Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-15 on military justice once again.
I would like to begin by saying a few words about what was truly an excellent week for the official opposition, the NDP. Yesterday evening, speaking of justice, one of our colleagues succeeded in getting a bill on sexual identity and the protection of transsexual and transgender people passed. Congratulations! That was a good example of our New Democratic values.
We also put forward a motion on science, which the Conservatives rejected. We revealed the truth about the Conservative government: it does not like science, rational thought or facts. We already knew that, but now we have incontrovertible proof. What a victory for the NDP.
Now, with this bill, thanks to the hard work of my New Democratic colleagues in committee and in the House, we have persuaded the government to listen to reason and we have improved this bill, which, initially, was deeply flawed.
This is a step in the right direction, and I am very proud of the NDP's work. The official opposition has made things better and ensured greater respect for the men and women who defend our country and serve in the armed forces.
There is room for improvement in this bill. The government waited too long. We need a comprehensive overhaul of the military police justice system. Unfortunately, the Conservative government has dragged its feet. It has made small changes here and there that do not meet the needs of the men and women of our armed forces. It has refused to adopt a comprehensive approach that would solve all of the problems at once.
Justice Lamer's report came out in 2003, and it is now 2013. That means that these recommendations have been pending for 10 years, over several Parliaments. Both Liberal and Conservative governments have dragged their feet, proving that even though they claim it is a priority, they do not have much respect for the men and women who serve in the Canadian armed forces. Sadly, their actions prove that this is not a priority. There is also the issue of respect for our veterans, which comes up often.
The official opposition is often accused of not liking the armed forces. The Conservatives often make somewhat dishonest, vicious and mean attacks in that respect. The NDP's work in this area shows how rigorous we are and how much we respect the people who serve in Canada's armed forces.
We ask a lot of them. We often ask them to sacrifice their family life, to go abroad and put themselves in extremely dangerous situations where they risk not only getting hurt, but also losing their lives. We cannot ask these Canadians and these Quebeckers to give so much unless we, as a country, as a government, as legislators, put in place a set of mechanisms that will ensure that they are treated with respect, fairness and compassion.
More and more countries are thinking about how to ensure that the military justice system in large part respects human rights and international conventions. Thanks to pressure from my NDP colleagues, we managed to improve the situation of our soldiers. Since we are asking so much of them, we must give them back as much.
As the representative of the people of Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, I believe it is important to move in the right direction. That is what we have done and what we are continuing to do here today. I say this in anticipation of the parliamentary secretary's question when I finish my speech in 10 minutes. Our successful work means that 95% of disciplinary code breaches no longer lead to a criminal record. That progress is in large part responsible for the fact that the NDP caucus is now united in supporting Bill C-15.
At the time, I remember rising in the House and making much more critical comments, because there had not been amendments, which were made later.
We had a problem with the current system because relatively minor disciplinary infractions left a permanent mark on the lives of these people, who are often relatively young when they retire from the armed forces and who have a career after leaving. Members can imagine how difficult it can be for them to find a new job, new occupation or new profession, especially if their military criminal record, resulting from a breach of conduct or bad behaviour when they were members of the Canadian armed forces, follows them.
It was unfair. This hung a millstone around people's necks and put them at a disadvantage for the rest of their careers. However, we fought for them. We stood strong. We argued. The members of the committee did their work. Our excellent defence critic led the fight on this. Today, given the improvements made to this bill, the NDP caucus will support it.
The amendments made to clause 75, which pertains to criminal records, are a great victory for the NDP. That is why I started my speech by talking about our recent victories, which always make us happy, despite the fact that we are dealing with a majority government that rarely listens to parliamentarians or Canadians.
That is not all. I also wanted to point out that the NDP fought to ensure that many members of the Canadian Forces who have already been convicted can have their criminal records erased. This is not simply for the future; it also rights past and present wrongs. That was very important to us.
We also moved a series of amendments to improve the bill in order to show our commitment to our men and women in uniform, as well as to a more comprehensive reform of the system that would make it possible to implement a more logical, consistent and respectful structure. For example, we suggested giving the Chief of the Defence Staff the financial authority to compensate members of the Canadian Forces as part of a grievance resolution process. This is found in the amended version of clause 6 of Bill C-41, in direct response to a recommendation made by Justice Lamer 10 years ago.
We also want to make changes to the composition of the grievance resolution committee to include 60% civilian membership and to not include active members of the Canadian Forces. This was the amended clause 11 of Bill C-41, which would help make the committee more independent. These changes are important to us, because there is a problem with the current system, in that the judge is both judge and jury. The danger of being judged by one's peers is that they are involved. We believe the judicial process must be independent to protect the rights of the accused. That is a basic judicial principle that is generally applied in civilian society.
We think that the process should be made more civil, in the sense that more civilians should be involved in the process so that people who are directly involved do not end up judging their subordinates, especially in cases of insubordination.
We also proposed a clause to ensure that a person convicted of an offence during a summary trial is not unfairly subjected to a criminal record. This is the bill's famous clause 75.
The NDP also proposed that we guarantee the independence of the police by abolishing subsections 18.5(1) to 18.5(5), in clause 4 of the bill, to prevent the Chief of Defence Staff from issuing specific instructions on an investigation to the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal. Once again, this is a matter of independence, respect and the basic principle of justice.
Lastly, we asked for precisions regarding the letter of the law, as recommended by Justice LeSage, to indicate that a charge must be laid within a year after the offence was committed.
This concludes my speech to show how much the NDP—the official opposition—cares about this issue. We care about the men and women who defend our country, who bear arms and who risk their lives. They do their job, and we—in the NDP and in the opposition—do ours too, in their best interests and in the best interests of all Canadians.