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House of Commons Hansard #102 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreements.

Topics

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderRoyal Assent

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, in response to the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville, I have here in my hands a copy of a letter, which I am quite prepared to table, written by the parent of a young student who was actually in the school when the member spoke and advocated what I said in my question.

I would be prepared to table the letter for all to see. In fact, the letter was written to the Minister of Public Safety.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderRoyal Assent

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to table this letter?

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderRoyal Assent

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderRoyal Assent

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to give the Minister of Health the opportunity to correct the record. In a laundry list of untrue things we voted against, the minister quoted—

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderRoyal Assent

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I am sorry but it is well past 3:00 now, almost 3:15 p.m. We have had this before where members try to use points of order to correct the record. Previous Speakers have ruled that it is not the proper use of raising a point of order so we will move on.

If the member takes issue with anything that was said, he can have a supplementary on a future day and make the point then, but not through points of order well after question period.

The hon. member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, I hope, has a point of order.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderRoyal Assent

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am sure all members will agree that when it comes to matters of decorum in the House, where there is an opportunity to receive information to clarify exactly what the intentions were of any hon. member, that members would uphold the values and conventions of the House—

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderRoyal Assent

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderRoyal Assent

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. The hon. member for Trinity—Spadina is rising on a point of order.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderRoyal Assent

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, what do you plan to do with the point of order raised by the new hon. member for Toronto—Danforth?

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderRoyal Assent

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I will look at what was said. I did not hear anything at the time but I will certainly come back to the House if necessary.

Business of the HouseRoyal Assent

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, before I go to the question, I have a point to make. As we know, we will have the budget later today. What we have seen repeatedly is a breach of the long-standing tradition of the Westminster Parliament of not putting out in advance information that is in the budget. However, we have seen it repeatedly done by the government, not just in this budget but in prior ones.

My first question for the government House leader is whether that will be a continued practice and, if it is, why do the Conservatives not just do away with the sham of any confidentiality around the budget.

My next question is this. Could the government House leader confirm which four days will be dedicated to debate the budget? We have had various indications from him. If he could, we would ask that he be more specific at this time, assuming that it will start tomorrow.

Also, the government should accept the fact, as expressed by all Canadians, that Bill C-31 would dismantle our immigration and refugee protection policies and that the minister obviously does not understand the impact of that legislation.

Can the hon. member opposite confirm that the government is dropping that bill, yes or no?

We also have Bill C-30 outstanding, which is the so-called lawful access bill. It was up for debate at some point but it seems to have disappeared off the radar, along with Bill C-4. Both of them are quite misguided pieces of legislation. I am wondering if the House leader can tell us if the government will go ahead with these bills or come to its senses and either send them back for rewriting or just drop them completely.

Finally, there is a motion, which all parties in this Parliament accepted, with regard to the voter suppression scandal and it calls on the government to rapidly look at amendments to various pieces of legislation that would prevent that type of scandal and abuse of the democratic process from happening in the future. Is the government proceeding with any legislation and, if so, when will we see it?

Business of the HouseRoyal Assent

3:15 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, as we all know, in a little more than 40 minutes, the Minister of Finance will table this year's budget and I am sure all members are looking forward to that event.

Economic action plan 2012 will be a very strong, low tax, low debt plan that will include measures to create and secure jobs, economic growth and, most important, long-term prosperity for all Canadians.

In recognition of how important this budget will be, we have decided that we will schedule debate to follow immediately on the four following days: Friday and Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

There may not be the same level of suspense around this vote as in previous years, but on Wednesday, all members will have the opportunity to vote for jobs, growth and long-term prosperity and support our budget. Once the opposition has seen the budget, I am confident that their constituents will expect them to do just that.

On Thursday, we will continue debate on Bill S-4, the Safer Railways Act. If we have time, we will resume debate on Bill C-15, the Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act.

The opposition House leader had a long list of bills on which he inquired about their status. Insofar as our legislation to improve Canada's immigration and refugee system, that has been debated now some five days in this House and we look forward to it being debated further. It is a very important bill, not just for the strength of our immigration system but also for our economy. We will continue to take steps to ensure our immigration system meets the security, safety and economic needs of Canada.

