Mr. Speaker, it was after listening to my colleagues' speeches on the bill to amend the National Defence Act that I thought it would be appropriate to speak as well to ensure that we explore the legal concepts associated with the matter before us.
I would invite my colleagues to go beyond the briefing notes from the House, to distance themselves from the talking points, but not from the party's position. I therefore invite them to conduct their own research and engage in an intellectual and mental exercise. I think our audience, those who watch us regularly, would like that. Sometimes the speeches we hear in this House can be redundant because people simply repeat the information they have been given, it is a rehash.
When I heard the speeches by my colleagues across the way, but particularly those of my own colleagues, some ideas seemed familiar. First of all, you must understand that I am a criminal lawyer. When I began to study law, we were told that the administration of justice in the military was different than what the common law courts applied across the country. That is why we spent very little time on the subject, or in fact none at all. I even wonder whether specialized courses were offered at the university, but I doubt it. However, we learned that people in the Canadian Forces were trained in it, that the JAGs, the ultimate decision-makers, were trained, that courses were given and that it was training that was observed first and foremost within the military.
However, there are recurring concepts in my colleagues' speeches, including the right to a lawyer, the independence and impartiality of the decision-maker and other concepts that refer to the charter. Those concepts rang a bell with me and I decided to investigate a little further. I spent several hours researching the topic last night and this morning. It was a last-minute minute decision, and we needed speakers on the topic. So I launched into my research and came up with a considerable amount of information, particularly on statutory instruments, the various acts and regulations that apply to the situation and to the bill under consideration here, but also on case law and doctrine.
The research I did was nevertheless basic, since it is impossible to grasp the ins and outs of an issue of this scope in a few hours. However, further on in my speech, you will see that several levels of legislative and regulatory authority apply to the situation, and I will go over them. I will stick very close to the statutory instruments at our disposal. That will be a change from what we have heard in this House to date. I think this is relevant and that the general public deserves to be informed about the scope of this matter.
The ins and outs of the military justice system are initially a forbidding prospect when viewed from the standpoint of legal practice in the field. By that I mean they may seem incomprehensible at first glance, reminding one that it is risky to adopt the vision and reflexes of a criminal lawyer in examining a bill that concerns, for example, summary trials in a military justice context.
When I began this study, I suspected that the principles that had been instilled in me during my years of legal training might possibly be applicable, but with certain qualifications. I was right, since some concepts that I had learned were tested when I actually looked at the authorities and at what applied in the military field. I noticed some subtleties and adaptations. So I like to think of the training given to JAGs and to people who work in the administration of military justice as additional training and that those subtleties and those transposed principles will genuinely help shed light on the specific characteristics of military life.
When I researched the statutes, I came to several major levels, which I will describe in a moment. The subtleties expressed there very much call for revisiting and exploring the material.
That is why I say it may be uncomfortable and risky at times simply to rely on notes prepared in the lobby in addressing these matters, which genuinely need to be closely examined. They are particular and specific enough that they require one to consider many elements that, incidentally, exceed the scope of a 10-minute speech.
Assuming that the officers presiding over summary trials render judicial decisions in the same way as common law courts, certain rules of procedural fairness and the principles of fundamental justice apply. Based on that assumption, I was subsequently able to conduct the statutory research necessary to examine the bill in question.
In their speeches, my colleagues invoked such principles as audi alteram partem—hear the other side. A person who is accused has the right to make his own claims. This is true in criminal law as well, whether we are talking about summary conviction or indictment. It should be understood that in the criminal courts, under common law, cases tried summarily lead to lesser sentences than cases involving indictable offences. Indictable offences can involve more serious crimes or repeat offences and are much more serious. They are treated more seriously by the courts. Those are concepts I verified to see if the same kind of reasoning applied in the military sphere.
I will refer to the laws on the books and to various tools that apply to a given situation. I will begin with the Constitution Act. It gives the federal Parliament the exclusive right to legislate in matters of military justice. That is the basis. I said there were several levels, and that is the first. It opens the door for all the other legislative tools.
Second, the National Defence Act sets out the organization of the Department of National Defence and the components and elements of the military justice system. It also addresses the concept of a criminal record. I will not discuss that aspect, because I think it deserves a study on its own, and I certainly would not be able, in 10 minutes, to describe all the ins and outs of transferring the sanctions applied in the military to criminal law. I have not grasped all the nuances that apply. That is why I will leave it for now.
Now, here is the third level, the Code of Service Discipline. This code is part of the National Defence Act and sets out the foundation of the Canadian military justice system, including disciplinary jurisdiction, service offences, punishments, powers of arrest, organization and procedures of service tribunals, appeals, and post-trial review.
That brings us to the fourth level. The procedure for summary trials and receipt of proof is set out in sections 108.20 and 108.21 of the Queen's Regulations and Orders, the QR&Os, which were made pursuant to the National Defence Act.
I said it was fairly specific and tricky, and this proves it.
I will now read the first part of section 15 of the Queen's Regulations and Orders, which applies to Canadian Forces members who insist on the right to have a lawyer:
For example, the Regulations do not expressly provide the right to counsel to the accused; however, the presiding officer has discretion to allow legal counsel to participate and, if so, to determine the level of participation to be allowed. When deciding whether to permit an accused to be represented by legal counsel at the summary trial, QR&O indicate that the presiding officer should, at the least, consider the nature and complexity of the offence, the interests of justice, the interests of the accused, and the exigencies of the service.
In closing, all of these elements accurately convey the complexity of the summary trial system within the context of the administration of military justice. In my opinion, this bill requires a review that would reveal a number of unknown factors and flaws to justify opposition at second reading.