Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-15, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. This very important initiative, which deserves our full attention, has been under consideration by the House since 2007.
What I find most regrettable is that the bill responds to only one-third of the recommendations made by former justice Lamer. He had raised some very interesting issues that need to be addressed to ensure a fairer and better military justice system for those who proudly defend and represent our country.
During recent minority governments, the House supported the amendments tabled by the NDP. However, after reading the bill, I realized that many of these recommendations had been left out, including important ones concerning the powers of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process, changes to the composition of the grievance board so that 60% of the members would be civilians, and a provision that would ensure that a person convicted at a summary trial would not be unfairly subject to a criminal record. These are important amendments that are critical to the reintegration of veterans into civilian life once their tour of duty is over.
Even though the bill does contain some worthwhile ideas, I am afraid that I must oppose it given that it does have several major shortcomings that we must address.
For example, I am concerned about the summary trial provisions. Sentences imposed on accused persons have enormous ramifications, especially when they result in a criminal record. Given that the accused person is only entitled to a trial without the possibility of consulting with counsel and without any appeal or trial transcript, and given that the judge is the accused person’s commanding officer, I highly doubt that such a trial can truly be fair to the accused person. Although it is extremely important to me that the behaviour of our Canadian Forces members be above reproach, I think that saddling an individual with a criminal record that will stay with him when he returns to civilian life is too harsh a provision.
People still have much to contribute to their communities once their career in the military has ended. A criminal record can make it difficult for them to secure employment, rent an apartment or travel abroad. I want to make myself clear on this. While I do believe that a person should be punished for breaking the rules, he should not be saddled with a criminal record that could ruin his life.
While I am on the subject, I would like to point out one of the positive provisions in the bill. People convicted of certain offences are handed a sentence that no longer results in a criminal record. Personally, however, I think the bill should go even further and exempt more offences. Last March, at the committee stage, the NDP recommended that a total of 27 offences be on this exclusion list, and not just the five originally listed. I suggest that this amendment be included again, as it constitutes a major step in the right direction.
In my view, we need to take a closer look at the long-term implications of creating criminal records for Canadian Forces members. I am convinced that my constituents would be shocked to learn that shortcomings in the system could ruin the lives of people who have committed minor offences, when they have given their all for our country.
I am also concerned about the independence of the grievance process. At present, the board does not allow for an external review. To my way of thinking this board should be perceived as an external, independent civilian body and changes need to be made to the appointment process.
The NDP had suggested that at least 60% of the board members be civilians. This amendment was adopted in March 2011 when Bill C-41, an earlier version of this bill, was before the House. However, it was left out of Bill C-15.
I am very disappointed that an initiative aimed at lending greater transparency and legitimacy to such an important process has been left out when we had agreed earlier to include it.
I also feel the same way about a proposed amendment to grant more powers to the Chief of Defence Staff when it comes to dealing with financial considerations arising from grievances. I will continue to fight for the inclusion in the bill of these two forgotten amendments.
And finally, the Military Police Complaints Commission should, in my opinion, be granted more powers to conduct legitimate investigations and report back to Parliament.
I would like the members of our military to have a transparent and fairer justice system, where the consequences are more balanced when members return to civilian life and where those responsible for imposing sentences and reviewing grievances have the powers they need to ensure that justice is delivered diligently and effectively.
I have spent a considerable amount of time talking to veterans in my riding of Terrebonne—Blainville about issues that are important to them. Unfortunately, many of them live isolated lives with depleted means. It breaks my heart to see people who fought bravely for our welfare and freedoms forgotten in such a way.
I met with them last February when I led a round table discussion on poverty among seniors. I was completely flabbergasted when they told me they were forced to choose between housing, food, drugs and transportation because of their meagre pensions. Is this what we want for all of our seniors, including our brave veterans? I do not believe so.
I believe we can offer them more security and some hope that they can live out their lives more comfortably. I would like to mention at this time three agencies in my riding that are doing amazing work with veterans. They are the Amicale des vétérans de Terrebonnne, the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 208 in Sainte-Thérèse and the NATO Veterans Organization of Canada. The primary goal of staff, volunteers and members of these organizations is to provide a meeting place for military veterans and retired police officers.
Since 1945, the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 208, in Sainte-Thérèse, has provided veterans with a location where they can meet, talk and have fun. The Legion supports our war heroes by providing them with advice and assisting them in their dealings with the government so that they are treated with dignity. It also helps educate future generations about their heritage and our history, in order to keep our collective memory alive.
For more than 60 years now, the Amicale des vétérans has served veterans through meetings, discussions and entertainment. The agency is involved in the community by associating with other veterans' organizations in order to enhance the services provided, thereby contributing to the members' well-being.
For its part, the NATO Veterans Organization of Canada works in a number of areas with former and active members of the Canadian armed forces, the RCMP and the merchant navy. Its goal is to ensure recognition for the contribution of members of the Canadian armed forces, the RCMP, the merchant navy, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NORAD, the United Nations and other multilateral and bilateral institutions. Its actions make it possible to perpetuate the memories and deeds of members who lost their lives in the service of Canada. It provides support and contributes to the welfare of all its members, their families and their dependents. It fights to promote the interests of all veterans, brings together all those who have served and co-operates with other veterans' organizations with comparable aims and objectives. By establishing regional organizations, the NATO Veterans Organization hopes to reach as many veterans as possible.
We are fortunate to have organizations that, despite limited resources, work to help and support our veterans.
With this bill, we as parliamentarians have an opportunity to offer those serving in the military a better justice system that may have a positive impact on their personal and professional lives after their military career. We must go even further and adapt their military reality to suit the life they will be facing once their military service has ended.
Our serving members and our veterans deserve a military justice system that is fair and proportionate. They deserve the best because they give us their all. On their behalf, I am asking this House to assess the NDP's proposals and show the same courage that they showed for us. Let us have the courage to make the amendments that are needed to give them a better military justice system, a system that they deserve.