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House of Commons Hansard #44 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was judges.

Topics

Tabling of Document by President of the Treasury BoardPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I said previously, the information provided is publicly available. The President of the Treasury Board did not provide any confidential information. He did not provide anything with respect to that individual.

However, I find it interesting that the report of the individual's retirement first came from the Liberal Party.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-16, An Act to amend the National Defence Act (military judges), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Security of Tenure of Military Judges ActGovernment Orders

November 4th, 2011 / 12:30 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, in keeping with my own injunction to try to be brief, I will offer a few brief remarks with respect to this bill. It is, after all, a two-page bill. It is not earth-shattering.

First, since I will not be on my feet here at any other time before November 11, I want to take this opportunity to recognize the brave men and women who serve us so well. We are very fortunate in this country that we have people who are prepared to put their lives, bodies and minds on the line for us.

I want to make the point that some parties in particular take every opportunity to enthusiastically embrace the military; however, there seems to be a somewhat less enthusiastic embrace for our veterans. On November 11, I hope that our embrace is far more enthusiastic and that they get a level of support similar to what our military gets.

I offer my condolences to the Greff family and to the Gilbert family. This must be a particularly poignant time for them. Both families are hurting and are classic examples of people who give their lives so that we can operate in this chamber as we do.

Bill C-16 has had a tortured path getting here. It went through a number of reiterations, prorogations and dissolutions and was derailed in various other ways as well. We saw another example this morning, when some members of House, rightly upset that they could not offer their observations with respect to Remembrance Day, denied unanimous consent to proceed in an expedited fashion. As a consequence, we have taken far longer than we ever should have in order to deal with the bill.

The bill has three components and revolves around a core concept: the tension between the independence of the judiciary and the hierarchy of the military command structure. Indeed, pretty well all of the justice issues in the military, the conflicts over those two points of principle, are the subject matter of both Bill C-16 and Bill C-15. Sometimes it is with respect to the independence of the police, but in the case of Bill C-16, it is with respect to the independence of the judiciary.

We are here because the courts have told us that the system has to be repaired. We cannot have a system in which the independence of the judiciary is subject to the whims of the CDS or anyone else in the chain of command. The bill does respond to the Regina v. Leblanc case and it requires a retirement age of 60.

I appreciate that in order to be a military judge, one also has to be a military officer, but it is an interesting conflict. Frankly, for lawyers and judges the age of 60 is frequently prime time in their careers. Ironically, by requiring that age of retirement and by requiring that the judge be an officer, in effect we are limiting the pool of people who would, in all other circumstances, be excellently qualified for the judiciary.

As a classic example, last week we had a hearing with respect to two judges for the Supreme Court of Canada. One was 63 and the other was 56 years old. Ironically, one would not be qualified to be a military judge and the other would only be entitled to one appointment.

There is an interesting debate as to whether one has to be an officer in order to be a military judge. I am not sure that we should not actually be debating that a little more extensively; possibly a retired officer could be a military judge beyond age 60. There is another argument as to why one has to achieve the fitness levels required of officers up to age 60 in order to sit as a judicial officer.

Those issues aside, this bill does warrant our support. I think the regime that the government has put forward in the bill is an appropriate regime. A military officer who is a military judge will be automatically required to retire at age 60, as opposed to the requirement in the civilian system for retirement at age 75. The person can be removed for cause, and there is an inquiry process, again independent of the chain of command. That is an appropriate form of removal, given our requirements for the independence of the judiciary. Of course, there is also resignation.

There is this ongoing tension between chain of command and the independence of the judiciary. Bill C-16 does achieve some balance between those two tensions, and I and my party will support this bill; indeed, we would have supported it at all stages had the government handled the desires of other people in this chamber a little more sensitively. In fact, possibly by this time we would have gone to committee of the whole and had this bill passed and on the way to the Senate. There is a time deadline of December 2, and I am rather hoping that we still achieve that time deadline; otherwise, a decision will be imposed upon us.

Security of Tenure of Military Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member who just spoke. I would like to tell him that we also support this bill.

However, when I returned to my office, I heard criticism from a Conservative member. First, you clearly established the rules here in this House by saying that he did not have the right to mention the absence or presence of a member. One thing is for certain: while I was away, I was still watching the House of Commons debates on television and I heard this same member criticizing the Bloc Québécois for taking steps to delay the bill—a bill that we support—which is completely false. I would like to ask the hon. member whether he shares my opinion in this regard.

