Madam Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-77, an act to amend the National Defence Act. It is a bill that would make a number of changes to Canada's military justice system, which applies to members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Before I address the substance of the bill, let me put on the record my thanks to the brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces for their service, sacrifice and duty to country. The men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces collectively represent the highest standards of excellence.
CFB Edmonton is located minutes from my riding of St. Albert—Edmonton, and many Canadian Armed Forces personnel who are posted at CFB Edmonton live in my riding and are an integral part of the communities I am so fortunate to represent in the city of St. Albert and in northwest Edmonton. I am very proud to be their voice in the House of Commons.
Broadly speaking, Bill C-77 would seek to align the military justice system with modern day Criminal Code amendments. Without more, Bill C-77 is a good bill, and I am going to address why I think it is a step in the right direction. Before I do that, just for context, it would be somewhat helpful to discuss the fact that we have two parallel justice systems in Canada, a civilian justice system and a military justice system, and the rationale for that long-standing reality.
It was very succinctly put by Chief Justice Lamer in the R v. Généreux decision, wherein Chief Justice Lamer stated the purpose of a military justice system. He stated:
To maintain the Armed Forces in a state of readiness, the military must be in a position to enforce internal discipline effectively and efficiently. Breaches of military discipline must be dealt with speedily and, frequently, punished more severely than would be the case if a civilian engaged in such conduct. As a result, the military has its own Code of Service Discipline to allow it to meet its particular disciplinary needs.
I would further add that another aspect of the military justice system is the recognition that Canadian Armed Forces personnel can be situated anywhere around the world, and it extends that jurisdiction to Canadian Armed Forces personnel whether they are operating in Canada, Afghanistan, Mali or wherever they may be.
The military justice system has done a lot of things really well. Chief Justice Lamer spoke about the need for a speedy process for justice and about a higher level of discipline, having regard for the fact that members of the Canadian Armed Forces are not civilians and are held to a higher standard.
However, one area where our military justice system has not done as good a job is in protecting the rights of victims, and that is what Bill C-77 would seek to change. What Bill C-77 would do is establish a bill of rights. It would incorporate a victims bill of rights into the Code of Service Discipline. It would be similar to the Victims Bill of Rights that applies in the civilian context, which, of course, is an important achievement of the previous Conservative government.
What types of rights would Bill C-77 enshrine? It would enshrine four pillars of rights for victims. One would be the right to information. Quite often, those who are victims find themselves in a very difficult position in understanding all the court processes.
The right to information under Bill C-77 would mean that victims would have information at all stages, from the time the charges were laid, through the trial, through sentencing and through the post-sentencing phase, at all stages. That is really important. In order to help ensure that victims received information at all stages, Bill C-77 would establish a victims liaison officer.
A second pillar is that it would ensure that victims had the right to privacy and that the privacy of victims would be treated as paramount. That is important, particularly in cases, for example, involving sexual assault.
A third pillar of rights for victims is the right to be heard at all stages of the justice process. That includes being able to provide a victim impact statement at the time of sentencing. This is something that is routinely done in the civilian court context, and it seems to be quite logical that it should extend to the military justice system as well.
Finally, Bill C-77 would provide the right to restitution whereby it would require a court martial to consider the imposition of a restitution order where there was a loss involved.
All of those things are good. They are a step in the right direction. We support them. We strongly support protecting the rights of victims.
When we say that there is no problem with Bill C-77 and that, on the whole, it is a pretty good bill, it is perhaps because it is a carbon copy of Bill C-71, introduced by the previous Conservative government.
While the bill will pass, hopefully sooner rather than later, and it has taken three years for the government to finally get around to literally copying and pasting a bill from the previous Conservative government, after Bill C-77 is passed, there are going to be challenges from the standpoint of implementation. It is going to be up to the government to deliver. It is not necessarily going to be easy.
We have, for example, the need for a victims liaison officer to be appointed. As I noted when I asked a question to my colleague from Calgary Shepard in the context of the victims ombudsman, which is basically the same type of position in the civilian context, the government left that position vacant for a year. In other words, there was no one there to represent and be an advocate for victims in the civilian justice system for a year. Let us hope that the government does a better job when it comes to appointing a victims liaison officer.
As my colleague, the member for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, has noted, we have the very recent Court Martial Appeal Court decision on Beaudry, which could upend the real objective of this bill, inasmuch as the Beaudry decision provides that in the case of serious offences, those offences should be tried in the civilian court system rather than in the military justice system, notwithstanding the fact that we have three Supreme Court decisions that have provided that such cases should be tried before the military justice system.
That is another wrinkle, but overall, this is a good bill. We will try to work co-operatively with members of the government to put forward amendments where necessary and to hear from as many witnesses as possible to pass the best possible legislation to protect the rights of victims.