Mr. Speaker, I am obviously very honoured to be here in this House to discuss Bill C-15, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, which we are examining today.
On this side of the House, we believe that this bill is a step in the right direction, but it is unfortunately a small step. We believe that military justice must be a part of Canada's justice system as a whole. Military justice laws must be consistent with other laws in our justice system, particularly when it comes to the principles of fundamental rights. Military justice must be fair and equitable so that it does not negatively affect discipline and so that it helps maintain morale among our troops. Our soldiers volunteer to participate in our armed forces. They must always be entitled to fair treatment.
During the study on a bill that dealt with the same issue, we tried to ensure that the military justice system procedures were effective and consistent with the need for disciplinary issues to be resolved quickly. However, efficiency and speed should not trump the fundamental principles of justice. Just because they are members of the military does not mean that the fundamental principles of justice do not apply to them.
The origins of this bill date back to 2003. I would like to provide some background so hon. members understand its origin and scope. In 2003, the Right Hon. Justice Antonio Lamer, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, submitted a report on the independent review of the National Defence Act. This report contained 88 recommendations on various military justice issues.
The government introduced Bill C-15, in response to this report and its recommendations. I must point out that, of the 88 recommendations in the report, only 28 were included in this bill. The provisions in Bill C-15 appeared in other bills that were previously introduced in Parliament. There was Bill C-7 and Bill C-45, which both died on the order paper.
In July 2008, the government introduced Bill C-60 to simplify the court martial structure and establish a system for choosing the court martial format that would harmonize best with civilian justice. In 2009, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs examined Bill C-60 and made nine recommendations for amendments to the National Defence Act. In 2010, Bill C-41 was introduced to respond to the 2003 Lamer report and to the Senate committee's 2009 report.
When the committee studied the bill, it approved some of these amendments, which would have resolved some of the problems raised by the bill. Oddly enough, they are not included in Bill C-15, which has been introduced and is before us.
Some of these amendments had been proposed by the Judge Advocate General as compromises to correct the system in an acceptable manner. They removed certain offences from the list of those that would not result in a criminal record. However, the government simply deleted these amendments when drafting Bill C-15.
That is the extent of the Conservatives' respect for the work of Parliament. Unfortunately, they believe that they can do as they wish without regard for the previous work of Parliament because they have a majority. Basically, Bill C-15 is similar to the version of Bill C-41 introduced by the Senate committee in the last Parliament. However, that bill contained the provisions of bills C-7 and C-45, which died on the order paper, as I mentioned.
The provisions in the bill were not included in Bill C-60. The bill also implemented the recommendations made by Justice Lamer in 2003 and those made by the Senate committee in 2009. At committee stage of Bill C-41, my colleagues on the Standing Committee on National Defence proposed amendments to Bill C-41 to lengthen the list of offences that could be considered minor. My colleagues believed that these minor offences did not warrant a criminal record. The proposed amendments also would have lengthened the list of penalties that could be set by a tribunal without resulting in a criminal record.
However, many of the amendments proposed for Bill C-41 were, unfortunately, not included in Bill C-15. Although it contains some worthwhile provisions, Bill C-15 also has some shortcomings. If the bill makes it through second reading, we hope to be able to discuss those shortcomings and ensure that the bill will make the military justice system as fair and effective as possible.
I would like to focus on the provisions concerning summary trials, since some of them, as they are written, could have serious consequences for soldiers, particularly during their transition to civilian life.
A summary trial is one where the chain of command is allowed to judge subordinate soldiers. It is important to point out that these trials are held without lawyers, without a jury, without a system of evidence and without witnesses, unlike in the civilian justice system. Over 95% of military trials are summary trials. A conviction in a summary trial sometimes results in a criminal record. There is no recourse and no transcript of the proceedings. This is too severe for members of the Canadian Forces who are convicted of minor offences.
These minor offences include insubordination, quarrels, misconduct, absence without leave, drunkenness and disobedience of a lawful command. These offences are undoubtedly very important for military discipline, but do not necessarily call for a criminal record.
In committee last March, the NDP proposed amendments to Bill C-41 to increase from five to 27 the number of offences that could be considered minor and would not merit a criminal record if a minor sentence were imposed. The amendment also added to the list of penalties a tribunal may impose without giving the offender a criminal record, for example, a severe reprimand, a reprimand, a fine equal to one month's salary and any other minor sentences. These amendments were very important to us, and that is why we want them to be included in Bill C-15.
A criminal record can make soldiers' lives very difficult after they leave the military. A criminal record can make it hard for veterans to get a job, rent an apartment, travel or get insurance. Many Canadians would be shocked to learn that the soldiers who so bravely served our country could end up with a criminal record because of flaws in the military justice system.
I have seen first-hand the problems experienced by some veterans during their transition to civilian life and I know it has been extremely difficult for some. As I said, I am a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. Veterans shared their concerns with us loudly and clearly and talked about the obstacles they face in their transition to the civilian world. It is hard for veterans, especially for injured veterans, to find work in the civilian world. Considering the number of veterans working in the public service, it is clear that priority hiring for veterans is not always respected.
The private sector, and especially the construction industry, is trying to do its part, but this private sector initiative is not available to all veterans, since it is not available in all provinces. Veterans therefore have to obtain educational equivalencies for the training they received during their service. If they are saddled with a criminal record on top of that and have to go through the commission to get a pardon, which costs $600, we are doing nothing to help them reintegrate properly into civilian life.
As I said earlier, we would like the bill to include these provisions.