In terms of Bill C-30, I think he is well familiar that it is our intention to have that debated and sent to committee before second reading and, in so doing, being able to allow a broad ambit for the committee to consider amendments of all types. I think that responds to the particular concerns that he raised on that.

In the case of Bill C-30, Bill C-4 and the immigration bill, we can see from the program I have read that there will not be an opportunity, barring some dramatic progress on other legislation on the final day, to deal with those bills before the Easter break, so we will have to wait until after that.

The House resumed from November 4, 2011 consideration of the motion that Bill C-15, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

March 29th, 2012 / 3:20 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to Bill C-15 at second reading. This is a law that has to do with military justice. It is an act to amend the National Defence Act in order to strengthen military justice.

First, I need to make some general remarks about the whole notion of military justice in our law. As some members know, I served as defence critic in Parliament prior to October of last year. We had Bill C-41 before us in the last Parliament, which was intended to bring some changes into the military justice regime in Canada.

It is important that we have a good look at our whole military justice structure because there are a number of problems that need to be resolved. Military justice needs to fit in with our entire justice system. We need to ensure there is conformity between the kinds of laws we have in relation to military justice, as well as our general justice system, certainly in terms of the fundamental principles of law.

We need to understand that there are differences between military law and our general legal system, and there are good reasons for that. We have a military justice system that recognizes the relationship between the justice system and discipline within the military.

There is a significant importance to discipline in the military. I will quote an expert in military law, retired Colonel Michel Drapeau, who is a lawyer in private practice and has considerable experience in the military. In fact, he is the author of the only significant military legal text in Canada used in law schools and has an annotated book on the military aspects of the Department of National Defence Act. It is quite a useful source of knowledge. This is what he says in relation to the importance of discipline in military law:

Few professions are as dependent on discipline as is the military. Discipline is fundamental to military efficiency, cohesion, esprit-de-corps permitting commanders to control the use of violence so that the right amount and type of force can be applied in exactly the right circumstances, the right time and the right place. At the personal level, discipline ensures that at all times of great danger and risk, the soldier can and will carry out orders even if his natural instinct for self-preservation and fear tells him otherwise. Likewise, group and individual discipline ensures adherence to laws, standards, customs and values of civilian society, even during combat operations.

He went on to say, “Therefore, discipline is integral not only to the maintaining of an efficient armed forces, but also ensuring that the rule of law predominates within the military, particularly when engaged in great peril and danger in combat”.

We see that it as important for two reasons, not only for maintaining discipline so that when someone violates the law there is quick action and a speedy response to breaches of discipline but also that there may well need to be procedural differences available in the military context. However, it is also extremely important that when engaged in combat there always be an adherence to the rule of law.

Our country certainly wants a military force and troops who are capable of carrying out their use of force in a lawful manner, regardless of the circumstances of great peril that others take. Therefore, we say that not only the military justice system exists to punish wrongdoers, it is also a central part of command discipline and morale.

We have a voluntary military and the military justice system must be seen as equitable and fair. Otherwise, we will not only have a justice problem but could also have an operational and recruitment problem. We must recognize that people who volunteer for military service must know that they have to be treated fairly. Therefore, we must also emphasize the justice side as well as the military side. We want, expect and need a high level of morale in our system among our troops and we demand loyalty, but that is a two-way street and the system must be seen as fair.

When Bill C-41 was before the House, we brought it to the defence committee where our party sought to do two things. First, we sought to ensure that the procedures in the military justice system were effective, insofar as it was possible and consistent with the need for speedy resolution of disciplinary matters in some cases. Moreover, we also sought the protections, as far as possible, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In other words, we did not want the fact that we needed efficient military justice to take the place of fundamental principles of justice for people just because they happened to be in the military.

Therefore, we focused on making changes to the proposed legislation that would see the summary trials provision conform as much as possible to the existing law for civilians. Where that could not be done, we recognized that we would use this procedure, which could involve people going to detention for up to 30 days or having substantial fines levied against them and, under our current system, result in a criminal offence, even without the protections of the charter, without the right to counsel, to make full answer in defence or having an impartial tribunal. These ought not to be regarded as criminal offences, which after service would require a person to go through the parole board and seek what was then available, a pardon. It is not available any more, because the members opposite have decided that pardons are no longer available through the parole board. That is all the more reason we have to make sure this is done right.

