Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak today to Bill C-77. As the member of Parliament for Brandon—Souris, I am very proud to say that Canadian Forces Base Shilo is part of my constituency. CFB Shilo is home to the First Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery and the Second Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.
The base is also home to a component of the Western Area Training Centre, 742 Signals Squadron Detachment Shilo, and 11 Canadian Forces Health Services Centre, as well as being the home station of the Royal Canadian Artillery. Other supported units include 26th Field Regiment and the Royal Canadian Army's Brandon Reserve Unit.
In Westman, the men and women of Canadian Forces Base Shilo live in various communities such as Spruce Woods, Brandon, Wawanesa, Killarney, Souris, Glenboro, to name a few of the communities around Shilo. I could put some of the ones from the riding of my colleague from Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa in there as well, in Carberry, Minnedosa, Neepawa, and other areas.
They are our friends and our neighbours. They and their families are part of our communities. Many will know that due to our quality of life and the amazing communities that are found within our constituencies, numerous members of the Canadian Armed Forces decide to make Westman their permanent home after they retire and transition into civilian life. I will not name them here, but many of them are good friends of mine and live throughout our area.
I have been interested in the affairs of the Canadian Armed Forces for all of my life and am forever grateful for the men and women who have put their lives on the line to defend Canada. The bill before us is a reiteration of our previous government's efforts to enhance the Canadian military justice system. The judicial system within the Canadian Armed Forces is distinctive due to the high standards for those in uniform. When in service, it is expected that there could be circumstances where one's life will be put in danger.
Make no mistake, the members of the Canadian Armed Forces deal with stressful and high tempo operations. They have a chain of command and there is zero room for error. Due to the high risk of injury or death, there must be a justice system put in place to maintain discipline and structure. While the Canadian Armed Forces has its own judicial system, it still operates under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The constitutionality of the military justice system has been upheld by the Supreme Court and there is jurisprudence that has upheld its separate justice system. That said, as with all government legislation, it is necessary to do a thorough review to make sure that the system is as efficient as possible.
The original National Defence Act was crafted in 1950 after World War II. While it has been modified on various occasions over the years, this legislation provides a forum for even further improvements.
I know that all members will agree with the need to ensure that the regulations and laws on the books can meet the challenges and expectations of our times. I am encouraged that the Liberal government has agreed with our previous Conservative legislation to enshrine the rights of victims into the National Defence Act.
More than ever, particularly in light of our upcoming opposition day motion this week, the rights of victims must be upheld. Far too often the justice system has forgotten to give a voice to those who have been victimized. Victims deserve to be treated with compassion and respect. They should never be an afterthought. With this legislation we will set in stone in the National Defence Act the principle that victims have rights, an extremely important point.
I firmly believe that every victim has the right to request information about the military justice system. Far too often, we forget that the justice system can be daunting. Some would even say it can be intimidating, especially for victims. In most cases, people have never had to navigate or deal with either the military or civilian judicial systems. While that in itself is a good thing, it is a reminder that we must be vigilant that the system is not only there to provide justice for the accused, but also for the victim.
With this legislation, we would make it crystal clear that every victim has the right to request the status and outcome of the investigation. People should not have to rely on rumours or second-hand news to find out what is happening. They should not feel they must plead for the most basic information. To bolster that point, this new victims bill of rights would give them the right to know about the location of proceedings, when these will take place and their progress and outcomes. This bill of rights would give victims the ability to request information about the offender while they are in a service prison. They could also request information when there is the release of the offender. These are simple but meaningful rights that would provide much improved transparency and support for victims.
An important change is that victims would now have the right to access services and programs. This is essential to the healing process for the victim. Being able to access ongoing counselling or mental health services should be easy for those who need them.
In this updating of the National Defence Act, I also support the new rights to protect the identity of the victim. To create the right environment for victims and witnesses to come forward, it is imperative that they have the right to request that their identity be protected. This legislation would provide the flexibility to allow victims to use pseudonyms in appropriate cases. This is a simple but very important change that could empower people to come forward while not having to feel shamed or threatened.
For victims to come forward or to feel safe while going through the process, their security must never be in doubt. That is why the protection clauses found in the bill are a step in the right direction. The legislation would direct the authorities in the military justice system to ensure that every victim has the right to reasonable and necessary measures to protect them against intimidation and retaliation. No one should have to fear speaking the truth, and no one should have to worry about the consequences of taking part in a trial or within the military justice system. This is certainly an area that I would like the defence committee to study while going through the legislation. As in many cases, military communities are small and tight-knit. While this can be a tremendous benefit, it also can create situations where the victim and the accused are in close proximity.
It would be prudent to bring forward witnesses who can speak about the expectations for these new provisions. That is one of the reasons I believe the bill should move to second reading. It would give everyone an opportunity to have a greater say.
It would also be wise to reach out and gather as much evidence as possible as to what other militaries or judicial systems around the world have done to protect victims. I know from my work on other committees that a valuable option to have in place is the ability to learn from other areas of the world.
Another area that must get proper study is the complaints process for victims. While the legislation would give cabinet the ability to set out the complaints process through regulation, it would be in the committee's best interests to review it. If individuals do not feel they have the appropriate avenues to lodge complaints, the overall credibility of the system could be called into question and even undermined.
This is something that our immigration committee recently reviewed for the immigration review board and I can say without hesitation that numerous concerns were brought to our attention. To expand on this point, immigration committee had unanimity with our report that we tabled in Parliament. That in itself is a perfect example of how these sorts of issues are non-partisan.
Victims of any judicial system must be at the heart of its rules and regulations. For real justice to occur, the system must be fair and orderly. It must be unbiased and it must serve those who appear before it. It must hand out appropriate sentences.
I will be voting in favour of this legislation. My Conservative colleagues on defence committee will do their due diligence in scrutinizing it and making it better.
That is why I wanted to have the opportunity to speak to this legislation today as well. Like my colleague from southwest Saskatchewan, this is the only opportunity that I will have because I am not on defence committee. That is why many of my colleagues would like to speak to this important legislation that is before us today. Many of them know people who may want to come forward as witnesses before committee. This is an opportunity for us to scrutinize this bill with great intensity, to add the areas that I talked about earlier in regards to perhaps other areas of jurisdiction not only here in Canada, but around the world so we can garner what we can for victims' rights.
I had the privilege and the opportunity of being on public safety committee when I was first elected to Parliament. Through that I learned that there are many areas that could have been improved, some of which were in the area of firearm legislation and management of the transporting and handling of firearms for law-abiding citizens. That is where I first learned the most about victims being the centre of attention instead of offenders. A few times here in the House my colleagues have said that the government of the day seems to want to deal with the rights of the offenders as opposed to the rights of the victims. I very much feel that victims need to be at the forefront of this.
That is why I have indicated that we need to make sure that victims have access to information as they go through the court process and even when decisions are made, that they be able to better understand why a decision was made the way it was.