Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate about Bill C-15. As other speakers have said before me, it is an improvement and there is no question about that.
It is probably less of a bill than the previous parliament had proposed and it appears that my colleagues in the NDP are prepared to go for less rather than more, which is quite regrettable. However, I do commend the work of my NDP colleagues on the committee. They made every procedural effort to amend the bill and improve it, all of which I supported. Regrettably, they failed at each and every turn, so it surprises me at this point that my colleagues in the NDP are prepared to accept what is arguably a much lesser bill than the previous parliament had proposed.
I will comment on three areas. They are areas that have been somewhat canvassed before, but are in effect the poison pills of the bill and make it much less than what it could have been. We could have, at this stage, come together and said we have reformed the military justice system and it would probably have been good to go for the rest of this decade, although this is a continuous review process.
When we study military justice, there are distinctions between what we would consider to be civilian justice and military justice. Let me say at the outset that I do understand and I do support the concept that the military is a unique culture and does need a justice system that is unique and designed for it. However, as one witness, Clayton Ruby, pointed out, “It has been said that when you enlist in the military, you waive your constitutional rights. This is nonsense.”
When a person puts on the uniform, as many thousands of our fellow citizens do, they do not waive their constitutional rights. We cannot have a blanket exemption from the Constitution for the military. That is one point where we get into trouble with the way in which this bill has been proposed.
There are roughly 2,500 service offences committed by members of the military over the course of a year. In our language, they would be known as summary conviction offences. The offences can range from trivial right through to pretty serious offences. For some of the serious offences, confinement to barracks or even to jail is the punishment. Of the 2,500, about 30 actually result in confinement to either barracks or an actual jail system on an annual basis.
Because of that, we cannot be trivial about the process. We are in effect offending one of the core provisions of our Constitution, section 7. We are taking away the liberty of a citizen. This is a citizen who is in a uniform, but he or she is still first and foremost a citizen. Therefore, this citizen is entitled to the basics of a trial.
There is a saying in the military that I cannot actually repeat without expanding the English language beyond the proper decorum of this place, but it says “march the guilty in”. That is kind of an understood language that the military uses with respect to these summary trials. These summary trials have a conviction rate in excess of 98%. They really put the “summary” in summary trials. However, in most instances, that is actually not a problem.
There does need to be a disciplinary process for the military.
However, in the instance where there is a potential sentence of confinement to barracks or even to a jail, that is a problem. Why? Because the individual does not have the right to access to counsel, there is no transcript and the “accused” is made to stand through the entire trial. We had an opportunity to address this, but the Conservative government did not do that.
For instance, a British soldier is guaranteed access to counsel and the right to appeal. A civilian judge sits with a military judgment and no detention can be imposed when the accused is not represented by counsel.
These are not trivial matters. When we members of the opposition pressed the government on this, the Conservatives said the bill is constitutionally compliant, that it is charter-proof. We beg to differ. One of Canada's foremost criminal trial lawyers who has gone all the way to the Supreme Court on quite a number of occasions took serious exception to this. He said, “This charter justification matter is not a small issue”, so when the liberty of a citizen is at issue—even a citizen who is a soldier—the charter procedures need to be followed; not only do they need to be followed in law, but they need to be followed in spirit as well.
When people put on the uniform and defend us and allow us to in effect carry on a debate in a chamber such as this, it is no small issue. If I as a civilian get more constitutional protections at the Ottawa summary conviction court than a soldier accused of exactly the same offence, then it is not balanced and not right. We in the Liberal Party think we could have done a better job, but we did not. That is unfortunate, and I dare say will open up this legislation to charter challenge at some point in the near future.
It is not good enough for the government to waltz into committee or waltz into this chamber and say the bill is charter-proof. We heard the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety talk about that a few weeks ago. Anybody who believes that the Conservative government is serious about the charter is, in my judgment, excessively naive. It is an inconvenience. It would have given us some comfort at committee had independent people outside of the military, outside of the government, told us that these provisions are actually charter-compliant. It is not good enough to have government lawyers say it is charter-compliant. That is like investigating oneself. That is point one.
The second point has to do with the ability of the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff to intervene in a police investigation. We have heard a lot of debate about this. The origin of this debate came out of Somalia, as the minister rightly said, a dark chapter in the history of the military, and I dare say a dark chapter that never would have seen the light except for the fact that the press was present at the time of the incident. The natural reaction of the chain of command is to minimize incidents such as this, and that was in full bloom. I do not think anybody covered themselves with a great deal of glory over this incident. A protocol was developed post-Somalia between the police service and the chain of command, and that protocol was no interference. There would be no interference from the chain of command in any police investigation. That, frankly, served us fairly well between Somalia and now.
