all of their recommendations were either accepted or accepted in principle by the government.
Thus, in a nutshell, the present bill replicates most of the provisions of Bill C-45, minus some provisions implementing Lamer report recommendations, which have now already been enacted in Bill C-60, plus some additional elements arising from the recent recommendations made by the Senate committee.
I would now like to discuss the amendments we are proposing for the National Defence Act in the current bill.
In his report, former Chief Justice Lamer wrote that, as a result of the changes made in 1998 by Bill C-25, “...Canada has developed a very sound and fair military justice framework in which Canadians can have trust and confidence.” He added that observers from other countries see this system as one their country might wish to learn from. However, he also pointed out that there remain areas for improvement in the military justice system.
The Department of National Defence analyzed the recommendations in the Lamer report very carefully. It undertook extensive policy analysis and consultation to determine the appropriate legislative response to the recommendations. This response is reflected in the legislative amendments we are considering today. These amendments deal with the military justice system, the Canadian Forces provost marshal and the military police complaints process, and the Canadian Forces grievance process.
I would like to look at each of these areas in turn, beginning with the military justice system.
The Canadian military justice system has been developed to deal expeditiously and fairly with service offences, while respecting the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and meeting the expectations of Canadians. It is a system designed to promote the operational effectiveness of the Canadian Forces by contributing to the maintenance of discipline, efficiency and morale. It must also ensure that members of the Canadian Forces who are subject to this process are dealt with fairly.
The proposed amendments to the military justice system would make improvements both in process and in substantive law. They would also ensure that the military justice system keeps pace with evolving legal standards in Canadian criminal law.
Simply put, the bill before us today would reinforce the continued compliance of the military justice system with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, while preserving the system's capacity to meet essential military requirements.
I will now go over the main military justice amendments proposed in the bill.
The bill would strengthen the provisions of the National Defence Act regarding the independence of military judges. More specifically, the bill would ensure that judges are appointed until retirement.
The bill would increase the timeliness and flexibility of the system by providing for the appointment of part-time military judges to a reserve force judges panel.
The bill would modernize and enhance sentencing provisions of the Code of Service Discipline.
It would provide more flexibility in the sentencing process, including absolute discharges, intermittent sentences and restitution orders, providing summary trial presiding officers and military judges at courts martial with a greater ability to tailor a sentence having regard to the particular circumstances of the offence and the offender, replicating many of the options available in the sentencing regime of the civilian justice system.
As well, a greater voice would also be given to victims by providing the introduction of victim impact statements at courts martial.
The bill will set out the sentencing goals and principles that will apply to military tribunals, promote the operational effectiveness of the Canadian Forces and uphold a system that supports a fair, peaceful and safe society.
This codification of sentencing principles and objectives in the National Defence Act would provide an important statutory articulation of the fundamental principles underpinning Canada's military justice system, as well as providing guidance concerning sentencing to all actors in the military justice system, including presiding officers at summary trials, military judges at courts martial and the appellate judges of the Court Martial Appeal Court and the Supreme Court of Canada. This statutory guidance would parallel that already provided in the civilian criminal justice system in the Criminal Code, with the additional specification of factors unique to the distinct military justice system.
I will now explain the key elements of the bill as they relate to the Canadian Forces provost marshal and the military police complaints process.
Although the National Defence Act establishes specific responsibilities for the Canadian Forces provost marshal in relation to the military police complaints process, neither the actual position of the provost marshal nor the full scope of its responsibilities are found in the current act.
Establishing the Canadian Forces provost marshal in the National Defence Act would bring greater clarity to the role and responsibilities of that position and to the military police in general.
We cannot forget that military police are different from all the other police entities in Canada. They can be called upon to undertake both traditional police duties, such as investigating offences, and what I would call purely military duties, such as providing security for airfields and other defence establishments or facilitating movement of troops in a theatre of operations. Bill C-41 reflects the dual nature of the Canadian Forces provost marshal's responsibilities.
It would also ensure that the provost marshal has the independence necessary to ensure the integrity of military police investigations and promote professional standards.
