House of Commons Hansard #334 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was change.

Topics

Multilateral Instrument in Respect of Tax Conventions ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Madam Speaker, the member mentioned all of the opportunities the government and all members have had in the House to further simplify things for Canadians, both in applying for and receiving benefits from the Canada Revenue Agency and also avoiding four tax measures that would have drastically improved the lives of everyday Canadian families who are trying to make ends meet. It is a juxtaposition with Bill C-82. In this bill, the bill that I reference as the tax treaty for tax treaties, the government is proposing to make sure that large multinational corporations that are able to afford the best-paid lawyers and accountants are taken to task when they engage in aggressive tax planning.

There is also a cultural issue that has been mentioned before about the behaviour of the CRA when it comes to large corporations. We have seen it make deals with KPMG so its clients do not suffer, but the same type of willingness for the culture of settlement does not seem to exist for everyday Canadian families or single moms who are trying to get the child benefit.

Can the member comment more about his experience in his riding for families trying to comply with CRA regulations?

Multilateral Instrument in Respect of Tax Conventions ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his excellent question and important work on all of these issues at the finance committee and here in the chamber. I think he is exactly right that when it comes to the activities of the CRA, we often do not see the same opportunities available to people who are not in that category of well connected and able to hire lawyers. Unfortunately, this often happens when people do not have the same sort of fiscal capacity to fight back against injustices that are affecting them and are necessarily more vulnerable to the actions of government, of regulators in government departments, and so forth.

It is sometimes presumed by my colleagues in other parties that bigger, more powerful government is somehow good for those in the middle and those who are struggling. I think the opposite is very often the case, that when we have bigger government, it becomes accessible to and aligned with the interests of those who are well connected. That is precisely the reason why I think we need limited government, a constrained government. A government that is constrained by an understanding of the rights of citizens ensures that those who do not have the connections, the lawyers, the lobbyists can have their rights and interests protected. That is what Motion No. 43, seconded by my colleague, would have achieved.

Bill C-82 certainly makes progress. However, there is so much more to do that could have been done. Hopefully, after the next election and the next parliament we will have an opportunity to finally move forward with some of the measures that Conservatives have been proposing for a long time to fix the CRA and ensure that people are treated fairly.

Multilateral Instrument in Respect of Tax Conventions ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in this debate. I was thinking just the other day that one of the most offensive words in the English vocabulary, and perhaps the vocabulary of others throughout the world, has to be “taxes”. People hate taxes. More specifically, people hate paying taxes. This should come as no surprise to anyone. I do not like paying taxes. I do not think anyone does, but there is a huge difference between paying taxes as required by law and individuals or sometimes companies and multinational corporations deliberately finding ways to avoid paying taxes.

There are many old sayings that I could bring to the floor today and I will invoke a couple of them. One, of course, is that the only inevitable things in life are death and taxes. That just shows a predisposition by people to accept the fact that we are taxed, and perhaps over-taxed, unnecessarily. People have accepted it, but they do not have to do so willingly.

I recall many years ago a media broadcaster and commentator in the United States by the name of Arthur Godfrey, who once said, “I am proud to pay taxes in America”—because he understood understand that the taxes paid for all of the benefits, programs and services he received—“but I could be just as proud for half the money.” That is the reality that we face today in our everyday lives. We understand that we need to pay taxes to be able to pay for the programs and services that we receive, but do we really have to be paying as much as we currently do?

That debate we can have, but what is non-debatable is the fact that everyone needs to pay their fair share, and I emphasize the word “fair”. What we have seen over the last number of years is the proliferation of multinational companies that are not paying their fair share of taxes. That is the genesis of Bill C-82 that we are debating today.

In fact, we have seen, and there has been empirical evidence provided, that many multinational corporations are not just attempting to reduce their tax obligations and tax burden, but are actively trying to avoid paying taxes. That is where I have to disagree, and disagree vehemently, with those who would try to take advantage of what is undoubtedly a complicated tax code and tax system and deliberately try to undermine that tax system that affects all of us by deliberately avoiding their fair share of taxes.

Over the last number of years, certain articles have come to light, most specifically the Panama papers, which contain the names of Canadians who have been avoiding paying their fair share. I have been a firm believer all my life that every single person understands, from the first moment they are able to achieve cognition, the difference between right and wrong. I have no issue and take no issue whatsoever with individuals, corporations or companies that do everything they can to legally reduce their tax burden, which is fair game, but I do take issue with multinational corporations that have sometimes deliberately used illegal methods to avoid paying taxes.

I support Bill C-82. It is a step in the right direction. Quite frankly, I have criticized the current government for not going far enough. It has talked a good talk, but I have not seen it walk the walk yet in terms of recovering lost money that should have been paid into government coffers to provide the very programs and services we all enjoy. However, I at least applaud and agree with the initiative to bring forward Bill C-82. I certainly will be supporting it, because I hope that over time this and perhaps future governments will be able to more effectively collect the monies duly owed this country through lost taxes.

I also believe that Bill C-82, while admirable in its intent, does not go far enough. In fact, I would suggest that what we need to engage in now is to talk about tax policy in general, because one is connects to the other. Indeed, we are losing money to tax avoiders and tax cheats. Moreover, we also need to have a conversation about the level of taxation in this country and how it affects this country's competitiveness.

I have been alarmed over the last number of years to discover the amount of money, the amount of investment, that is leaving this country to go south of the border primarily because of the reduction in taxes by the new U.S. administration. The United States has drastically reduced its corporate taxes to a point where Canadians and Canadian businesses are moving south of the border because they find it a more attractive tax environment than here in Canada. I find that truly alarming.