This bill was introduced on October 7. The House resumed on September 19. It is the Conservative government that is in charge of the legislative agenda here in the House. Subsequent to the court's decision, the Conservatives could very well have introduced this bill earlier and made sure, of course, that the whole process was followed and that this bill was passed quickly. Everything could have been done but, instead, the Conservatives introduced a bill to abolish the Canadian Wheat Board and a bill to reduce the political weight of Quebec. They introduced all kinds of bills but not this one. So if anyone is to blame for the speed with which the bill must be passed, it is the Conservatives themselves.

Security of Tenure of Military Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

I am not sure that was a question Mr. Speaker, but it was a comment.

I largely agree with the sentiments of the hon. member. The bill was initially presented in a form that incorporated a number of other things, many of which were quite problematic. It could have actually been presented as a stand-alone bill in the last Parliament and could have been law by now.

The government chooses to proceed in whatever way it chooses. It prorogues at its whim, it formulates its bills at its whim, and it alienates members of the opposition, apparently, at will as well, the consequence being that things that should not be delayed do get delayed.

I say to my colleagues on the government side that what goes around comes around.

Security of Tenure of Military Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I would like to point out that it is a bit rich for the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska to say he supports this bill when he and his colleagues were the ones who refused to give unanimous consent this morning.

The hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood made the point that what goes around comes around. Earlier, the member for St. John's East suggested that the measures in these bills could have been brought forward in the previous Parliament.

The statement made by the member for Scarborough—Guildwood is true. The statement by the member for St. John's East is not true, given that the bill containing these measures in the last Parliament was reported from committee on March 24 of this year and this country was plunged into an unnecessary and costly election on March 25.

Would the member not agree that what goes around does come around, but in this case his party and the other parties opposite prevented us from moving forward with the subsequent stages of these measures?

Security of Tenure of Military Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is the kind of debate I would actually wish to avoid by limiting my remarks simply to the substance of the bill, but since the Conservatives insist on getting into it, we are going to get into it, are we not? The clock is going to run, and again we are going to achieve absolutely nothing.

This legislation has had at least three or four iterations. It is almost what one might call a fifth generation bill. During that period of time we have had prorogations and all kinds of delays. The government can move its legislation as it desires, so to say that it did not quite get it done in the bill's last iteration before an election is also pretty rich.

This is, frankly and candidly, an unnecessary debate; we agree on the substance of the bill, so let us just move it forward. As the parliamentary secretary said earlier, only four judges are involved. That is all we are talking about here. If the government cannot move its legislation and continues to alienate the opposition, we are not going to make the December 2 deadline, in which case the whole system will go up the flue.

Security of Tenure of Military Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to participate in the debate on Bill C-16. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence is well aware that the Bloc Québécois supports this bill.

What we take issue with is that the parliamentary secretary has said in the House that we have failed to provide unanimous consent, which is completely false. I will give an example. Today, I gave unanimous consent, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois which I represent, to the agreement between the Cree and the federal government. We had already given our word and consent with respect to this bill.

With regard to Bill C-16, we were asked for our support yesterday at the same time that we were asking for unanimous consent to pay tribute to veterans. Remembrance Day is at hand. We are all wearing poppies—I see, Mr. Speaker, that you are wearing one also—to commemorate the battles fought by our veterans, the people who went overseas to fight in two world wars and other conflicts, which unfortunately should not have occurred but did, and who fought for our freedom.

The dean of the House of Commons, the member for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, wanted to rise, like members of other parties, and pay tribute for a few minutes to the people who fought to protect our freedom and to prevent dictators from taking control of the world and suppressing freedoms, as was recently the case in Libya. The leader of the Green Party also wanted a few minutes to address the people and pay tribute to our veterans. This was refused by lack of unanimous consent. We were simply told that the Conservative government had the right to do so and that it was within the rules.

I know that the government was probably afraid that the Green Party and the Bloc Québécois would use this precedent to intervene and rise often in the House, saying that they want to be recognized as parties. We have known from the beginning that we do not have 12 members, just 4, and that the leader of the Green Party is the only member of Parliament for her party. For that reason, the interim leader of the Bloc Québécois specifically stated yesterday, when making the request, that he did not want to set a precedent and that he simply wanted to make a statement.

