Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a great honour to rise in this House and represent the people of the region of Timmins—James Bay, who have put their trust in me to represent their concerns.
The discussion we have before us this morning on Bill C-15 is really what this Parliament should be doing, which is to ensure that the people who put themselves on the front line of defence for the Canadian people have their rights protected when they return from overseas or from whatever work they are doing, whether they are in the army, with the RCMP, or in the various federal police forces across our country.
That is an obligation we have to those men and women and their families, regardless of political stripe. Unfortunately, there are times when the government and Parliament have failed those front-line workers.
I am looking at Bill C-15, and I understand the government's intention to address the serious shortfalls in terms of military justice. However, I am quite concerned that the government has decided to ignore numerous recommendations that came from the Lamer report. This whole process is supposed to be a result of the 80 recommendations brought forward by the Lamer report. The government cherry-picked them down to 28.
This bill is also a follow-up to Bill C-41, from the previous Parliament. Numerous amendments were actually passed by a parliamentary committee to ensure that we were improving the system of military justice and representation for our armed forces personnel. Yet the government, in the present Parliament, has taken those amendments passed by a parliamentary committee and thrown them out the window.
That is highly problematic. If we look at some of the amendments the government walked away from, they had to do with the authority of the Chief of the Defence Staff in the grievance process, which was amended under clause 6 in Bill C-41, responding directly to Justice Lamer's recommendation.
There is also the issue of changes in the composition of the grievance committee to include 60% civilian membership, which was amended in clause 11 in Bill C-41. There was also the provision ensuring that a person who is convicted of an offence at a summary trial is not unfairly subjected to a criminal record. That was amended in clause 75 of Bill C-41.
What we are talking about is basic justice and basic fairness for those who put themselves in harm's way.
The 80 recommendations from the Lamer report remind me of the 80 recommendations that came down after the Kashechewan prison fire, where Ricardo Wesley and Jamie Goodwin burned to death in a makeshift police cell in 2006, in a federal facility, under Nishnawbe-Aski police.
I was at the funeral for those young men. There was trauma within the community and within the police force among the men and women who were hired to represent Canada and protect communities in the far north. The Nishnawbe-Aski police, like the military, sometimes face extreme circumstances. All they ask for is fairness.
Unfortunately, what I see in the far north in our policing services, which are funded 52% by the federal government and 48% by the provincial government, is that they are often facing combat conditions and third-world conditions.
In Kashechewan, one of our police officers had to live in a tent. The jail cells did not have a basic water sprinkler system. On any given day we have maybe 30 officers out of 150 off on stress leave. We have suicides. We have an incidence of post-traumatic stress among our front-line officers at the level of combat casualties.
These are officers who dedicate themselves to ensuring the health and safety of communities.
The government ignored almost all of the recommendations in that report, in the same way that they are ignoring the Lamer report.
I think that is unfortunate, because once again, it is about our obligation as legislators. The most serious job we do in this House is make a decision on whether to put someone's life on the line, whether we send them into combat or on peacekeeping missions or whether we send them to represent justice and the protection of civilian life in the far north.
When those officers, those men and women, find themselves in trouble, they should have a system in place that ensures a level of fairness. I was thinking about the various opinions we have heard on this bill . Once again, people want to see the military justice system improve, but they are concerned that the government is clearly walking away from key provisions that will ensure fairness and the right to due process.
Colonel Michel Drapeau, military law expert, said that the issue of summary trials must be addressed, because “[t]here is currently nothing more important for Parliament to focus on than fixing a broken system that affects the legal rights of a significant number of Canadian citizens every year”. He continued that “I find it very odd that those who put their lives at risk to protect the rights of Canadians are themselves deprived of those charter rights when facing a summary trial. If Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland have seen fit to change the summary trial system, it begs the question: why is Canada lagging behind?”
Why indeed? As I was preparing for the discussion this morning, I was thinking about the situation of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, and Harold Leduc, who was drummed out of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board for making waves. The waves he was making were in defence of the needs of soldiers who are coming before the appeals board. He was ruffling feathers within the bureaucracy and the government. The story of his being drummed out as a representative of the armed forces is very disturbing, because we are talking about allegations of harassment and corruption at the board. Mr. Leduc was targeted. His privacy was violated. The issue of post-traumatic stress was used against him, which he took to the Human Rights Commission. He won. It found that he was facing harassment for speaking up for the men and women who put their lives on the line and are only asking for fairness.
When the government decided to remove Mr. Leduc from the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, he said that he was not surprised. He said, “To me, it speaks to the overall corruption I've witnessed”.
That is a pretty disturbing allegation against the board whose job is protecting the needs of those who serve. Just as we see in the far north with the Nishnawbe-Aski police, who have a right to ensure that if they put themselves at risk or they get injured or have post-traumatic stress there will be services for them, so too should the soldiers who come back from Afghanistan or from other duties have a right to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. Yet we see the government shutting down the veterans' spokesmen, the people who are defending those in need.
We see the same system in the criminal justice system the soldiers face, where they do not have proper counsel or civilian intervention. They have to go sometimes before what essentially could be seen as an old boys' club. This is not fair. The need to reform this has been spoken about. Yet the government has once again decided, for whatever purpose or whatever reason, to ignore the key recommendations on transformation, key recommendations that would actually ensure some fairness. It will go with this bill that is quite simply insufficient for the purposes at hand.
We want to work on reforming military justice in this country. We will not be supporting a bill that so clearly ignores the key recommendations.
The issue of summary trials is key.
There is the issue of having civilian involvement in the review process. The Lamer report talked of the need for 60%. There is a need for the grievance committee to have an external review process. It is presently staffed by retired officers, some only recently retired. If the Canadian Forces Grievance Board is to be perceived as an external and independent oversight civilian body, as it was destined to be, then the appointments process needs to reflect that reality. Once again, we are saying that it cannot be just internal. It has to have outside voices so that we do not see the same kind of harassment of veterans as at the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, with the shutting down of the people who are actually there to stand up and speak for veterans. We need to have some sort of system of external fairness.
Sometimes when soldiers are charged, they could face having a criminal record for something that in civilian court would be considered minor. If they leave the army with a criminal record, it would affect them for the rest of their lives.
Once again, those who are serving our country should be entitled to due process. That is a fundamental principle. We have seen reform happen in England and Ireland. The question is why the government is ignoring key recommendations of the Lamer report. Why is it not working with us to ensure that we have a system that ensures fairness for those men and women who put themselves at risk for our country?