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House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was review.

Topics

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I am sure there will be further submissions on this point. We will deal with it if necessary when other submissions have been made.

Prevention of Coerced AbortionPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to present a petition that calls on Parliament to pass Bill C-510, Roxanne's Law, a law that will help stop coercion against pregnant women, coercion to make those pregnant women end their pregnancy.

This is an important law that I am hopeful will get passed. This petition is calling for that.

AfghanistanPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by dozens of Canadians to end Canada's involvement in Afghanistan.

In May 2008, as the Speaker knows, Parliament passed a resolution to withdraw Canadian Forces by July 2011. The Prime Minister, with the agreement of the Liberal Party, broke his oft-repeated promise to honour the parliamentary motion. Furthermore, he refuses to put his new mission extension to a vote in Parliament.

Committing 1,000 soldiers to a training mission still presents a danger to the troops and an unnecessary expense when our country is faced with a $56 billion deficit. The military mission has cost Canadians more than $18 billion so far, money that could have been used to improve health care and seniors' pensions right here in Canada.

Polls show clearly that a majority of Canadians do not want Canada's military presence to continue after the scheduled removal date of July 2011.

Therefore, the petitioners call upon the Prime Minister to honour the will of Parliament and bring the troops home now.

Child PornographyPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from my riding of Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo.

A number of citizens in that riding have concerns around child pornography, and they are suggesting some changes in the Criminal Code to reflect both mandatory minimum sentences and actually changing the wording to include “child sex and abuse materials”, significant changes to the Criminal Code to protect our children.

AsbestosPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by numerous folks across this country about banning asbestos.

In my earlier career I had the opportunity to represent the widow of a member of my union who had died of mesothelioma. His disease was caused by and attributed to asbestos in the workplace. We won that claim, but the gentleman had been dead for nine years. It took four years subsequent to his death to actually win that claim.

For the workers around the world who are exposed to asbestos, the petitioners are saying, “Let us ban it”. What they are also saying is that they understand the hardship the workers who are actually in the asbestos business and who are mining asbestos will face. We need a just transition for them, as well.

I present this petition on behalf of not only those workers who have had mesothelioma and have it today, but also for those who have passed and for those workers who are working in that industry who indeed deserve to have a just transition from what they do now to their next career.

AsbestosPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to present a petition to ban asbestos. The petition is signed by dozens of people from right across Canada.

As we know, asbestos is the greatest industrial killer the world has ever known. Canada remains one of the largest producers and exporters of asbestos. Canada spends millions subsidizing the asbestos industry.

The petitioners call for the ban of asbestos in all forms, the ending of all government subsidies of asbestos both in Canada and abroad, and that we stop blocking international health and safety conventions designed to protect workers from asbestos.

In my former career, I had the unfortunate opportunity of working with asbestos. I have regularly been tested in the past for asbestosism, so I know exactly what these petitioners are asking.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

November 26th, 2010 / 12:10 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-41, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Ottawa Centre has 14 minutes left to conclude his remarks.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to continue my comments on Bill C-41, the Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act.

Before question period, I was referencing the need to strike a balance when it comes to military justice. It is absolutely critical.

We have seen a lot of changes in our military. We have seen the merging of the Canadian Forces from three distinct groupings into one umbrella organization. There has been a lot of flux and change within the Canadian Forces, not just in the mandate but in the way in which they have been resourced and how they are organized. One of the things that has not kept up with the changes is military justice, and that is what this bill is about.

As I said before question period, I want to make it known that we support sending this bill to committee after second reading, so the committee can look at the legislation and propose improvements and perhaps amendments. Essentially what we are talking about here is modernizing the military justice system.

It is important to recognize the work that was done back in 2003 by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Hon. Antonio Lamer, who has since passed away. He made a lot of recommendations, not just on modernizing military justice but in other areas as well. He made 88 recommendations, most of which pertain to military justice and the rest to the oversight of certain bodies of the Canadian Forces, such as the Military Police Complaints Commission, which we have discussed quite often both in this House and outside of this place.

