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.