That was one of the lowest moments I have experienced since being elected in 2004. I have rarely seen a government rebuff the opposition parties in a such a way and on such an occasion.

We did not give our unanimous consent to Bill C-16 then and we are opposing it today because the fault lies with the government for not being alert enough to introduce it sooner. The government could have introduced this bill as early as September 19, when Parliament resumed, but it waited until October 7. The government has also introduced a series of bills and has prevented the opposition from debating them and discussing them properly by moving closure and time allocation motions five or six times. I do not even know how many there have been, but closure has been moved on at least five or six bills. We cannot follow the normal legislative process because the government is in a very big hurry. It made legislative choices, but Bill 16, which we are discussing today, was not part of them.

The Conservatives chose to introduce Bill C-10 on justice. They decided to abolish the firearms registry and destroy the data. They also introduced a bill that will diminish Quebec's political weight in the House. There was also the bill on the Canadian Wheat Board. They chose to introduce all those bills instead of Bill C-16. I want to come back to Bill C-16 to which we could have given our unanimous consent. We only did what the government said it would do, in other words, follow the rules. I have been in federal politics long enough to know there are rules to be followed in the House. There is a legislative process to be followed: first reading, second reading, third reading and work in committee.

I understand perfectly well that there was a court order, but if the government was in such a hurry, it could have made sure that this bill went through all the stages as quickly as possible. After all, it is the government that sets the agenda.

Yesterday, by refusing to allow us to pay tribute to veterans, if the government was trying to send a message that we do not exist, that we are not an official party and that we do not deserve to speak in this House, it failed. Today we are sending our own message that we are still here. Just like the Conservative members, and in fact like all members of the House, we were democratically elected. Even the Prime Minister himself must acknowledge that he was democratically elected in his riding and that he is an MP first and foremost, and Prime Minister second. I think it is our duty to do things correctly here.

Thus, there are no second-class MPs in this House. I never thought that when there were 50 Bloc Québécois MPs, nor do I think that today, just because we are fewer in number. My message to the government is that it should think carefully before acting as heinously as it did yesterday. Nevertheless, once again, it is the government's fault that it did not introduce the bill earlier. And we support Bill C-16, especially since a court decision will strengthen the independence of military judges. That is very important. The Minister of National Defence introduced Bill C-16, An Act to amend the National Defence Act (military judges), in the House of Commons at first reading.

The Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada delivered its judgment in the Regina v. Leblanc case. In its decision, the appeal court determined that the provisions in the National Defence Act and the Queen’s Regulations and Orders for the Canadian Forces regarding the appointment and retirement of military judges do not sufficiently respect judicial independence as required by section 11(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In declaring certain National Defence Act provisions constitutionally invalid and inoperative, the Court Martial Appeal Court in Regina v. Leblanc suspended the declaration of invalidity for a period of six months to allow remedial legislation to be enacted. The declaration will be effective December 2, 2011.

Bill C-16 amends the provisions of the National Defence Act that deal with the tenure of military judges, providing that they serve until the retirement age of 60 years, unless removed for cause on the recommendation of an inquiry committee or upon the resignation of the military judge.

To give a bit of background and explain the situation in full, I should mention that judges used to be appointed for a predetermined period of time. I believe it was for five years, but when a judge's term was up for renewal, it seemed that he or she did not have complete independence at that time. Now the process will simply be the same as it is for other judges. The tenure for military judges will allow them to sit as such until the retirement age of 60 years. That creates a balance. It sends a message that we will improve the situation around judicial independence, which is something we in the House could in no way be opposed to.

Justice Lamer made a number of recommendations, and this is one that we have agreed with from the outset. The Bloc Québécois believes in 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. This bill corrects a situation that created a fairly significant difference between the civilian justice system and the military justice system, in order to improve the military system.

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:

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 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.

A number of changes were called for. I think that Bill C-16 is a step that, I repeat, addresses only one of Justice Lamer's recommendations. We can go step by step. That is no problem.

There are also offences in the Code of Service Discipline that do not have equivalents in civilian justice. For example, the offences of disobedience of lawful command or disobedience to a superior officer do not exist in civilian justice. 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 has been 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.”