We did not get to all of his recommendations in this House. Essentially what we are trying to do with this legislation is to finish the recommendations that he had put forward. Some of the things include providing a greater flexibility in sentencing, including the introduction of intermittent sentences that extend the limitation period for liability claims by Canadian Forces members, and a number of other measures that bring the Canadian military justice system more in line with the civilian justice system.

Summary trials is one aspect of the military justice system. They are held without the ability of the accused to consult counsel. There are no appeals or transcripts of the trial, and the judge is the accused person's commanding officer.

I mentioned the experiences of my father and grandfather when they served in the military. There was an understanding that they had to take orders and follow certain conduct. One of the things they would have wanted to see would be a modernization of the way in which discipline is assessed. Certainly when charges are brought forward against members of the forces, they should be accorded similar supports that they would be afforded in civilian trials under the Criminal Code.

As I mentioned before, there needs to be a balance between members of the military having to abide by certain codes of conduct that are obviously different from those that apply to public servants here in Ottawa, and their being afforded similar rights, if not exactly the same at least in outcome, for any trials they are involved in. If we leave out of the military justice system the same protections that would be afforded to citizens in a similar kind of scenario within our criminal justice system, then we have not struck the right balance.

We have to establish that. Within the military justice system, how do we ensure there is access to counsel and to the same kinds of processes that exist within our civilian system? When we look at the consequences, what will follow members of the Canadian Forces if there is discipline?

Right now, the concern is if discipline is handed out to someone in the Canadian Forces and the person has been found guilty of a certain crime within the code, would that individual have anything on his or her record in the civilian system? Would something languish and affect the individual negatively? That has to be understood.

The grievance procedure has to be overhauled. Right now there is a lack of access for those in the Canadian Forces who have been subject to a military trial. If there is no appeal, it is very difficult to say it is a fair system. It is hoped that a lot of these things will be addressed. Most people would see it as something we can work on in a multi-partisan way in order to modernize the act.

There must be access to justice in all of our institutions. If there are insufficient supports to counsel, then we will have a vastly insufficient system of justice for members of the Canadian Forces when we compare them to those who are under civilian oversight.

Summary justice for military conduct is understood as something one signs on to in terms of the military, but we also know that for people who are subject to military tribunals or justice, there are insufficient processes as it relates to our modern justice system particularly when we look at the charter. If we are to do this well, we need to hear from people who have studied this.

As I mentioned, the work that was done by former Chief Justice Antonio Lamer is important, but we also need to hear from those who have looked at how to modernize other jurisdictions to ensure we get the balance right. If we are able to do that and hear sufficient evidence from witnesses, we will be able to improve the bill by ensuring the aspirational aspects to modernize military justice will be found and strengthen the notion of what it means to have a fair trial within the military.

If we look at the history of the military and how it relates to the conduct of soldiers and how the accountability measures are put in place, it is clear to anyone who has looked at this that we are out of date in terms of what the processes are. When we looked at this in a previous Parliament, there was an attempt to get this moving.

Sadly, there was an election which most Canadians did not see coming. We believed the government was going to abide by its own legislation on fixed date elections, but it did what it has done too often and ignored its own legislation, even though it was a promise made by the Conservatives in an election. The government forced its proposal on us and then took it away because of its actions. That was the case in the 2006 to 2008 period when this legislation was in front of us.

It is important to understand that if this is going to be done, it needs the government's backing, not just by putting a proposal in front of Parliament and saying, “Here it is, this is what we support”, but by the government wanting to work with other members of this place to ensure this legislation gets through. It would be unfortunate if this bill died on the order paper and we were not able to modernize military justice. I do not have to tell members the need for it. We have seen some very sensational cases recently involving members of the military. It is important that there be a balance between ensuring that the military is able to behave and organize itself in a way that it sees fit, but at the same time in a way that falls in line with the justice system of this country.

In conclusion, if it is the intent of the government to modernize military justice, I think it will have a lot of support from members of all parties. However, the government must be open to ensuring that the rights of the accused would be supported, similar to that in a civil situation.

