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.