Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise on the bill after asking so many questions.
First, as I am following the member for Scarborough Southwest, I would like to congratulate him on his engagement. I met his lovely fiancé and it is wonderful to know that they will be married soon.
I would like to begin my remarks by saying that over quite a few years in this House I have debated many bills. However, it is very unusual and rare to hold a debate in which there is basically one party participating. There is something going on here that we will have to get to the bottom of.
I appreciate that so many members of the NDP caucus, the official opposition, have taken the time today to get up in their place and debate this very important bill. They have given some substance and historical background on where this bill came from and what the problems are with the bill today.
In fact, I remember you, Mr. Speaker, debating the bill in the last Parliament. It was Bill C-41 then, a forerunner of this bill and very similar in its provisions. I have to say that we certainly miss you in the House debating bills, but we are very happy to see you in the chair as Deputy Speaker.
Bill C-15 has a long history and it is about a very important matter that is long overdue for reform, that being our system of military justice. As the member for Scarborough Southwest just pointed out, there are other countries that have dealt with this issue in a proper and adequate way, yet we are lagging far behind.
The original report by the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was presented in 2003. That is quite a few years ago and it worries me that it has taken this length of time to bring forward a bill, which will presumably go to committee. We hope that it will come back from committee in a form that includes the amendments the NDP proposed so long ago.
Military justice is a very important issue, particularly the principle that members of the Canadian Forces have access to a system that is fair, balanced and that protects their rights. In fact, after reading through the bill to see what it would and would not do, there are a lot of fundamental questions about why the members of the Canadian Forces have been living under a system where their rights have basically been disregarded for so long.
Even though we support many elements of the bill and think it is a step in the right direction, there are three key issues that we have been hammering away at today because they are not in the bill. The bill does not go far enough on the need to reform the summary trial system and the grievance system and to strengthen the Military Police Complaints Commission. I would like to focus on these three elements.
Regarding the summary trial system, what immediately jumps out at one when reading the bill is that it does not adequately address the unfairness of it. As noted by my colleagues, members of the armed forces can be drawn into some of these summary trials, as we are told, on issues that are meant to be of a minor nature. However, the fact is that they can end up with a criminal record.
They have no right to consult counsel, there are no appeals or transcripts of the so-called trial, and the judge is the accused person's commanding officer. This has to be the most fundamental injustice. It is very disturbing that it has continued for so long.
Dealing with the issue of the summary trial system and bringing in reforms is something that I think is imperative for members of the armed forces and for anyone in this country who has a notion of the justice, balance and fairness that need to be afforded to people.
We are very concerned that the bill does not address this fundamental question. Some of the so-called minor service offences could include things like insubordination, quarrels, disturbances, absent without leave, drunkenness and disobeying a lawful command. In a civil system, people could be charged with those things and if they actually went to court, they would have a lawyer, a hearing, a judge and may even have a jury. However, in this system, the summary trial system, none of those things would happen, but people could end up with a criminal offence. This is a serious problem that we face in the bill. We want to see it corrected.
As many of my colleagues have pointed out, when the bill came forward in its last form, Bill C-41, the NDP worked very hard to get the bill changed. In fact, when it was at committee last March, we wanted to expand the list of offences that could be considered as not worthy of a criminal record from 5 to 22.
We worked very hard at the committee. I was not on the committee, but I am sure there were witnesses who were heard. We know there were a number of major witnesses and organizations that sent in information, like the BC Civil Liberties Association, which put forward the concerns and fundamental flaws with the bill.
Therefore, we brought forward those amendments and they were approved at the committee. That is an example of committee work that was doing something. It was constructive. Amendments were proposed that would improve the bill, which is what is meant to be done at the committee level.
Lo and behold, we come back to the House, a new bill comes forward, Bill C-15, and those amendments are not present in the bill. That is a serious problem.
As a matter of principle, we are opposing this bill at second reading. I guess it is a form of protest to say that the process here has been seriously undermined and that the government should have acted in a responsible way, looked at the constructive work that was done on earlier versions of the bill and ensured that it came back in a way that reflected the will of the House.
It is very unfortunate that none of the members on the government side have been willing to answer that question today. We have raised it repeatedly in the House. It is a very straightforward question. We have asked each other those questions, because the government members will not answer. We have asked why the Conservative members and the Conservative government did not include those amendments.
We do not know for sure. We can only suppose that it is some level of unilateralism, some level of arrogance that the government thinks it can ditch that and does not need to pay attention to it. If that is not the case, we sure wish the government members would get up and explain why these amendments are not in Bill C-15.
The second key item that we wish to raise is the reform of the grievance review committee. Again, this is a very fundamental process system that has to do with military justice. In this instance, we had amendments and things we had worked on to strengthen the bill. It is really a very straightforward principle.
It is the idea that there needs to be some sort of external, independent component. In fact, the NDP amendment that had been put forward in committee previously had specified that at least 60% of the grievance committee could not be an officer or non-commissioned member of the Canadian Forces. Again, this amendment was passed under Bill C-41, but is not been retained in Bill C-15. Having some independence, some broader scope on a grievance review committee seems, to us, to be a pretty important thing. It begs the question why it is not there.
Finally, our third concern is about strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission. We believe, and again there was an amendment to this effect, that it should be seen as an oversight body. There has to be somebody who looks at the system overall and has some independence and must be empowered to actually investigate and report back to Parliament. On that too, it is silent. It is absent.
For those three reasons, we are not supporting this bill at this time.