Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak after my colleague, who gave an excellent speech, not only on the substance of the bill, but also on its form and the Conservatives' process of introducing omnibus bills, proroguing Parliament and not respecting the work of parliamentarians. We are being repeatedly gagged: over 30 gag orders in a year and a half.
This highlights how the majority Conservative government is undermining the health of our democracy and respect for the work of parliamentarians. This bill is yet another example of that. In a way, the government is not respecting the work of parliamentarians because we are being asked to redo something that was already done once before.
I really liked the analogy that it is as though the government took the previous version instead of the new version of the bill out of the photocopier. The government figured it was no big deal, that it would all be sorted out in committee, since it would ask parliamentarians to redo what their predecessors had already done. It is a waste of time. The Conservatives are used to wasting money. Now, they are wasting time.
Before outlining all our concerns with this bill, I would like to make something clear. When we discuss justice or correctional systems issues that affect people's lives, we must not underestimate the importance of these debates and discussions in our society.
Mr. Speaker, you are more aware of the repercussions of the justice system, whether civilian or military, than many people here. Today we are pleased to be discussing the military justice system that affects the men and women who serve in the Canadian Forces.
We New Democrats believe that some elements that are not in the current bill should be there in order to improve the bill and respond to the legitimate hopes and aspirations of the people in our armed forces. The men and women in our armed forces serve under extremely strict and severe rules of discipline. We understand why that is, of course. However, it is important that they have an equally strict justice system that is functional and well managed in order to ensure that justice is done, that they are not victims of inequity and that the consequences do not follow them into their lives after they leave the armed forces.
Most people join the armed forces when they are quite young. It is not often that someone my age signs up. Thus, they are in the prime of life when they finish their service. They will need to continue working, to find a job and housing, and perhaps they will want to travel or study abroad. But under the current system, there are consequences from offences that are minor, but serious within the Canadian Forces, which we acknowledge. And that can leave its mark—it has been discussed to some extent—such as a criminal record that will complicate their lives.
We are aware of that, and I think that many Quebeckers and Canadians would be shocked to learn that people who risk their lives, their safety and their health while serving their country could be penalized for the role they have played. If they committed a similar offence in civilian life, the consequences and the price to pay would be less significant. That needs to be said. We must discuss this so that Canadians and Quebeckers have confidence in the military justice system. At this time, major improvements are needed in order to respect the sacrifices being asked of the men and women who serve in our armed forces.
In our opinion, the key issues in reforming the system are the issue of summary trials, which we will come back to; the existing grievance system; and the need to strengthen the powers of the Military Police Complaints Commission. This is not our only request for strengthening the powers of certain commissioners or officers; I am spending my days arguing in favour of more powers for the Chief Electoral Officer, but that is another topic.
There is a lot of background to Bill C-15, which we are studying today. We have been considering this matter and trying to find ways to improve it for some time now. In 2003, Antonio Lamer, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, tabled a report on his independent review of the National Defence Act. The Lamer report contained 88 recommendations on military justice, the Military Police Complaints Commission, the grievance process and the roles and powers of the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal. Bill C-15 is the response to those recommendations. However, only 28 of them were included in the Conservatives' bill. What happened to the other 60? They suddenly disappeared with a wave of the magic wand by the Conservatives, who feel they are not necessary. However, we think the recommendations contain important ideas on necessary improvements to the military justice system.
Bill C-15 is the latest version of a bill that is part of a long legislative saga. Let us not forget bills C-7 and C-45, which died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued in 2007 and an election subsequently called in 2008. The prorogation that killed Bill C-7 was caused by the Conservative Prime Minister, who was afraid his government would be overturned by legitimately elected parliamentarians democratically representing the citizens of Canada. He therefore chose to shut down Parliament rather than step up to his responsibilities.
In July 2008, Bill C-60 came back with a vengeance, simplifying the structure of courts martial and establishing a method for choosing the kind of court martial most consistent with the civilian justice system. In 2010, Bill C-41 was introduced as a response to the 2003 Lamer report and the 2009 Senate committee report. It contained provisions respecting military justice issues, such as sentencing reform, military judges and committees, summary trials, court martial panels and the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal, and certain provisions respecting the Military Police Complaints Commission.
Bill C-15 is essentially similar to the version of Bill C-41 that the Senate committee introduced in the last Parliament, of which I was obviously not yet a member. The amendments made to it include some aspects that were already there, whereas others have been forgotten along the way. It is as though Tom Thumb left some pebbles along his path but lost a few.
Some ideas in the amendments introduced by the NDP are thus not included in Bill C-15, and yet they are important: provisions respecting the authority of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process, which is a direct response to a Lamer report recommendation; changes in the composition of grievance committees so that they include more civilians—we have to open the door and welcome people who have a different perspective, outlook or viewpoint than those of people who have come directly from the Canadian Forces because we believe that would help strike a balance—and provisions guaranteeing that a person convicted of an offence in a summary trial is not unfairly subject to a criminal record. Once again, we are being forced to do a job that has already been done.
The bill contains many important reforms. There is a silver lining because there are some good measures in the bill. In fact, improvements have been made. However, we believe that we must do much more to ensure that members of the Canadian Forces have a good justice system. For these reasons, the NDP will be voting against Bill C-15 at second reading stage.
Important work remains to be done, including reforming the summary trial system. Amendments made to Bill C-15 do not do enough to correct the injustice of summary trials. At present, a conviction results in a criminal record. Summary trials are held without the accused being able to consult counsel. There are no appeals or transcripts of the trial, and the judge is the accused person's commanding officer. We believe that this ignores the principles of natural justice that are features of legal systems around the world. The fact that the commanding officer is the judge can sometimes cause problems with the impartiality of his judgment and ruling.
Minor offences, such as insubordination, quarrels, misconduct, and absence without leave, do not warrant the harsh consequences of a criminal record. We believe that, to be fair to our soldiers, we have to improve the bill. We hope to work with all members to ensure that justice can finally be done for the people working in the Canadian Forces.