We did take some measures. We introduced a series of amendments in committee. Some of them were accepted. In fact, some those accepted were even proposed by the Judge Advocate General and his advisers. Bill C-41 did not pass but died on the order paper when the election was called last year. We had gone through first and second reading, committee and third reading, but it did not get passed in the dying days of the last Parliament.

Therefore, we are back at it again with a new bill, Bill C-15. However, a number of amendments that were accepted by the committee and would have ameliorated some of these problems do not appear. They are gone, out the door. So we are back to square one now with respect to a number of provisions that were in Bill C-41 that were fixed and improved, and some that were even proposed by the Judge Advocate General as a compromise to fix the system in an acceptable way, taking some of the offences and adding some more offences, in fact, back to the list of those that would not result in a criminal record. However, these offences are back in again.

I do not know why we are doing this. Is there any respect for this Parliament by the government? Are the Conservatives saying that now they have a majority they can do what they want? Never mind what they did last time or what they agreed to last time, never mind the compromises and the proposals that came from the Judge Advocate General's office, they are going to go back to square one and not do it.

These are important matters because we are not talking about simple changes to legislation. We are talking about people's fundamental rights, and when I am talking about rights I am talking about the Charter of Rights. When section 11 of the Charter of Rights states that a person charged with an offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in accordance with law, in a fair and public hearing, by an independent and impartial tribunal, it means just that. However, if their commanding officer who knows them, knows all of the witnesses and everyone else, has the file and is not even telling the accused what is in the file, that is not a fair and impartial tribunal.

I am not saying we cannot accept that if we are dealing with an administrative disciplinary system, but we should not add the extra piece of saying that it would result in a criminal record, which he or she would have to deal with that later on and pay $600 to the parole board, hope for the best and maybe get what is called a record suspension. These are serious matters.

Some would say that the Charter of Rights should not apply to the military. When the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was being drafted and adopted as a fundamental part of our Constitution in 1983, the drafters contemplated whether or not the military justice system should or should not apply. It was thought about because there is one section, for example, were the right to a trial by jury is being discussed in the Charter of Rights. For anyone who is interested, it is paragraph 11(f) of the Charter, which talks about when one can have a trial by jury, and states:

except in the case of an offence under military law tried before a military tribunal, to the benefit of trial by jury where the maximum punishment for the offence is imprisonment for five years or a more severe punishment.

It is equating a military tribunal in a court martial to a jury. Therefore, they thought about military law when they were crafting the Constitution. There is no exception for a fair trial before an impartial tribunal. There is an exception for a jury trial because a trial by a military tribunal is considered to be equivalent in the charter to a jury.

Why are we doing this? It is beyond me to understand why a government that takes such great pride, we hear, in our troops and looking after our service men and women and military personnel who volunteer for service and risk their lives and, in some cases, sadly, give their lives in defence of their country and in doing their country's work, does not treat them and give them the same rights that the Charter of Rights provides for citizens of this country.

We tried to fix that. It is a fundamental problem in military justice. It does not just affect a few people. I do not have the latest statistics but I cited the statistics for 2007-08 and 2008-09. There were over 2,600 offences in 2007-08, and 2,600 in 2008-09, the vast majority of which were dealt with by what is called a summary procedure, a procedure that does not have those protections. Someone would be tried by his or her commanding officer and, in most cases, would end up with a criminal record if found guilty.

These are essentially a lot of discipline offences having to do with going AWOL, et cetera. I will not bore members with a list of the number of offences for each one, but we have things like conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline. These are there to try to keep everyone in line and to keep morale up. There are offences such as being AWOL, which could be as much as being 10 minutes late after a night out on leave. In fact, 29% of the offences are absences without leave. However, these are offences against the National Defence Act. Drunkenness is another one, accounting for 6% of the offences. For soldiers, it is amazing that only 6% of the 2,600 offences we are talking about here from five years ago relate to drinking. Soldiers are supposed to be famous for going to bars and drinking, but obviously we have very disciplined soldiers in our Canadian Forces, of which we are very proud.

Nonetheless, we are talking here about fundamental justice and the need to ensure that our military justice has the same respect for fundamental justice as does our regular legal system.