If the government is serious about modernizing the military justice system, we need to ensure that at committee the government is willing to listen to other parties, that the government is willing to support amendments based on sound evidence from witnesses. In that way, we can get the bill back to this place and ensure that the modernization process which started back in 1998 is completed in 2011.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's comments. This is best saved for committee but there are number of areas that he brought up which in fact have already been addressed, but that will become clear at committee.

I want to read a quote from former Chief Justice Lamer:

Canada has developed a very sound and fair military justice framework in which Canadians can have trust and confidence.

That being said, obviously there is always room for improvement. There is always room for modernization.

Would my hon. colleague agree that we are starting from a foundation of a system that is basically fair and just and has served us well for many years?

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would concur with the notion that we have a system that has tried to be fair and just in its delivery. The problem has been its structure. We have to catch up to the changes within our own Constitution when we look at the charter, for instance.

I think what Chief Justice Lamer was doing at the time is essentially what the parliamentary secretary said. He was acknowledging the spirit of what had been in place, but he was also underlining the fact that we need to catch up with the changes within our own Constitution and to ensure that the rights that are afforded civilians are afforded to our military. As I said in my speech, that is the balance we are trying to strike. I would agree with the parliamentary secretary on that. I would also note that it is important to capture the fact that he believed it was urgent that we modernize our system and ensure we get the balance right.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, picking up on the comments of the parliamentary secretary, in 1992 Chief Justice Lamer said:

Recourse to the ordinary criminal courts would, as a general rule, be inadequate to serve the particular disciplinary needs of the military. There is thus a need for separate tribunals to enforce special disciplinary standards in the military.

Essentially he was talking about a separate system of military justice developed to deal expeditiously and fairly with service offences while respecting the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and meeting the expectations of all Canadians, not just those in the military.

Would the amendments that are being proposed here serve to enhance the independence and the effectiveness of military judges and their role in the military justice system?

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I used the word “balance” a number of times in my comments. If we do not pay attention to strengthening the rights of the accused and access to things like counsel of their choice to ensure they have access to transcripts, some of the most basic fundamentals in justice, and if we do not have that as part of the reforms, then we will have failed.

On the one hand, it is important to note that there needs to be an understanding of the separate nature of the military in terms of its conduct. On the other hand, we need to ensure that we do not discriminate when it comes to the rights afforded all citizens of our country. That is where we have to be very clear on what our intentions are and what the outcomes are when this legislation gets to committee.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a question that is in three parts. I want to thank the parliamentary secretary for sending me the annual report so quickly. I noted in it that summary trials in 1999 and 2000 were only 426. However, there is a five-fold increase in summary trials between the years 2000 and 2007-08, 2,035 summary trials. Perhaps when the member stands again to answer another question, he could tell us why there is a five-fold increase.

I know my colleague would be interested and would want to comment on the issue of giving victims a voice in this process by virtue of having victim impact statements similar to Criminal Code provisions. That should be something positive.

The parliamentary secretary said that although the backgrounder indicated the review would be only every five years, I believe he said that the plan now was to have a seven year review process. However, I was very interested in knowing what kind of review. It does not sound like it is parliamentary review at all. It sounds like it is a review involving the defence establishment itself and I would be a bit worried about that. Maybe we could get some clarification as to just who will find out about this review if and when it ever happens.

Maybe the member would like to expand on some of these points.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

I would, Mr. Speaker, and I would start off with the importance of reflecting in military justice what exists in the regular system under the Criminal Code and civilian justice. When we look at victim impact statements, access to evidence and the ability of the victims or the accused to access resources, those are lacking and they are required.

The statistics that were just cited by my colleague from Winnipeg would indicate that there is an increase. If we are talking about an increase between 2008 and 2009 of the number of summary trials, and this is the database that we have before us, we are looking at over 2,000 between 2007 and 2008. If we go back from that date, it is 506. There is a major proliferation.

Why is that happening and how are we going to deal with it? At committee, we will need to hear how these cases are dealt with, how the structure handles it and, most important, what changes need to be made to modernize it.

