Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my colleagues for having so brilliantly stated their stance on Bill C-15, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to another act. This bill has appeared in several forms.
First of all, bills C-7 and C-45 died on the order paper because of the 2007 prorogation of Parliament and the 2008 election. In July 2008, Bill C-60 charged back, simplifying the court martial structure and establishing a method for determining which type of court martial would be most consistent with the civilian justice system. In 2009, the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs studied Bill C-60 and made nine recommendations to amend the National Defence Act.
Before moving on, it is very interesting to note that there is nothing new about how the Conservatives go about their business when they want to push through more complex bills. Bill C-60, which was the version studied in the Senate report, was introduced in Parliament by the Hon. Minister of National Defence on June 6, 2008, towards the end of the second session of the 39th Parliament, and passed on June 18, 2008.
Bill C-60 was intended among other things to make the National Defence Act consistent with the decision of the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada in R. v. Trépanier. In this decision, the court acknowledged that some provisions of the National Defence Act and the Queen’s Regulations and Orders contravened section 7 and paragraph 11(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
These provisions were declared unconstitutional. They enabled the director military prosecutions to decide, when charges were being laid, on the kind of court martial that would try the accused, and for the court martial administrator to convene the court martial in accordance with the decision of the director of military prosecutions. This court decision became effective immediately, and led to some uncertainty about the possibility of being able to continue to convene courts martial under the National Defence Act unless Bill C-60 could be passed quickly.
However, this view was dismissed at hearings of the Senate committee on the evidence of Michel Drapeau, a retired colonel, who maintained that this view was inaccurate. He said that the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada, in R. v. Trépanier, had come up with a straightforward and useful approach to getting rid of the clause that was violating the accused’s rights.
Nevertheless, there is also a practical interim solution that could easily be implemented. For charges laid under section 130, the accused could be given the option to choose his or her trier of facts. There is no legal obstacle to this approach because section 165.14, which gives this right to the prosecution, does not apply to these offences.
We would like to clarify that there is no danger of creating a legal void during the interim period that would result in failure to apply the law for want of prosecution. Offences under section 130 of the National Defence Act can also be prosecuted in civilian courts even if they were committed outside of Canada. That is covered in section 273 of the National Defence Act.
Why did the government rush passage of this bill? Even members of the Senate committee could not help but point this out:
Given the speed with which Bill C-60 was studied in both the House of Commons and the Senate, concern was expressed that it was difficult to thoroughly assess the potential impact of this legislation. Consequently, the bill was amended by the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence to add a review clause.
Under false pretences, the government succeeded in pressuring opposition parliamentarians to pass this bill even though, according to the court ruling, it had many years to amend the act but did nothing. In his ruling in Trépanier, Justice Létourneau said:
The unanimous concern of this Court in Nystrom about the fairness of section 165.14 was expressed more than two years ago, i.e. on December 20, 2005. Since then, there have been five new constitutional challenges to that provision and appeals before this Court are pending. Retired Chief Justice Lamer made a recommendation as early as September 3, 2003 that section 165.14 be amended to give the accused the option to choose his or her trier of facts. As previously mentioned, he also made a recommendation that a working group reviewed the reorganization of the courts martial with a view to improving the fairness of the trial, at the center of which, as an important element of that reorganization, is the right for an accused to choose the trier of facts. Yet, Bill C-45 has been tabled before Parliament and it contains no remedial provision. The authorities have been given more than four and a half (4½) years to address the problem.
This bill contains many important reforms. The NDP has supported the much-needed overhaul of the military justice system for a long time. Members of the Canadian Forces are subject to extremely high standards of discipline and deserve a judicial system with comparable standards.
However, the NDP will oppose Bill C-15 at second reading stage. This bill has a number of flaws that we hope will be discussed in committee, if passed at second reading. The NDP does not oppose the substance of the bill. However, in its current form, the bill does not take into account all the recommendations of the Lamer report. Moreover, the Conservatives have ignored the amendments the NDP proposed to a virtually identical bill that was introduced in the previous Parliament. Those amendments were originally adopted because we had a minority government at the time. However, the amendments have again been removed from the bill.
In the previous Parliament, the Conservatives admitted that the recommendations had merit. This is no longer the case, now that they have a majority, and it makes us wonder if they are merely engaging in the lowest form of petty politics rather than putting the interests of our soldiers in civil society first.
The bottom line is that the NDP opposes the bill in its current form at this stage of the legislative process. We hope that these amendments will be made in committee.