However, now the government wishes to reassert itself by inserting the chain of command into a potential police investigation.
I have listened to several of the arguments with respect to the chain of command introducing itself. As we all know, “may” is a small word that has big implications. For those of us who have practised law for a number of years know that the word “may” can be expanded. Certainly when a dark incident occurs in military operations, the pressure on the chain of command to contain the incident will be powerful and, in some respects, the temptation to intervene with a police investigation is almost overwhelming. It has happened, and will happen. There is no doubt about that.
I will quote from Mr. Tinsley, the former ombudsman, who stated:
My very brief summary submission is that if Bill C-15 is passed into law in its present form, inclusive of the new subsection... authorizing the VCDS to interfere with police operations and investigations, it will be inconsistent with the principles of police independence as recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada [as[ late as 1999 as underpinning the rule of law, as well as run counter to the norms of police-government relations, certainly in Canada, and I can tell you internationally in developed countries, which recognize the importance of police independence and prohibit police service boards or similar executive bodies from giving directions regarding specific police operations.
Mr. Tinsley's testimony was reinforced by the current ombudsman, a former chief of police from Windsor, who said that in his experience as a civilian police officer he would have been horrified, shocked and probably hung up the phone on any police service board, and that is any mayor, who phoned him up to tell him what to investigate and what not to investigate.
If one wants to derail a civilian investigation, a good way to do it is to have political interference. Therefore, in some respects the government has retained the ability to insert itself legitimately and legislatively into a police investigation.
On this point, I would conclude with Mr. Tinsley's final observations. He stated:
It would also effectively contradict, even repudiate, the notion of improper interference by the chain of command as established in the oversight jurisdiction of the Military Police Complaints Commission and thereby effectively eliminate oversight by statutory authorization of such interference by the VCDS, a person not subject to the jurisdiction of the complaints commission.
He ends his comments by asking, why?
My final point has to do with the grievance process. Over many months, we in the House have raised the issue of grievances that soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen have with their employer, which is the military and therefore us. When an employer employs 100,000 people, it is quite logical that some of them will not be happy with their terms and conditions of employment, which can potentially result in a grievance process. The grievance process is well defined and is a good process. By and large, it resolves many of the grievance issues that they would have with their employer.
However, there are instances, and, unfortunately too many instances, where the grievance process works its way up through the process to the desk of the Chief of the Defence Staff. The Chief of the Defence Staff largely, and almost without exception, agrees with the findings of the people who are delegated to do this work, makes an authorization for compensation, and says, “This particular soldier is legitimately upset and should be entitled to x number of dollars”, whether it is a differential in pay, or the cost of a move or whatever. Out of that, the Chief of the Defence Staff makes the “order”, but cannot write a cheque out of the military budget or any other budget. All of these complaints, particularly the real estate complaints, land on the desk of the Treasury Board Secretariat and thus far none has been authorized.
It ends up as a unique anomaly in which the Chief of the Defence Staff has said that a soldier has a legitimate grievance and thinks it is worth $15,000, $20,000 or $25,000. It does not matter what the number is. He then sends a note to Treasury Board and Treasury Board, without exception, turns it down.
Pierre Daigle, the current ombudsman, wrote the following:
Moreover, when claims are rejected—which is often the case—Canadian Forces members are informed that they must initiate legal action against the Government of Canada—
In other words, he or she must sue the employer. He goes on to say:
—in order to obtain compensation. However, unbeknownst to most men and women in uniform, legal action will rarely be heard by a court because previous courts have ruled that there is no legally enforceable employment contract between the Crown and Canadian Forces members.
I imagine this goes back to the unique position of anyone in the military, which is unlimited liability. When people sign up, they sign up entirely, and, in effect, waive their right to sue their employer. It is not a good way to treat people. We tell them they have to put themselves in harm's way and they cannot sue if their pay or compensation for moving is not what they think it should be, even if the military agrees with them. It is not right. One would have thought that on an infrequent review of military justice, we would have taken this opportunity to do what the ombudsman said, which is to, in effect, give the CDS the authority to write a cheque.
Pierre Daigle further stated:
—I would reiterate what I said when I testified before this committee in 2011. The Canadian Forces redress of grievance process will remain flawed and unfair as long as the final decisionmaker in the Canadian Forces grievance process, the chief of the defence staff, lacks the authority to provide financial compensation to resolve unfairnesses.
That regrettably is the end of it. We had an opportunity to do the right thing by our men and women in uniform and, in the judgment of the Liberal Party, we failed. My colleagues have moved good amendments, but they failed. It is a stripped-down version of the previous bill. We now have at least these three instances such as the potential of a charter challenge, an interference in police process and men and women who cannot get satisfaction from their employer.