If we are using a system and a structure that is antiquated and yet it is being given more and more to deal with, then we have to look at not only the resources available to deal with that, which I know is an issue within the military, but also the structures with which we are having to deal.

Finally, when we have seen changes in law from the government, it often forgets that when we change the law, we also have to ensure we provide the resources on the ground, be it at the provincial level or in this case for the military.

The Conservatives are great on the wedge politics of using justice issues and changing laws, but the resources they are providing to support the changes in law are very scant . That is yet another thing about which we have to be vigilant. The changes, as reflected by my colleague's intervention on the proliferation of cases, will also be commensurate with the resources that are provided for the military to deal with this. That is an issue we will have to deal with at committee as well.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I will try to raise this in the form of a question, but in the wake of the Somali experience, there was obviously concern about the efficiency of the summary trial system. As a result, the amendments made by Bill C-25, which is coming into effect, confidence in that system was restored and summary trials were returned to their place of importance in the whole process. That is one reason for the increase.

The other thing is we have more people in the Canadian Forces and we do much more difficult ops. Afghanistan is a big factor in that. There are more summary trials because of the kinds of things that arise on those kinds of deployments. This is an answer to that question.

The simple fact is the system is not antiquated. The system is still effective. It needs updating and that is what we are doing.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, when we acknowledge we need to modernize, it usually means something is antiquated. I will not get into too much of a semantic argument with the parliamentary secretary because that probably will not serve anyone any justice at all.

However, it needs to be recognized that our system needs to be updated to reflect what happens with civilian justice. Anyone who is looking at it will realize that, and we are trying to achieve that on this side.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to Bill C-41. This bill was introduced on June 16, 2010, to amend provisions of the National Defence Act governing the military justice system.

The amendments, among other things, provide for security of tenure for military judges until their retirement; permit the appointment of part-time military judges; specify the objectives and principles of the sentencing process; provide for additional sentencing options, including absolute discharges, intermittent sentences and restitution; modify the composition of a court martial panel according to the rank of the accused person; and modify the limitation period applicable to summary trials and allow an accused person to waive the limitation periods.

The text of this bill, beyond what I just listed on military justice, also sets out the Canadian Forces provost marshal’s duties and functions and clarifies his or her responsibilities. It also changes the name of the Canadian Forces Grievance Board to the military grievances external review committee.

Finally, it makes amendments to the delegation of the Chief of the Defence Staff’s powers as the final authority in the grievance process and makes consequential amendments to other acts.

The Bloc Québécois wants Bill C-41 to be studied in committee. It is true that the purpose of this bill is to improve the military justice system by enhancing judicial independence, but we lean heavily in favour of the healthy administration of justice. Accordingly, we are in favour of any initiative to enhance impartiality and the quality of judges and courts. However, this bill is long and complex and it contains a number of other measures. That is why we are calling for it to be studied in committee, in order to have witnesses inform our decisions.

I will try to put this into context. Military justice reform dates back to 1997 and stems from two reviews. First, a special advisory group received a mandate to study the code of service discipline set out in the National Defence Act. Then, the commission of inquiry into the deployment of Canadian forces to Somalia was asked to review how to handle the actions of certain soldiers sent to that country.

The two resulting reports led the government to introduce Bill C-25, which went into effect in 1998. This bill amended the National Defence Act by abolishing the death penalty in the military justice system; incorporating civilian parole ineligibility provisions; creating the Canadian Forces Grievance Board; creating the Military Police Complaints Commission; strengthening the independence of military judges by making changes to the terms of their appointment, their qualifications and their tenure; and creating new positions within the military justice system in order to separate the investigative function from the prosecution and defence functions.

Clause 96 of Bill C-25 provided for an independent review every five years in order to examine the amendments to the National Defence Act. That was in 1997. With this in mind, the federal government appointed a former Supreme Court justice, Antonio Lamer, to conduct the first review. He presented his report to Parliament in March 2003.

