Mr. Speaker, today it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-15, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, which brings about a number of improvements in response to recommendations concerning the military justice system.
Bill C-15 is simply the latest incarnation of various bills introduced in the House, such as Bill C-7 and Bill C-45 in 2007 and 2008, and Bill C-60, which came into effect in July 2008. Bill C-60 simplified the structure of courts martial and created a mechanism to choose a type of court martial more comparable to the civilian system. Bill C-41 was pretty good. At the time, it went farther than Bill C-15 did initially, but unfortunately, it was never adopted.
It is important to note that Bill C-15 came about because of concerns over how the military justice system has worked for years. A number of flaws were identified in the wake of the 2003 report of the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Right Honourable Antonio Lamer, and the May 2009 report of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
Justice Antonio Lamer's authority was well established, and the government had every reason to take the former chief justice's many recommendations into account. To a certain extent, Bill C-15 is a response to those concerns. However, because it does not go far enough, we proposed amendments in committee. One of our amendments was agreed to, but the others were rejected, unfortunately. Nevertheless, we are pleased that Bill C-15 was improved enough for us to be able to support it at third reading.
By way of context, it is important to note that our military justice system operates separately from our criminal justice system because our military personnel play a special role in our society. Because of their role, they have certain special powers that ordinary citizens do not. Along with that, they have to comply with very high disciplinary standards related to the hierarchy and organization of the military system on the ground so that they can respond effectively during military operations. A lot of very structured preparatory work also has to happen.
There is a very specific way in which the military justice system must answer to that structure, which is separate from society. The system must be held to very high standards and must not needlessly trap veterans and former members of the Canadian Forces after they have finished serving. They find themselves trapped in needless uncertainty because of mistakes they made that, normally, would not result in a criminal record.
We can be pleased with the fact that, in committee, the NDP was able to get a major amendment passed, which changed nearly 95% of disciplinary code infractions so that they will no longer result in a criminal record.
That is the main reason we are now supporting Bill C-15.
As everyone knows, a criminal record comes with very unpleasant consequences. For example, a criminal record can keep a member from starting a new life and pursuing a second career, a career that could be limited by the member's inability to travel to the United States or to fulfill certain duties that he is qualified for because of his military experience and training. The fact that it is so easy to have a criminal record after spending one's life in the armed forces is a major irritant and totally unacceptable.
I mentioned two reports, one by Justice Antonio Lamer and one by a Senate committee. However, we would have liked the government to respond more quickly, and we want it to respond with tangible measures to the report by the former Ontario Superior Court Chief Justice LeSage. He also completed a study on the National Defence Act, which he presented to the government in December 2011. Bill C-15 does not really cover that, which is very unfortunate.
Another aspect is rather ironic. I am currently a member of the Standing Committee on Finance. We recently examined Bill C-48, a huge and very technical bill that makes changes to some aspects of the Canadian tax system. Instead of a gradual, piecemeal approach, we would have liked to see a more major reform, although not a massive one that would make it impossible to study the military justice system.
I was a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and I noticed a very similar approach when it was time to change some details in the Criminal Code. There was a real lack of vision, which is truly appalling. Our soldiers, who fulfill a very important and admirable role, both in Canada and around the globe, should definitely not be victims nor should they be subjected to such improvisation on the government's part. It is really appalling. Our soldiers would be much better off if the military justice system had the same or similar standards as the civilian justice system, since this would bring us in line with other countries.
When the NDP forms the government in 2015, our party will be committed to doing more to make a real difference, which will allow us to offer all members of our armed forces a justice system worthy of that name and, above all, worthy of the appearance of justice earned.
That is probably the most important aspect, and the final point I wanted to make. Ensuring the appearance of justice is a fundamental principle of our justice system. This appearance is especially fundamental because it forms the basis of public confidence and, therefore, the confidence of members of the armed forces in the military justice machine.
I hope the government has listened to our hopes and wishes. I thank the government again for accepting a fundamental amendment regarding the consequences of possibly getting a criminal record.
I am now ready to hear my colleagues' comments and answer their questions.