At the same time, the bill recognizes that the provost marshal will be directly responsible to the senior Canadian Forces chain of command regarding the military functions of the military police.
Bill C-41 would also enhance the timeliness and fairness of the military police complaints process by requiring the Canadian Forces provost marshal to resolve complaints within one year of receiving them in normal circumstances, and by protecting individuals who submit complaints in good faith from penalty.
I will now turn to the Canadian Forces grievance process.
In his report, former Chief Justice Lamer indicated that there was a clear need to improve the process for dealing with grievances submitted by members of the Canadian Forces. The proposed changes to the National Defence Act would help ensure that grievances are addressed in a fair, transparent and prompt manner.
For example, the bill provides for an amendment to the National Defence Act requiring the Chief of the Defence Staff or those he authorizes, where circumstances permit, to informally and expeditiously deal with any issues that arise.
At the same time, the bill allows for an expansion of the Chief of the Defence Staff's responsibilities as the final authority in grievance procedures.
These changes would enhance the efficiency of the process and ensure that a backlog of grievances, such as that which existed at the time of the Lamer report, does not recur.
Before concluding, I will discuss the differences between the bill we have before us today and previous Bill C-45. While the content of Bill C-41 is largely the same as that of the previous Bill C-45, some modifications have been made.
Principally, the differences between the two bills reflect the deletion of issues that have already been dealt with in the interim in Bill C-60, such as the requirement for unanimity of the panel to convict or acquit an accused person at a general court martial, the reduction of the number of types of courts martial from four to two, and the enhancement of the powers of military judges to deal with pretrial matters such as disclosure.
Other differences are related to the recent recommendations of the Senate committee. These include reducing distinctions based on rank and the composition of panels for general courts martial, amending the limitation period for summary trials to provide that a charge must be laid within six months after the day on which the service offence is alleged to have been committed, and allowing an accused person to waive the application of a limitation period for summary trials in certain circumstances.
A further point to note relates to the independent review provision. As recommended in the Lamer report, a provision will be added to the National Defence Act requiring that portions of the act relating to the military justice system, the military police complaints process and the grievance process be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.
In the current bill, as was done in Bill C-45, the timeline for conducting future reviews has been modified to seven years. This would allow for more comprehensive and useful reviews to be conducted by ensuring sufficient time to work with and assess amendments to the National Defence Act after they come into force before a review is conducted.
Finally, this bill would propose that the name of the Canadian Forces Grievance Board be changed to the military grievances external review committee. The Canadian Forces Grievance Board plays a vital role in the process established under the National Defence Act for members of the Canadian Forces to seek redress of grievances. The impartial findings and recommendations of the Canadian Forces Grievance Board buttressed by that organization's institutional independence from the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence helped to increase the confidence of Canadian Forces members in the grievance process.
The proposed change in name would assist in communicating the Canadian Forces Grievance Board's current role, in particular its institutional independence and mandate to all stakeholders. It should be emphasized that the bill merely proposes a change in the organization's name, at its own request, to assist in this regard, not in its mandate, which will remain unchanged.
To conclude, reforming the military justice system is just one step in a process of continuous improvement.
As Canadians, we are privileged to have a military justice system that reflects our values and respects the rule of law.
These proposals to amend the National Defence Act would ensure Canada's military justice system remains one in which Canadians can have trust and confidence. They would clarify the roles and responsibilities of the Canadian Forces provost marshal and bring greater timeliness and fairness to the military police complaints process. They would ensure that a more responsive, timely and fair grievance process is available. I am confident that these amendments would serve to further strengthen the Canadian Forces as a vital national institution.
This is a very technical bill and for that reason it would be appropriate to pass this bill quickly at second reading and get it to committee where we can hear various expert witnesses to drill down into the details that many will want to do. It is more appropriate that it be done in that setting where we time can take time to reflect fully on all the implications and suggestions that may be come up.
I request that hon. members pass this bill quickly at second reading and move it on to committee for further consideration.