I am hoping that we are not going to hear from the other side that, “This is the NDP going on again. It loves criminals. It even loves criminals when they're in the military”. Instead, I am hoping that we will hear from the other side that they have enough respect for our military that they want to ensure that even when military personnel act in a manner that gets them into trouble with their commanding officer, they will respect the rights of these personnel, they will recognize that they need to maintain morale, that they need to maintain discipline but that they also need to ensure that they are not saddling someone with a criminal record when that person does not have the protection of the fundamental rights, the fundamental justice, contained in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that very constitution that we are asking our soldiers, our men and women in uniform, to go and fight for and defend. They are being denied the protection of that in a fundamental way.

What we are trying to do and what we have tried to do in the committee in the past is as I said.

Here I see the parliamentary secretary who, unfortunately, was not part of that committee the last time. He was not even in this Parliament. When this comes before the committee again, maybe I will join him to talk about the motions we passed the last time and the sections we changed. I have a list, which I can give him, of the ones that were actually passed, amending the bill and ensuring there was better protection for our soldiers, sailors and air men and women, and are now missing from the bill. The member was not there when they were passed.

If this is just an error, a mistake, or they just went to back to the drawing board and produced the same bill we had before, I hope he will willing accept those changes. I am looking for some signal to that effect from the member when he speaks to this legislation.

We do have an important task at hand, and that is to ensure that our soldiers, sailors and airmen are treated with respect and dignity and given the protections under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

There is another aspect of this bill, which I will touch briefly on. It is the issue of grievances. There is a significant problem with the grievance procedure within the military. This legislation deals with it, but not well enough. We did amend clause 6 of the National Defence Act in that regard. There was a series of amendments that were important, giving the Chief of the Defence Staff the power to settle a grievance. It passed the committee, but I do not know if the Chief of the Defence Staff wants it. The government does not seem to want to give it to him.

He is the person who makes the final decision, but he cannot say to people who were denied overtime or a certain special pay, which cost them $1,500, that they would get the $1,500. He cannot decide that. It has to go to some legal people in the Department of Justice. It does not go to the Judge Advocate General.

The CDS cannot say “Give that man the $1,500 that he was denied”, whether it be for work or moving expenses or whatever. That has to go to somebody in the Department of Justice part of DND who can say “Well, we do not think it is really appropriate to give money in this case”. Then that person cannot get his grievance resolved.

We made changes that ensured the CDS could resolve that problem, being the final voice and being able to settle a grievance. That is something that is necessary and desirable. I hope we are able to get that change made once again.

We also wanted to ensure that are some timelines on grievances that need to take place. There was also a series of amendments with respect to oversight by civilians, a whole series, including the amendments we made to clause 11, which would enforce and allow the grievance committee to deal with grievances in a proper manner, with civilians rather than just military people.

There are a number of changes that have to be made. Unfortunately, the Conservatives did not accept in their new bill the changes that were already made.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. friend, the member for St. John's East for his very learned speech on this important issue.

The member asked for a signal from our side. I am not sure, but I think Signal Hill is in his riding. I am not absolutely sure of that. It is close to it, so I am not surprised by the request. The signal is given that we on this side are looking forward to consideration of this bill in committee, consideration of his arguments, and we hope to see him there as we have seen him in previous Parliaments on these important issues.

My question for the hon. member is the following. Given the urgency of this bill, given the fact that some of these changes have been pending since the Lamer report in 2003, given the fact that this Parliament and previous Parliaments have considered this bill in different forms three times, Bill C-7 in the 39th Parliament, Bill C-45 in the 38th Parliament, Bill C-41 in the 40th Parliament, and now Bill C-15, would the member not agree with us, and this is really an appeal to his common sense and his sense of duty to do right by our men and women in uniform, that the best place to discuss the details he has proposed, the very technical aspects of this bill that deserve discussion, is in committee and that we as members of Parliament have a duty to get it to committee as soon as possible?

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I was very proud to represent the district of Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi in the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly for many years. Signal Hill itself used to be part of St. John's East. It is not now and may be again after the new boundary changes. The signal I am looking for is the signal that the government is prepared to respect the fundamental rights of military personnel.

If that were the case, I would have expected to see that we would get the bill back this time, that the improvements that had already been made would still be there and that they would be willing to seek more improvements. Not all the things New Democrats wanted in committee in the last Parliament were taken. Yes, some things are technical, but the real issue that should be debated in the House is whether the government is going to respect that the men and women in the uniform of this country are entitled to the protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the fundamental rights we are asking them to serve and fight for.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, since the Bagotville military base is located in my riding, I am well aware that the brave men and women who are serving their country in the Canadian Forces must comply with extremely high standards of discipline. In return, they deserve a justice system that also meets similar standards.