We therefore feel it is important that the government consider not only the issue of the independence of military judges but also the entire military justice reform. In my opinion, even the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence can understand that, when we talk about such a bill, it goes without saying that we should expand our discussion and thought process a bit to include the whole military justice policy, particularly since more than one recommendation was given by Justice Lamer and the Senate committee.

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 came into effect on September 1, 1999. This bill amended the National Defence Act by abolishing the death penalty in the military justice system, a very important change; 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. Many of the amendments I just listed are still pending. I am counting on the current government and its Minister of National Defence to take into account the majority of the recommendations that I mentioned just a few moments ago.

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. Military justice has been on the radar for some time now, and here today we have this bill—barely two pages long—regarding the independence of judges. There will undoubtedly be other, more significant, changes that will improve the National Defence Act and that will also implement Justice Lamer's recommendations, which, as I have said before, are already 10 years old.

In his 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. I will not list the 88 recommendations, although some here might like me to do so.

I will briefly refer to some of Justice Lamer's 2003 recommendations: arrest procedures and pre-trial detention; procedures for proceeding by indictment; the structure of the court; sentencing; aligning the rights of the accused with those in a civil court such that the accused could choose the type of court martial and such that the finding of court martial panels would be arrived at by unanimous vote; strengthening the independence of the principal intervenors in the military justice system; and improving the grievance and military police complaints processes.

In order to implement Justice Lamer's recommendations and amend the National Defence Act, the government introduced Bill C-45 in August 2006. It died on the order paper. In March 2008, the government introduced another bill, Bill C-7, which was identical to Bill C-45 and also died on the order paper when an election was called in the fall of 2008.

In April 2008, the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada handed down a decision in the case of Regina 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—which brings us to where we are today—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.

One of Justice Lamer's recommendations has been incorporated into Bill C-16 before us today.

I repeat—and I will conclude on this in just a moment—the Bloc Québécois is not opposed to Bill C-16. The Bloc did not break any agreements to speed things up. The government alone is responsible for its own legislative agenda. It could have introduced the bill to get it through all the various steps in the usual way, knowing very well that a court order meant that a certain timeline had to be respected.

I cannot believe that, with the army of people and public servants available to the Minister of National Defence, it did not occur to him to look at a calendar and ensure that all the steps could be completed regarding Bill C-16. It is because of the government's own negligence that it is so keen to have the bill fast-tracked, because it did not do its homework.

I cannot believe that the government behaved in this manner. However, as I explained at the beginning of my speech, it is simply because the government made other choices. It had other priorities. It wanted to reduce Quebec's political weight with Bill C-20, for instance. It wanted to put the Canadian Wheat Board out of commission. It also decided to rule out all potential debate on Bill C-10 regarding justice. I can assure this House, not everyone is pleased about that. It is no longer only Quebec that opposes that bill. We will soon be up to 10 provinces that oppose the bill. But the government decided to make it a priority anyway.

In closing, it should have found a way to move a little faster on this matter and introduce Bill C-16 earlier. Had it done so, we might not still be talking about it today.

Security of Tenure of Military Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is the House ready for the question?

Security of Tenure of Military Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Security of Tenure of Military Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Security of Tenure of Military Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Security of Tenure of Military Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on National Defence.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

moved that Bill C-15, 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

1:05 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to remind the House that, although Bill C-16 was sent to committee, we could have moved forward much more quickly if the member for Richmond—Arthabaska had acted differently this morning. It is not up to him to decide who forced the Standing Committee on National Defence to examine these very urgent measures for the second time, something that is unnecessary. I think that all members in this House understand these measures and understand how this member wasted the time of the House and the Standing Committee on National Defence.

As I begin my remarks, I would like to congratulate those of our colleagues, the hon. member for St. John's East, the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood, and the hon. member for Hamilton Centre, who worked very hard with members on our side to develop a common approach.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not plan on making a habit of interrupting the parliamentary secretary. However, I must correct one thing: not one of the 308 members in this House is wasting anyone's time. Every member has the right to speak and to give their opinion. Obviously, some members are not happy with some decisions, for various reasons. Yesterday there was a decision that went against us and that we strongly disagreed with. We will get over it, and the parliamentary secretary should too and should not say that a member of the House is wasting the House's time.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska knows full well that he has drawn out the procedures and the debate on this issue. It had nothing to do with the substance of these matters, which are urgent for all members of the Canadian Armed Forces. We are ashamed for him. Even if—

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order. Is the parliamentary secretary continuing with debate, or is he responding to the point of order?