In this report, Justice Lamer observed that “Canada's military justice system generally works very well, subject to a few changes.” Consequently, he made 88 recommendations to improve military justice, especially in the areas of arrest procedures and pre-trial detention, procedures for proceeding by indictment, the structure of the court and sentencing. He recommended that the rights of the accused be more in line with those in a civil court so they could choose the type of court martial, and that the finding of court martial panels be arrived at by unanimous vote. The purpose of another recommendation was to strengthen the independence of the principal intervenors in the military justice system and to improve the grievance and military police complaints processes.

In order to implement the recommendations of Justice Lamer and amend the National Defence Act, the government introduced Bill C-45 on August 27, 2006, but it died on the order paper.

So the government introduced Bill C-7, which was identical to Bill C-45, on March 3, 2008, and it died on the order paper when the election was called in the fall of 2008. Of course Bill C-45, which had been introduced on August 27, 2006, died on the order paper when the election was called in December 2006.

In April 2008, the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada handed down a decision in the case of R. v. Trépanier. At issue was the possibility of choosing the type of court martial. The Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada ruled that a provision of the National Defence Act that gave the court martial administrator exclusive authority to select the type of court martial was unconstitutional. The Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada found that it was unacceptable that the accused could not chose the kind of court martial that would judge him or her.

Following that ruling, the federal government introduced Bill C-60 to accomplish the following: to more closely align the manner in which the mode of trial by courts martial is determined with the approach in the civilian criminal justice system, while still satisfying the unique needs of the military justice system; to reduce the types of courts martial from four to two; to allow military judges to deal with certain pre-trial matters at any time after a charge has been preferred; and to require court martial panels to make key decisions on the basis of a unanimous vote.

Bill C-60 passed in the House on June 18, 2008.

Bill C-41 is a new version of Bill C-45 and therefore fits into the notion of general reform with a view to implementing Justice Lamer's recommendations.

Bill C-41 before us here today is a new version of Bill C-45 and, once again, aims to implement Justice Lamer's recommendations. A closer look at Bill C-41 reveals that it fits into the broad military justice reform that began in 1998, as I mentioned. It contains several provisions.

First, it contains a number of provisions concerning military judges, which I will list. It provides judges with tenure until their retirement, grants judges immunity from liability as granted to a judge of a superior court of criminal jurisdiction, grants the chief military judge the authority to establish rules of practice and procedure with the Governor in Council's approval, improves the system's flexibility by appointing part-time military judges from a panel of reserve force military judges, and stipulates that in order to be appointed as a judge, the member must have served as an officer for at least 10 years.

There are provisions in Bill C-41 concerning summary trials. For one, in terms of the limitation period, charges must be laid within six months after the offence is alleged to have been committed, and the trial must commence within one year after the offence was committed. The accused person may waive the limitation period established for summary trials.

There are other provisions related to the court martial panel. In the majority of cases, the rank required in order to sit as the senior member of a panel would be lowered from colonel to lieutenant-colonel. As well, the pool of Canadian Forces members eligible to sit on a General Court Martial panel would be enlarged, and the number of non-commissioned members would increase from two to three for the trial of a non-commissioned member.

In addition to these provisions, Bill C-41 would reform military justice by putting additional restrictions on the power to arrest without warrant, by extending the limitation period from six months to two years in terms of civil responsibility, by granting the Chief of the Defence Staff the authority to cancel an improper release or transfer if the member consents, by indicating that the role of Canadian Forces provost marshal is provided for in the National Defence Act as well as by setting out his responsibilities and ties to the Canadian Forces chain of command and by requiring the provost marshal to provide the Chief of the Defence Staff with an annual report on his activities and those of the military police.

Lastly, Bill C-41 would protect individuals who file any type of complaint with the Military Police Complaints Commission and would require the provost marshal to resolve conduct complaints or to close cases within 12 months.

This is clearly an impressive and important bill. Once again, that is why the Bloc Québécois wants to discuss it in more detail in committee and wants to bring in witnesses with expertise in military justice so that they can provide some insight.

