Mr. Speaker, today we are discussing Bill C-15, an Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. Bill C-15 is intended to strengthen military justice and as a response to the reports of former chief justice Antonio Lamer and of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
Bill C-15 in fact includes only 28 of the Lamer report's 88 recommendations. It is essentially the latest attempt to strengthen military justice. One need only think of Bill C-41, introduced in 2010, which was also an attempt to respond to the Lamer report. However, the various parties and the government managed to reach a degree of consensus on that bill.
We made a series of amendments to that bill through negotiations in committee. Bill C-15 is far from being a perfect copy of Bill C-41. Bill C-15 does not include the important amendments that committee adopted in the last Parliament.
Those amendments included some of the NDP's proposals respecting the authority of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process, consistent with one of the recommendations of the Lamer report. Changes were also recommended to the composition of the grievance committee so that 60% of its members would be civilians. Lastly, there was the provision guaranteeing that a person convicted of an offence during a summary trial would not unfairly be given a criminal record.
Obviously, this bill contains a number of important reforms. The NDP's support for an update of the military justice system is not a recent development. We have observed for some time that there is a genuine need in this area. That is simply logical, given that Canadian Forces members are subject to regulations that are harsh, to say the least. In the circumstances, this situation must be offset by establishing a legal system that is subject to at least comparable standards. However, a number of necessary differences between military and civilian justice must be taken into consideration if we want that justice system to be truly fair.
Bill C-15 has a number of flaws that the government needs to consider. The bill's flaws can be divided up into three specific areas: the reform of the summary trial system, the reform of the grievance system, and the strengthening of the Military Police Complaints Commission.
Regarding the reform of the summary trial system, the amendments in this bill were not adequately examined. Certain members of the Canadian forces convicted for minor offences face tough procedures that will inevitably lead to a criminal record. Moreover, under this judicial process, accused persons cannot consult counsel, and the judge is none other than the accused’s commander. Such a simple and quick process is appropriate in a purely disciplinary context within the Canadian Forces, but what is being proposed here is quite another matter.
It needs to be made clear that having a criminal record has a real impact. It is not a simple matter of discipline, as is the case in the armed forces, and for good reason. Such a change will have damaging consequences for members of the armed forces in their civilian lives, which is why it is important to make the distinction between the notions of civilian and military in summary trials.
It is important to be mindful of the types of minor military offences, and contrast these with what the bill sets out in terms of criminal offences. An important legal distinction must be made in a context like this where the rights of the accused are at stake.
All that to say that the process involved in the reform of the summary trial system will not lead to fair trials and could significantly hurt members of the armed forces in their civilian lives for no good reason.
The sentences resulting from summary trials are not only intended to have this effect. They are intended to provide an example, strengthen discipline and discourage future offences. With this in mind, the process could be considered normal for the armed forces, given the minor violations and offences that are dealt with there, but those hardly merit a criminal record.
Summary trials are designed to expediently dispose of minor military offences. This fundamental difference between court martials and summary trials must be stressed. It is clear, based on the figures concerning the treatment of offences committed by Canadian military officers, that the majority of cases are subject to a summary trial. Only a minority of offences are subject to court martial.
Let us discuss some of the infamous criminal offences in question. They include, for example, insubordination, quarrels, misconduct, absence without leave and disobeying an order. These are not criminal offences, they are breaches of military discipline. A criminal record, however, will, for obvious reasons, make rejoining civilian life difficult. Getting a job, renting an apartment and, for those who like to travel, travelling abroad, will become difficult.
It is important to note that, on average, Canadian Forces members tend to retire at a much younger age than other Canadians. Thus we see just how many problems this can cause for our military personnel. Is there not a more appropriate way to ensure that justice is served than to impose a criminal record, the effects of which are hard to determine, on people who are being tried for a minor offence without a professional judge and without a formal defence?
Furthermore, the amendments that we proposed to Bill C-41 to expand the list of offences and sentences that are not worthy of a criminal record were not included in this bill. These were sentences that were deemed to be minor and not worthy of a criminal record but that warrant disciplinary measures not exceeding a fine equal to one month's basic pay. This is an important nuance, and we must ensure that these amendments are included in Bill C-15.
Another amendment that was not included in this bill pertains to the reform of the grievance system. We wanted at least 60% of grievance board members to be civilians who have never been an officer or a member of the Canadian Forces. This is a critical requirement if we want to ensure that the grievance board is perceived as an independent, external civilian body, as it should be.
We also proposed an amendment to give the Chief of Defence Staff more authority in the grievance process. Nothing was done in this regard. We must ensure that grievances are quickly resolved in a fair and transparent manner.
Another one of the shortcomings of this bill pertains to the Military Police Complaints Commission. We must increase the commission's authority so that it is able to rightfully investigate and report to Parliament. We must further strengthen the commission by giving it more power to act as an oversight body. This is one of the shortcomings of this bill since this issue was barely touched on.
Today we are talking about reforming the military justice system, in order to bring it more in line with the civilian justice system, while ensuring that the justice process is fair and just for members of the Canadian Forces. That is not the case with a number of the proposed amendments in this bill. Overall, the bill tends to create problems instead of solving existing ones. The government must review this bill and include our amendments that were adopted in committee as part of the study of Bill C-41 and that have disappeared in this bill.
We owe it to the members of the Canadian Forces to give them a justice system that is fair and just. That is the least we can do.