We know that a criminal record can make post-military life very difficult. Criminal records complicate everything when the time comes to find a job, to rent an apartment and to travel.

I wonder if my colleague could tell us what the NDP has found lacking in this bill that would otherwise have allowed our party to support it?

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, one of the concerns we have is that when service men and women actually leave the service, they have the challenge of adjusting to civilian life and getting jobs. We do not want them to have the baggage of a criminal record. We are talking about 2,600 a year and if we add that up year over year, we see that a large percentage of members get involved in some sort of disciplinary matters, which make it more difficult to integrate into civilian life. We want to remove that barrier. They are entitled to have the service record, yes, but the service record can be dealt with as an administrative thing. Criminal law is something employers look at to see whether people have criminal records, which are barriers to employment. If they do not have the rights and protections, it is going to make it a lot harder after they leave the military.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite does not want soldiers who go before military tribunals to have criminal records. The member knows full well that there are incidents that occur on military bases that involve domestic violence. These incidents can be brought before military tribunals. My question is this. Why does the member opposite not want soldiers who have been convicted of beating their spouses to have criminal records?

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, the member is bringing up something that is one of the details that my colleague opposite was talking about. Not every offence under the act would fall into that category. We are talking about summary conviction offences. There is a protocol and this was discussed with the Judge Advocate General. There are certain cases that in fact should not be dealt with under military tribunals and should be dealt with by civilian courts. A sexual assault on a spouse, or circumstances like that, is one of them. That is not a military offence. It does not involve their job but may be incidental and, therefore, should be dealt with by a civilian court. In a civilian court, military personnel would have all of the protections, civilian laws and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We are talking about two different things, but I understand the member's point.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I commend the hon. member for St. John's East for explaining our party's concerns about this legislation so clearly and in such detail.

Summary trials are among the issues that I am very concerned about. Indeed, and unfortunately for Canadian Forces members, a large number of minor offences result in a criminal record. This is very important because it is a well-known fact that, in a way, members of the Canadian armed forces are marginalized. Indeed, when they quit the forces they must reintegrate into society, and this can be a major challenge.

Given the incredibly long list of minor offences that can result in a criminal record, can the hon. member tell us whether, instead of introducing this bill in such a hurry, it would have been better to introduce it in a much improved fashion after consulting with the other parties?

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, obviously this issue is extremely important, but we would have hoped that the bill as it was passed the last time would have been presented and then we could seek to make improvements to that.

The reality is that more than 90%, I think some 97%, of offences are tried in the summary conviction manner, and the military tribunal that the previous speaker talked about is actually the court martial, which is a different place. In the court martial, individuals have all the protections of right to counsel, full answer and defence and a criminal record attaching to that. We do not have a problem with that.

It is the summary trials, which do not have the legal protections that are available if one is before a provincial court in any of the provinces of Canada and one is a civilian. This is the area we need to work on and fix, and I do not hear at this point yet the signal from the government that it is prepared to fully explore that and try to find out what is the best way of achieving that goal and still maintain the importance of military justice for the purposes of efficiency, operational efficiency, morale and discipline that is essential to a military force of any kind.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, the NDP believes that the bill is a step in the right direction to bring the military justice system more in line with the civilian justice system. However, the bill does not at all answer the key questions about reforming the summary trial and grievance systems and about strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission.

My NDP colleague asked the hon. member for St. John's East to provide specifics about summary trials. I would ask him to also tell us more about what the NDP did not see regarding the complaints commission and to talk about the mistakes related to the grievance system.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I understand I have a short time to respond.

There are a number of problems with the grievance system, the principal one being the length of time it would take to have grievances processed. Some work has been done on it and it has been shortened, but it has become militarized to a large extent. This is not the case with other countries.

We have a grievance system. Most of the grievances actually have to do with the terms and conditions of employment, with benefits and entitlements and that sort of thing, human resources matters.

