Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to discuss Bill C-15.
By way of introduction, it is worth noting that, as members of the House of Commons, we not only have the great honour of representing Canadians, we also have the opportunity to learn a little more about matters under federal jurisdiction that were perhaps addressed in previous parliaments, but that, for one reason or another, we are not familiar with.
For me, military justice is one such matter. I am no expert when it comes to this issue. However, since I now have the opportunity to discuss it, I did my research. I tried to look at what other Parliaments have done. It became clear to me, when reading the 2003 Lamer report, that reform is necessary. Anyone who has studied the recommendations therein can see that a lot of work was done and that much progress was made in the context of the previous Bill C-41. It is apparent now, however, when considering Bill C-15, that a lot of work was unfortunately done for nought. There is no other way of putting it.
I will speak about this work and the reason why a lot of it has gone by the wayside. To begin with, one of the best opportunities for a member of Parliament to speak about a bill or an issue is to take part in the work of committees. It gives us an opportunity to discuss issues with witnesses, who are often experts in their respective subject areas. At the end of the day, we cannot be experts in everything. Asking witnesses questions and listening to their testimony is an extremely important exercise in our legislative and democratic process. We also have the opportunity to carry out clause-by-clause consideration of different bills and to propose amendments.
Clearly, the party in power enjoys a majority in the House. When there was a minority government, however, the work of committees held more sway. That is certainly what we are increasingly witnessing today as we see the government attempt to take away committees’ power. But that is another debate for another day.
Having said that, several amendments were proposed at the time—in February 2011, unless I am mistaken—at the Standing Committee on National Defence. These amendments were passed by all parties. It must be understood that committees represent all elected representatives and parties. The committee, therefore, made amendments that were in line with the most important recommendations in the Lamer report. This was done in an effort to reform the military justice system.
Some of the amendments to Bill C-15, which is before us today, have been scrapped and others retained. I am asking myself the same question that I just asked of my colleague, the member for Laurier-Sainte-Marie. Unfortunately, given the dearth of speakers on the government side, I will not have an opportunity to ask the government this question. I nevertheless wonder why—after being proposed democratically in committee, where the bulk of the work in our parliament was done on this—certain amendments to the bill were retained and others scrapped.
After a bill legally dies on the order paper, there is no obligation to keep the previously adopted amendments when the same bill is presented in another form. Nevertheless, as a democratic and moral principle, and as matter of principle in general, one wonders why the government did not decide to keep these amendments in place, especially since they were not of a partisan nature, and were in line with the ideas put forward in the recommendations of the 2003 Lamer report.
Allow me to speak to a number of these recommendations. After all, the amendments that were not included in the bill in its current form are, unfortunately, reason enough for the NDP to oppose this bill. One of the most important questions concerns summary trials. All citizens of law-based societies such as ours want a balanced system of justice that affords citizens protection.
That said, it is important to understand that the system that exists within the military is not exactly the same. That is precisely why the necessary reforms are meant to bring the military justice system more in line with the civilian justice system. We want to bring these systems more in line with one another to ensure that the members of our armed forces enjoy adequate legal protection, since they deserve our utmost respect, for reasons that I do not need to repeat here. We know the importance of the sacrifices they make. They do incredible work for our society. It is important that they have adequate legal protection.
When we look at summary trials, one particular aspect is extremely problematic. A number of my colleagues have talked about this aspect, the fact that people can be saddled with a criminal record for violating military regulations. In normal proceedings, such behaviour, while certainly unacceptable, would not be sufficient reason to burden someone with a criminal record.
It is important to maintain discipline within the armed forces. We understand that it is important for commanders who make the decisions in these cases to maintain discipline. We are not saying that any of the regulations themselves should change. The penalties must be strict enough to ensure that offenders understand the seriousness of their mistakes. At the same time, however, we must not saddle them with judicial baggage that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
All of the members of this House understand how careful we need to be about burdening people with a criminal record, because it will stay with them forever. It will follow them everywhere—when looking for a job, when signing a lease, basically, it affects all aspects of everyday life. Such measures could force someone into a precarious situation.
I am being very careful. I really want to be clear that we are talking about minor transgressions. We know that people who commit serious crimes deserve a criminal record. We realize this and we obey the laws of our society. We respect the fact that the punishment should fit the crime. However, we really are talking about transgressions that do not warrant a criminal record. When we take a look at this process, what is really problematic is that summary trials are often overseen by a commanding officer who, for understandable reasons that I mentioned earlier, wants to instil discipline in the armed forces. This sense of discipline is so very important in our traditions and also in the work of the men and women of our Canadian Forces.
When we realize that the commanding officer, understandably, may not really be interested in the concerns pertaining to criminal records, we have to bring clarity to the regulations. I believe that this must be one of the reforms we have to make. One of the amendments that we proposed was establishing a more complete list of the circumstances where a criminal record is, or is not, warranted.
In closing, I would like to make one last very important point. One thing dropped from this bill is the composition of the grievance committee.
I would like to make a comparison. In the United States, the founding fathers ensured that the commander in chief, or the U.S. president, is a civilian, not a member of the army. The objective was to balance the importance of a hierarchy within the armed forces and also within civilian society. Another recommendation we hoped would be adopted was that civilians make up 60% of the committee membership. That is another important measure that is unfortunately not in this bill.
Unfortunately, my time has expired and I will not be able to go through the list. However, I am certain that I will have the opportunity to do so during questions and comments.