Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a great pleasure for me to try to put in my two cents' worth today in this debate on Bill C-15.
I have studied labour relations. I have also worked as an employee representative in grievance procedures. In my field of studies, I also did human resources management. I have been on the employer side and the union side. So I have been on both sides.
I am going to try to show why it is extremely important that we have a fair and equitable system for our soldiers for handling grievances relating to all the various disputes that arise between them and their superior officers and their institution, the Canadian Forces.
We have a bill that amends eight acts: the Access to Information Act, the Criminal Code, the Financial Administration Act, the Privacy Act, and others.
This bill is in fact 60 pages long. That is almost modest, compared to what we have been used to getting from the government for some time now.
To begin, let us do a review of part of the history of this bill.
In 2003, the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, submitted a report on the independent review of the National Defence Act. He is not just anybody. He had much to say about judgments concerning grievances that had gone to the labour court, the Court of Appeal, and ultimately the Supreme Court. The Lamer report contained 88 recommendations concerning the military justice system, the Military Police Complaints Commission, the grievance procedure, which I will address at greater length today, and the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal.
Bill C-15 is the legislative response to those recommendations. However, only 28 recommendations have been incorporated into this new version.
Bill C-15 has appeared in several forms over the course of its history.
First, we had Bills C-7 and C-45, which died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued in 2007—I think we know it is the practice of the Conservatives to cut off debate—and the 2008 election was called.
However, in July 2008, Bill C-60 made a comeback, simplifying the structure of courts martial and establishing a method for choosing the type of court martial that would be most consistent with the civilian justice system. That was precisely the objective that should have guided the sponsors of this reform and Bill C-15. That should be our goal: harmonization with the civilian justice system.
In 2009, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs considered Bill C-60 and made nine more recommendations to amend the National Defence Act.
In 2010, Bill C-41 was introduced to respond to the 2003 Lamer report and the 2009 Senate committee report. Provisions relating to the military justice system were included, such as provisions relating to sentencing reform, judges and military boards and committees, summary trials, the court martial panel and the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal and certain provisions relating to the Military Police Complaints Commission.
Essentially, Bill C-15 is similar to the version that came out of the Senate committee in the last Parliament. The amendments carried forward include the composition of the court martial panel and the appointment of military judges during good behaviour until the age of retirement.
Since I was elected, in May 2011, I have spent time on many occasions with soldiers of all ages, whether at Remembrance Day ceremonies with our courageous Canadian Legion members or at various meetings with soldiers and cadets in my region. I have met courageous, dynamic people who are very proud of their military profession.
However, when the time comes for them to return to peacetime life, these soldiers’ lives can be full of surprises and sometimes twists. All of them, the generations who lived through the major wars—the world wars, the Korean War or the Vietnam War—and other generations who have worked hard on numerous peacekeeping missions in the Middle East, in Africa, in Europe, or more recently in Iraq, Darfur and Afghanistan, deserve not only our admiration, but also our respect, for doing their duty.
That is why they deserve justice, a justice system in which they will be able to see themselves as individuals who are part of today’s modern society.
All these brave men and women have proudly carried the colours of our Canadian flag and staunchly defended the democratic principles we hold dear. Sometimes, however, and it must be said, the aftermath has left its marks, and sometimes they are heavy marks. When they come home, their life in our industrialized society begins, where the economy is what matters above all else. In this modern civilization, social status, acceptance by others, often comes from a person’s job and of course the pay associated with it, but also, everything depends on an academic background or wide-ranging experience here and there in the real world. Soldiers do in fact have an extraordinary background when it comes to understanding giving and duty. They are capable of great effort and courage.
And then, soldiers return to work in civilian life. This is why I focus on this when I talk about grievances in the military system and the consequences of those grievances. Whether or not it is appropriate, a candidate for a position that is available in a business is judged, most of the time, against objective criteria, I hope, but sometimes the candidate is assessed in a way, and let us not be afraid of the words, that may be more subjective. And so a little notation here or there about a minor problem during the person’s military service or in the performance of their duties during missions can sometimes become a major wrongdoing in the eyes of an employer who decides to make use of this workforce, which is so important to manufacturing and industry, but also to the service sector. That is why the NDP is truly disappointed that some of the amendments it proposed to Bill C-15 have not been incorporated.
I would like to mention the amendments concerning the authority of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process. These amendments were a direct response to a recommendation by the Right Hon. Justice Antonio Lamer, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. There are also the changes to the composition of the grievance committee so that 60% of its members would be civilians to make it more objective and to ensure that the grievance process is not conducted strictly by the military. Finally, there is the provision to ensure that a person convicted of an offence during a summary trial is not unfairly subjected to a criminal record. All too often, this criminal record will scare employers who need this labour force. As I mentioned, this workforce is important not only to the future of that business, but also to Canada's future.
As I already said in my speeches here, do not ask what this country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. Those words are from John F. Kennedy, but they still apply. It is often said that Canada is a land that needs workers. The doors are open. We welcome them. However, we must not create problems for these applicants, for this workforce that is essential to our country's future. Believe me, Mr. Speaker, this kind of situation can seriously undermine a soldier's return to civilian life and his career after the military.
We need this workforce. Yet in this world, they will be subjected to a grievance system essential to justice and to fairness in the handling of disputes. Why not have harmonized the military and civilian justice systems in this respect? It would have been easy to do. This grievance adjudication system is even recognized by the Supreme Court in several decisions.
Bill C-15 on the reform of the military justice system should be based on the fundamental principles of law and justice on which our country was built. It is essential to put things back in place within National Defence and to give that department the means to adapt to the modern workplace, to the 21st century.
Still, the NDP believes this legislation is a step in the right direction—really—to bring the military justice system more in line with the civilian justice system. Other steps will have to be taken, and we hope the government will listen to our amendments.
May justice be done.