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am continuing debate, a debate that is urgent, on measures that have been before this House three times. This is the fourth time. It is important that members of this House understand the urgency of these measures and the level of consensus that has been reached by successive Parliaments on these measures. That is the reason for my remarks.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order. The Chair appreciates the clarification and would be pleased if the hon. parliamentary secretary continued with his remarks regarding the matter before the House.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, we have had great collaboration from all three parties represented in this House.

I want to pay particular tribute to the three members I mentioned earlier. The member for St. John's East made a couple of remarks about the LeBlanc case which probably, if they were heard by members of the Canadian Forces, would have them regretting that he chose to pursue his legal career not in the Judge Advocate General's office but in civilian life. He clearly understands the importance of the system, the importance of a strong defence, the importance of independent judges and professionals at every level of the military justice system.

I thank the member for his clarity on the issues. I also thank his party and the Liberal Party for their constructive contribution to advancing these bills.

I rise now in support of Bill C-15 , the strengthening military justice in the defence of Canada bill, which concerns an important aspect of national defence, that of military justice in the broad sense.

Maintaining the integrity of the military justice system is the responsibility of government and should concern all Canadians. The military justice system is an essential tool to maintain the discipline, morale and operational effectiveness of the Canadian Forces.

Without such a system, our men and women in uniform would not be able to focus on their number one priority which is to protect the interests of Canada and Canadians.

For that reason, the government, the Supreme Court of Canada and even the Constitution recognized the importance of maintaining a robust military justice system.

This government also recognizes, as did Chief Justice Lamer in his 2003 report, that there is room for improvement. The principles and procedures of military courts martial and summary trials must remain consistent with Canadian values and the evolution of Canadian criminal law. After all, a legal system can only remain strong if it evolves alongside the society it serves. Otherwise, an outdated system could risk undermining not only the legitimacy of military law, but also the health and vitality of the forces themselves.

This government has tried three times since 2006 to introduce the necessary legislation to do so, but each bill has failed to progress as a result of the unpredictable nature of a minority Parliament. I do not think it is worth going into the details again of those stories from previous Parliaments.

In 1998, when the National Defence Act was last updated, an independent review of the act every five years was made mandatory. In the first review, in 2003—the member for Richmond—Arthabaska was right to mention that it was some time ago—Chief Justice Lamer made several important recommendations about how to improve the act.

These recommendations focused on the administration of military justice, the role of the Canadian Forces provost marshal, the head of the military police, and the system by which grievances of Canadian Forces members were addressed. All of these recommendations were studied in detail, both inside and outside the Canadian Forces and Department of National Defence. A wide range of stakeholders--civilian, military, government, non-government--were consulted and, as a result, this government brought forward legislation on two separate occasions to update the National Defence Act. Members know them well. They were Bill C-7 in 2006 and Bill C-45 in 2008, both of which, as we are aware, died on the order paper.

Then in 2008, the ruling of the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada in the case of Regina v. Trépanier forced the government to introduce legislation on an urgent basis. In response, the government rapidly introduced a targeted bill, Bill C-60, to rectify this problem. Thanks to many hon. members still present, this legislation was passed by Parliament.

In 2010, the government once again tried to update the National Defence Act, this time by following up on recommendations from the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs as well as the latest recommendations from Chief Justice Lamer.

That bill, Bill C-41, was introduced during the final session of the 40th Parliament and was both studied and reported on by the Senate committee.

Some of the amendments that were submitted by the Bloc and discussed in committee were included in Bill C-41.

However, that bill died with the dissolution of Parliament in March. Since that time, we have had the Court Martial Appeal Court ruling, already discussed today, which assessed the process by which military judges were appointed, currently on a five-year basis, and we started to deal with that issue with Bill C-16. However, that bill does not address other important amendments included in Bill C-15, a bill that aims to reinforce military justice by bringing the National Defence Act up to date. This is an act that is evergreen, that requires constant updating, as many pieces of legislation do, on which the institutions of our country depend.

We have given careful consideration to the recommendations and proposed amendments put forward by members of the House, when Bill C-41 was studied in committee.