We believe there should be civilian predominance in the grievance system. In fact, I think 60-40 was what was passed in the committee in the last Parliament. That has been stripped out of the bill and we do not have that, so we have to make all those arguments again, bring all those witnesses again and have that discussion again. It is a bit unfortunate, but it has to be done.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-15, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

I understand that members' minds do not seem to be on this bill at the moment. The budget will be tabled in 10 minutes, and I understand where people are coming from.

My colleague, the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood, has outlined in previous debate in quite a comprehensive way the Liberal Party's thoughts on this bill. There are three key messages that I would leave with members.

The Liberal Party understands the need to reform the Canadian court martial system to ensure that it remains effective, fair and transparent. We believe that Canadian citizens who decide to join the Canadian Forces should not thereby lose part of their rights before the courts. In part this bill is about ensuring there is some balance between the military courts and the criminal justice courts.

As well, the Liberal Party believes that the addition of new sentences, including absolute discharge, intermittent sentence, and restitution, are important if we are to have that fair system I talked about a moment ago.

There are a number of disparities between the military and civilian justice systems that should be narrowed as much as possible. Bill C-15 has been introduced as a way of addressing these differences.

As it currently stands, sentencing in military law is much harsher than in the civil justice system, and it is very much less flexible. Provisions in Bill C-15 that would amend the National Defence Act are critical to ensuring that our military justice system is fair, efficient, transparent and consistent with Canadian values and legal standards.

My colleague, the hon. member for St. John's East, spoke a moment ago about how important it is that it should be under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We certainly agree with his point.

However, there are a few minor provisions within this legislation that we have substantial concerns with. One would be proposed subsection 18.5(3). We are very concerned about this subsection. It really concerns the ability of the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff to issue instructions or guidelines in writing in respect of a particular investigation. There have been a number of witnesses and a number of submissions before the committee on this particular issue. I will refer to a couple of them.

This clause is very problematic because it goes above and beyond the ability of the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff to provide general supervision, instructions or guidelines to the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal, and potentially challenges to the validity and integrity of investigations by giving a very high-ranking member of the military explicit statutory powers to interfere with a police investigation.

As members well know, personalities become involved. If there is interference in a police investigation, it becomes a very serious matter. For that reason, the Liberal Party would like to see that proposed subsection removed.

I want to emphasize what others have to say about that proposed subsection. Mr. Glenn Stannard, the chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission, MPCC, had this to say on this proposed subsection:

In summary, in the view of the MPCC, the proposed authority in s. 18.5(3) for directions by the VCDS, in particular MP [military police] law enforcement investigations should be deleted from Bill C-41 for the following reasons.

It was Bill C-41 then; it is Bill C-15 now.

It is contrary to Canadian law and traditions on the independence of police investigations from the executive, which is an underpinning of the rule of law.

It is without precedent in Canadian policing legislation.

It is based on an erroneous analogy by the drafters between the relationship of the VCDS and CFPM with that of the JAG and the Director of Military Prosecutions.

It represents a significant step back from efforts since the 1990s to enhance and safeguard the independence of military police investigations....

It does not respond to any recommendation of the Lamer Report or to any other public study on military justice or military policing.

Those are the complaints outlined by the chairperson of the Military Police Complaints Commission. We would certainly hope when this bill gets to committee that that subsection would be removed.

To add further evidence, Professor Kent Roach of the University of Toronto prepared a report on police independence relating to the military police, in which it is stated:

The author concludes that s. 18.5(1) and (2)...recognizing the Vice Chief of Defence Staff's (VCDS's) general supervision of the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal (CFPM) and allowing the former to issue general and public instructions or guidelines to the latter which is consistent with the balance that must be struck between military police independence and accountability, policy guidance and the management responsibilities of the general command. At the same time, however, the author concludes that s. 18.5(3) violates core concepts of police independence as recognized in Campbell and Shirose by allowing the VCDS to issue instructions and guidelines in specific cases that can interfere with military police investigations. He also notes that this section would be inconsistent with the 1998 accountability framework between the VCDS and the CFPM and if enacted might result in various legal challenges.

To sum up, the bill has a lot of good points. It needs to be moved forward. It needs to go to committee. However, there is a major problem backed by fairly substantive evidence that subsection 18.5(3) violates the principles of police investigations, and as a member said previously, could be in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We support the bill moving forward to committee. We recommend that the proposed subsection be removed.