There are other arguments. The Bloc Québécois is not opposed to keeping military justice separate from civilian justice. It makes sense for the Canadian armed forces to have its own justice system, in light of the particularities of military life and military requirements. It is absolutely necessary to have discipline within an army. Without that discipline, we would lose any sense of structure and effectiveness.

Since the primary goal of our armed forces is to protect the safety of Canadians, this issue is vitally important. The Supreme Court of Canada recognized this principle in 1992, in the Généreux decision, which I will quote:

The purpose of a separate system of military tribunals is to allow the Armed Forces to deal with matters that pertain directly to the discipline, efficiency and morale of the military. The safety and well-being of Canadians [and Quebeckers] depends considerably on the willingness and readiness of a force of men and women to defend against threats to the nation's security. To maintain the Armed Forces in a state of readiness, the military must be in a position to enforce internal discipline effectively and efficiently. Breaches of military discipline must be dealt with speedily and, frequently, punished more severely than would be the case if a civilian engaged in such conduct. As a result, the military has its own Code of Service Discipline to allow it to meet its particular disciplinary needs. In addition, special service tribunals, rather than the ordinary courts, have been given jurisdiction to punish breaches of the Code of Service Discipline. Recourse to the ordinary criminal courts would, as a general rule, be inadequate to serve the particular disciplinary needs of the military.

I repeat, that was a quote from the 1992 Supreme Court ruling in the Généreux case. The Bloc Québécois subscribes to the principle of keeping military justice separate from civilian justice.

There are also offences in the Code of Service Discipline that have no equivalents in civilian justice. I am thinking of offences such as disobeying a command or a superior officer. Military justice applies to three categories of people: military personnel in the regular forces, reservists and civilians who work with military personnel on missions. But although military justice is necessary, people who join the Canadian Forces do not lose their rights, including their Charter rights.

For 12 years, a great deal of thought was given to modernizing military justice to bring it more in line with civilian justice. In its May 2009 report, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs wrote the following:

...the military, as an organization, benefits when the rules that govern it largely reflect those that apply to Canadian society in general.

The Bloc Québécois feels it is useful and necessary to reform military justice. Obviously, we have some fears and also some suggestions. As I said, the Bloc Québécois wants this bill to be sent to committee so that we can call the appropriate expert witnesses. But we feel that justice must prevail at all levels of society, and justice often depends on police work. We are afraid that because the provost marshal can be reappointed, he will not want to delve too deeply into something that could ruffle feathers among the defence staff. The Bloc Québécois will ensure that this does not happen, and we will introduce amendments to correct this situation.

Once again, when we have a complex bill before us, we need to take the time to do the necessary analyses and studies. This is the case with this bill. The provost marshal, who is the person who will ultimately be in charge of military justice within the armed forces, will have a renewable term. We need to look at that.

Why must this mandate be renewable when judges are appointed until they retire? We must then consider how this would affect the provost marshal's work. Would he give the defence staff less firm direction because his mandate is renewable? Would he be more sensitive when a case involves defence staff? It would be to our advantage to ask these questions in committee.

It is important that the listening public understands how this works. Committee work is of the utmost importance to the operation of any parliament, whether it be the British model or any other parliament in the world. Witnesses may appear before the House of Commons only in very exceptional circumstances. Generally speaking, with only a few exceptions, witnesses appear before committees.

It is therefore important that the national defence committee take all the time required to analyze Bill C-41 and examine all of its ins and outs. It is true that military justice must become more like civilian justice, simply so that citizens can understand how military justice works and relate to it. If the military justice system is completely different from the civilian justice system, citizens will not understand it and might question all the work done by our military personnel. Thus, this is a very important issue.

This work began in 1998. Some bills were deferred or came to an abrupt halt when an election was called. We must now—and I hope we will have time—deal with this issue before the next election campaign.

