Mr. Speaker, I stand here with my colleagues sharing our position as the official opposition in opposing Bill C-15 at second reading. My colleague from St. John's East and others have been involved with the content of the bill for some time. What I find disconcerting is that here we are rehashing the debate when so much good work took place at committee, where recommendations and changes were made to the legislation.
Yes, there was an election, so all of that work fell off the table. But when the government had the chance to put forward a bill that truly reflected the discussion that took place at committee, the kinds of testimony heard from top witnesses, it chose to discount the critical amendments to truly make the legislation what it could be, a piece of legislation that seeks to make military justice in Canada fair and truly just to the utmost extent.
The NDP has been clear in recognizing that, while Bill C-15 is a step in the right direction to bring the military justice system more in line with the civilian justice system, it falls short on key issues: reforming the summary trial system, reforming the grievance system and strengthening the Military Complaints Commission. It is really about two fundamental values that we hold dear as Canadians: the concepts of fairness and justice.
The reality is that we in the NDP believe that members of the Canadian Forces are held to an extremely high standard of discipline. It is something we all hold as such in our society. However, the members who put their lives on the line for our country deserve a judicial system that is held to that comparable high standard as well, something that is currently not the case and certainly will not be achieved by Bill C-15.
Many Canadians would be shocked to learn that the people who bravely serve our country can get a criminal record from a system that lacks the due process usually required in civilian criminal courts. For us, it is critical to fight for more fairness in the Canadian military justice system for the women and men in uniform who put their lives on the line for service to our country.
I know a number of my colleagues have referenced the summary trial system and the importance of making sure we are moving forward in that respect. I would note that countries we often look to, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, have seen fit to change their own summary trial processes. The question is: Why is Canada lagging behind? We have the opportunity to follow in the steps of these countries, but also to set a leadership standard on our own and to clearly state as a priority that the military justice system stand for fairness and justice for people working in the military, something we civilians know to be the case when it comes to our system.
In terms of the summary trial system, the amendments in Bill C-15 do not adequately address the unfairness of summary trials. Currently a conviction of a service offence from a summary trial in the Canadian Forces may result in a criminal record. Summary trials 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. This causes an undue harshness on certain members of the Canadian Forces who are convicted of very minor service offences.
For example, some of the minor service offences include insubordination, quarrels, disturbances, absence without leave and disobeying a lawful command. These could be matters that are extremely important to military discipline, as we know, but they are not worthy of a criminal record. As we know, it remains a struggle for military personnel, once they leave the military, to get on and get settled with their life outside the military. Obviously a criminal record would be debilitating and further exacerbate the challenges many former military personnel face as they go on to pursue employment opportunities outside the military.
What better role could the Government of Canada play than to ensure that military personnel both have the justice they deserve while they are providing military service and also are not unduly penalized because of that unfair system once they leave the service?
We noted that there needs to be reform of the grievance system. At present, the grievance system does not provide a means of external review. Currently it is staffed entirely by retired Canadian Forces officers, some only relatively recently retired. If the Canadian Forces grievance board is to be perceived as an external and independent oversight civilian body, as it was designed to be, then the appointment process needs to be amended to reflect that reality. Thus, some members of the board should be drawn from civil society. The NDP amendments have provided that at least 60% of the grievance committee members must never have been officers or non-commissioned members of the Canadian Forces. This is one of the amendments that was passed in March 2011 in Bill C-41 but was not retained in Bill C-15, before us in the House today.
The third point is about strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission. Bill C-15 amends the National Defence Act to establish a timeline within which the Canadian Forces provost marshal would be required to resolve conduct complaints, as well as protect complainants from being penalized for submitting a complaint in good faith. Although this is a step forward, we in the NDP believe that more needs to be done to empower the commission. For example, care has not been taken to provide the Military Police Complaints Commission with the required legislative provisions empowering it to act as an oversight body. The commission must be empowered by a legislative provision that would allow it to rightfully investigate and report to Parliament.
On that note, on the need to strengthen the Military Police Complaints Commission to ensure that those in the military have access to the kind of justice all Canadians would expect, the concept of ensuring the independence of complaints commissions and the ability to review and investigate what is currently taking place is something to which we need to see a greater commitment from the government side in a whole host of areas. One of the areas that has also been discussed is the RCMP.
Despite the rhetoric we have heard from the government in favour of greater fairness for those working in the RCMP, the complaints commission there requires greater support. Canadians require greater assurance that the complaints commission of the RCMP will be independent. The reason I raise this is that we have heard about some serious allegations, some tragic stories around sexual harassment in the RCMP. That is something I am very concerned about, as the status of women critic for the NDP. There needs to be a policy when it comes to sexual harassment in the RCMP, but there also needs to be an assurance and clear legislative commitment to strengthen the independence and the role of the complaints commission. It is very much the same scenario in the case of the military. When we are talking about ensuring that members of the forces have access to justice and a fair system for recourse, we need to be looking at strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission.
Finally, what we are asking of the government, and certainly what we would have hoped for, is that it would have taken the deliberations of the committee and the final amendments made by the committee in hand and, rather than reinvent the wheel, recognize that the work has already been done and the template is already there to ensure that whatever we do with regard to strengthening military justice in Canada be done with access to justice and fairness for military personnel as a foremost priority. It is a priority for us in the NDP. We hope to see that same kind of reciprocation from the government at some point soon.