Bill C-15 would address various problems regarding military justice through a series of important amendments to the National Defence Act.

First, it would strengthen the administration of military justice by allowing for the appointment of part-time military judges to serve in times of large-scale operations and other search periods, thereby providing flexibility in the courts martial system. We hope this is not a provision that will be needed soon or often, but it needs to be there and it is a former chief justice of our country's Supreme Court who endorses that view.

In addition, it would lower the minimum rank requirement for the senior member of a court martial panel from colonel to lieutenant colonel in most cases and reduce the minimum rank of serving panel members on courts martial of non-commissioned members from warrant officer to sergeant. This fight simply widens the pool of those eligible to serve on these panels.

It would also allow for one more non-commissioned officer to serve on the panel when the accused is a non-commissioned member, as well as allow for increased participation of non-commissioned officers, without undermining the requirement for leadership and experience in the maintenance of discipline. It is the experience of non-commissioned members, as well as officers, on which this system depends.

This bill would clearly define the objectives, intent and principles of sentencing in the military justice system.

By articulating the purposes of military justice, we would be giving increased clarity and transparency to all those engaged in its delivery. This is perhaps the most exciting and compelling aspect of this bill. The National Defence Act had not previously articulated the purposes of military justice. They are implicit and known but now they would be explicit and this would provide Parliament's guidance to the military judges, officers and Court Martial Appeal Court justices presiding over courts martial, summary trials and appeals, just as Parliament has already done for the civilian criminal justice system in the Criminal Code. Of course, this guidance would expressly recognize the crucial elements unique to the military system necessary for it to fulfill its vital function.

The bill would also introduce a broader range of sentencing options to help ensure that the punishments handed down by courts martial or summary trials are appropriate, both in terms of being appropriate to the offence committed as well as being broadly comparable to the range and type of sentences available within the civilian criminal justice system. Criminal justice evolves. Military justice must reflect the best of the evolution of the civilian criminal system.

Bill C-15 would also improve how victims are treated by the military justice system. The bill includes the option of presenting victim impact statements before courts martial and would give military judges the authority to order restitution.

Victim impact statements are very important to the whole justice system, something that is recognized on the civilian side but which now needs to be enacted on the military side for us to continue to be as proud of and confident in that system as we have been to date.

The bill would set an additional limitation period for holding summary trials, requiring that charges be laid within six months of an alleged offence being committed, to accompany the existing requirement that the summary trial be held within one year of the alleged offence. And, Bill C-15 would legally empower the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada to suspend sentences handed down by courts martial where deemed appropriate.

In addition to resolving issues related to the administration of military justice, Bill C-15 would strengthen the military police system by officially establishing the position, duties and responsibilities of the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal, who is the military police chief, and by speeding up the military police complaint process and making it more fair.

The provost marshal, just to be clear, is not yet recognized officially in the National Defence Act. Mr. Justice Lamer recommended that he or she be so, and the position would be so under Bill C-15 when it is enacted.

With respect to addressing grievances in the Canadian Forces, Bill C-15 would permit the Chief of the Defence Staff to better delegate his power as the system's final grievance authority, thereby helping to resolve grievances more swiftly and efficiently in the interests of better administration and morale.

The bill would also formally change the name of the Canadian Forces Grievance Board, at its own request, to the military grievances external review committee to reflect the actual status of that committee. This would better reflect its independence and increase the confidence of Canadian Forces members in its impartiality.

Finally, this bill would improve the existing statutory requirement for a periodic independent review of selected provisions of the National Defence Act. It would clearly establish that requirement in the act itself, setting out both the scope of review and the mandate of review period which would be adjusted from five to seven years to ensure the quality and effectiveness of each independent review.

In conclusion, the government recognizes that the changes proposed in this bill are extensive and, in some cases, complex. However, it should be noted that, in most cases, the need for these changes has been recognized for years and most of the proposed changes have already been addressed and analyzed in committee.

Our men and women in uniform are counting on us. This government acknowledges that regular attention and review is necessary to ensure the continued relevance and effectiveness of any legal system, military or civilian, and through Bill C-15, we will ensure that this is the case for military justice in the years to come.

Canadians depend on their government to build and maintain a justice system that reflects our national values and respects the rule of law. This government has been given a strong mandate from Canadians to do that. The House has a mandate to act in this area as well. I therefore call on the House to support this important effort by moving this bill forward as quickly as possible.