I am interested in responding to the questions of my fellow members. Once again, the Bloc Québécois supports sending this bill to committee for improvement. We hope to convince members of other parties of the benefits of the improvements we would like to make to it.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, sending it to committee in this particular case would certainly create a great deal of analysis, I would hope, especially regarding the judges, providing for security of tenure for military judges until their retirements, permitting the appointment of part-time military judges. Certainly the amendments to be made give it its independence over its own jurisdiction but, at the same time, make sure it adheres to all the principles of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The bill also deals with increasing eligibility in court martial panel selection by allowing any officer, or non-commissioned member with at least three years of service in the Canadian Forces, to serve on a panel, indeed, and deals with amending panel composition in courts martial involving non-commissioned members. There we see that the marriage of the two certainly is desirable not only by the Canadian Forces but by all of us certainly.

The hon. member made a couple of comments that justice must reign on all levels. The government is certainly eager to send this to committee to do the appropriate analysis and amendments to correct things, starting with the analysis. I commend him on that. He gave some good illustrations as to what needs to be addressed.

One of the items he mentioned was the situation with the provost marshal. There is an amendment in place that sets out the duties and functions of the Canadian Forces provost, and it certainly is a good thing to be doing, but he mentions that the term of the provost must be renewable. The government seems to have questions about that.

I was wondering if he could delve into that a little further as to the appropriate reasons why having this renewable term, which I believe he says lacks expertise, is necessary in this particular piece of legislation.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased with my colleague's question because it will allow me to clarify things. I hope that my speech was not misunderstood. We see an issue with a renewable mandate for the provost marshal. If judges are irremovable, why is the provost marshal not? That is the kind of question that needs to be studied in committee.

We believe we will have a chance to hear from military justice experts. There is some inconsistency with having military judges be irremovable—they are appointed until they retire—but having the provost marshal be removable and replaceable. Will the fact that he must be reappointed, that he is not irremovable, prevent him from doing his work? Under certain conditions, in certain cases, could he push the Chief of the Defence Staff to reappoint him?

Those are the kinds of questions that need to be asked in committee and of the Department of National Defence officials who made this recommendation. They are the ones who made the recommendations to the minister, and he approved them. I hope that the minister asked the right questions. In any event, if he did not, the Bloc Québécois will be able to ask the right questions in committee.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the April 2008-09 annual report, which the parliamentary secretary provided in the last hour or two, indicates that in terms of summary trials there has been a fivefold increase in the last 10 years. In 1999-2000 there were 426 summary trials and in 2008-09 there were 2,035. The parliamentary secretary indicated that it probably had something to do with the Afghanistan theatre but he has not been any more specific than that.

I am wondering whether the member has any more information about the types of trials and why there would be a fivefold increase in summary trials.

While I am up, I would like to get the member's views on what is a positive in this bill, and that is giving victims a voice. The bill would allow victim impact statements similar to what is in the Criminal Code. There is also a provision for a review.

The parliamentary secretary clarified this morning that the review will now be every seven years. The problem with the review, though, is that it is an internal review sponsored by the Minister of National Defence and will be carried out every seven years. The question is whether it will be reported back to Parliament. Whether we will be updated as to what is going on with the review is, in my mind, an open question because it is not necessarily specified.

I would ask the member if he has any comments about any of those three points.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois is very much in favour of some parts of Bill C-41. That is why we wish to study it in detail in committee. The measure to protect persons who file a complaint with the Military Police Complaints Commission is a good one. A member of the Canadian Forces who files a complaint should not be subject to retribution. However, we must ensure that there is appropriate oversight for this measure.

With regard to the first question posed by my colleague, he is referring to a document given to him by the parliamentary secretary barely an hour ago. The study is off to a bad start. If some members or political parties have information that others do not, we are getting off to a bad start. I can understand that the Conservative Party has its own way of governing. We are trying to keep up with them. There may be a saying that goes like this: politics has its reasons, which reason knows nothing of.

When I see what the Conservatives are doing, there is surely no sense to it. They give documents to one party and not to the others. If it is true that my colleague received the documents from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence an hour ago, it is difficult for me to comment on them at this point. I hope that the Conservatives, when they have documents available, will provide a copy to all parties. That would allow us to move forward on the issues. If they continue in this manner, I can understand why it is difficult for them to be respected by the other parties in the House of Commons.