It may seem to some of us in the House that the measures in the bill are distant or obscure. Not all of us have had direct contact with the military justice system, but we all understand that the roughly 100,000 Canadian men and women in uniform, regular force, reserve force, depend on these measures for their morale, for their discipline, for the framework of justice, action and order in which they operate in Canada, and which they take with them abroad when they are deployed as they have been so often in the history of this country.

We have a responsibility to them, eight years after the Lamer report, to move forward with these important measures. The measures in Bill C-15 go well beyond those provided for in Bill C-16, and will indeed supersede that of the bill we dealt with earlier today if that bill passes into law earlier.

We hope that we have the support of all members of the House in moving through an expeditious debate on the bill, efficient consideration at committee, and early implementation and enactment of the bill into law.

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1:20 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the remarks from the hon. parliamentary secretary. My question involves the review that was done by the hon. Mr. Justice Lamer submitted in 2003. That review contained some 88 recommendations, a few of which are covered in Bill C-16 and some in Bill C-15, but it seems the government has substituted its judgment for Mr. Justice Lamer in omitting some of those.

As well, in his report there were many things in the recommendations the government could do without legislation, including increasing resources to the military justice system which apparently the government has failed to do in that intervening time period.

Why have there been these omissions of recommendations from the bill and why has the government not acted on those recommendations which do not require legislation?

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1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government has acted on many of the recommendations that do not require legislation and we would be happy to review those in detail with the hon. member and his party at committee or outside of the House. Within the confines of an answer to this question, I cannot provide that level of detail.

The vast majority of the recommendations contained in the Lamer report of 2003 have been translated into legislation in the bill. I think the member will agree, as many members in his party did in consideration at committee, that these are the right ones and that not all were appropriate for translation for inclusion in the bill at this time.

There are larger issues related to the Military Police Complaints Commission and the grievance process which are still subject to policy review, still subject to decisions pending outside of the House, which we hope to translate into legislation at a subsequent date. But keep in mind that Justice LeSage is leading another review of the military justice system, which is due very soon, which will have recommendations. The House will have a chance to return to these issues relatively soon because of our delay in implementing the recommendations from the Lamer report over eight long years.

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1:25 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member would know, in the many reiterations of this bill, one of the debates was around the independence of the police to conduct investigations. The independence of the police is as important to the rule of law as the independence of the judiciary.

As I said earlier, the tension between the independence of the police and the command structure of the military is what creates something of a hybrid system for military justice in this country, and for that matter, in all other countries.

There exists a tension in the military system of justice that does not exist in the civilian system. Where police would be assumed to be, both factually and in appearance, independent of supervision from, say, an authority like a mayor or other political authority in a military justice system, that is not entirely a warranted assumption.

Hence, my question is with respect to subsection 18.5(3), which states: “The Vice Chief of the Defence Staff may issue instructions or guidelines in writing in respect of a particular investigation”.

I would be interested in the government's view with respect to the ability of the vice chief of the defence staff to actually issue instructions on a unique and discreet investigation. That does not auger well for the independence of the police to pursue an investigation, where it might take the police.

Does the hon. member have some concern that this particular section could be both used, but more ominously abused, by senior brass, for want of a better term, in order to shut down an investigation?

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government, after long consideration within the Department of National Defence, and on the basis of consultations with many, inside and outside of government, has come to the conclusion that it can be confident that those measures, mentioned by the member for Scarborough--Guildwood, are required. Abuse can come in many forms. We rely on the professionalism of the senior leadership of the Department of National Defence, and all our public servants, to prevent it. By and large they do.

I would remind the hon. member, there are also safeguards in the bill. The number of times that the vice chief of the defence staff has recourse to this provision is subject to review. This provision itself is subject to review, as are all the measures governing military justice. It is currently every five years. We are now proposing every seven years.

Let us be clear, there are institutions within the Department of National Defence. The superintendence of military justice is in the hands of the judge advocate general's office. Investigations and police work are in the hands of the provost marshal. They have their own logic and their own autonomy. That is enhanced by the bill, given that the provost marshals will for the first time be recognized, and the purposes of those officials' work recognized in the National Defence Act, thereby strengthening their ability to do their job without interference.