We have implored the current government to try to come to grips with that, to try to reduce the tax burden here in Canada both on the corporate side and the individual side. However, so far, we have not had a very receptive audience. We find time and again that whenever we get financial updates from very reputable organizations and financial observers, not just in Canada but throughout the world, they say that Canada is losing investment capital to the United States because of our failed tax policy. I believe that has to be addressed. I would again implore the current government to deal with this quickly.

I have seen over time that tax policies certainly vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. However, one thing that is undoubtedly true is that excessive taxation is a problem for the citizens of every jurisdiction. It creates a system where both individuals and companies, but primarily large companies, aggressively try to avoid taxes because they believe they are overtaxed to begin with. In fact, I believe that this regressive tax policy and taxation in general, and high taxes in particular, cause individuals and corporations to try to avoid paying their taxes. As a matter of fact, I recall a statement by an old Republican warhorse by the name of Barry Goldwater, who once opined many years ago that the taxation has created more criminals than any other single act of government. That is true. Excessive taxation creates criminals, because individuals will do whatever they can to avoid paying what they believe to be excessive or unfair taxes. Once again, that is a debate that perhaps we can have at another time.

Currently, the level of taxation, both corporate and individual, in this country is proving to be uncompetitive. I do not want to see a situation where months or years from now we have to tell our children that the best thing they can do is to move out of this country to a place that has a more favourable tax regime to start a business, because here in Canada it is uncompetitive and they will simply be unable to compete.

It does not have to be that way. If we put our minds to it, and if there is the political will, we can do something about this unfair tax regime and the uncompetitive environment we find ourselves in today.

Let me conclude simply by saying that while I agree with, and will certainly support, Bill C-82, much more work needs to be done. I have not yet seen the government prove that it is willing to take the steps necessary to improve the competitive situation in this country, and once again, I implore it to do so.

Multilateral Instrument in Respect of Tax Conventions ActGovernment Orders

October 15th, 2018 / 4 p.m.

Liberal

Marwan Tabbara Liberal Kitchener South—Hespeler, ON

Madam Speaker, the member mentioned something about reducing corporate taxes in the United States. When we first came into government, we reduced the small business tax rate from 11% to 10.5%. We have continued to reduce that tax rate, and it is now down to 10%. In 2019, that will be reduced to 9%.

He also talked about competitiveness in the market and Canada not being competitive. I would have to disagree, because we just signed the USMCA, we signed CETA and we also signed the CPTPP, which gives us access to a market of 1.5 billion individuals.

Does the member not agree that our tax rate has been lowered for business and that we are competitive in world trade with these agreements?

Multilateral Instrument in Respect of Tax Conventions ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Madam Speaker, I want to point out a couple of things to my colleague.

First, with respect to the trade agreements he referenced, CETA was negotiated by our former Conservative government. TPP negotiations were initiated by our former government. I would also go further and point out to my colleague that under CETA, as one particular example, any trade agreement we signed benefits Canada as well as the European Union. That is certainly not the case with the USMCA.

Let us talk about one particular sector with respect to CETA: supply management. We allowed the European Union to gain access to the Canadian dairy market, primarily in Quebec, in the range of 2.5% to 3%. However, two things also accompanied that concession. We compensated our dairy producers to the tune of $4.3 billion, and most importantly, the reciprocal agreement provided that our dairy farmers had access to 18 countries in the European Union.

Contrast that with the recently signed USMCA, by which the United States gained access to the Canadian dairy market in Quebec while Canada got no access whatsoever to its market. That is not fair trade. That is not equal trade. That is capitulation. That is a concession outright.

That is why we continue to point out to Canadians that the USMCA, while a relief to most Canadians that an agreement was reached, is a bad deal, and that bad deal falls on the shoulders of the Liberal government.

Multilateral Instrument in Respect of Tax Conventions ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech. I think that his input is important. He seems to have a lot of experience in business and finance. I found his explanations of the issues interesting, particularly what he just said about the free trade agreement with the United States, which was clearly signed at the expense of Quebec and Ontario dairy farmers.

I would like to ask him a question. I think he is very articulate. He was saying earlier that it is problematic when businesses break the law. However, he did not find it problematic that our laws establish certain tax havens. It may be a bit candid of me to say this, since I have no training in that regard, but I cannot understand why big business is allowed to get away with so much.

When it comes to free trade, is it possible that the Conservatives' approach is depleting the skills in our revenue collection agencies, while the private sector is busy snapping up the best and brightest, those who know the most about tax evasion?

Multilateral Instrument in Respect of Tax Conventions ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Madam Speaker, let us just try to simplify this as much as possible.

I firmly believe that a low-tax, high-productivity environment is the best environment for everyone. I do not think there could be any argument on that. What we see today in Canada is almost the reverse, where we have a high-tax, low-productivity environment.

The Liberal government has proven time and time again that it seems to favour the Keynesian approach to fiscal policy. That has never proven to be effective in anyone's lifetime, and it certainly will not be effective if the government keeps pursuing that road.

In addition to its inability and unwillingness to at least engage in meaningful consultation about tax reform and the reduction of taxes, it has also continuously increased the debt load of Canadians. From promising a modest $10-billion annual deficit, the Liberals have gone far beyond that to the point now that officials in their own finance department have suggested that we will not see a balanced budget until 2045.

We have a situation where we have increasing debt in this country and uncompetitive and higher than necessary taxes. That is a recipe for fiscal disaster and economic ruin, and the Liberals know it. They simply need the political will to do something about it.

Multilateral Instrument in Respect of Tax Conventions ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, there are many aspects of the member's speech that I would love to address, and I look forward to what will no doubt be a great debate on trade in the coming days and weeks. The USMCA deal is an incredible deal that is going to create all sorts of opportunities for Canadians. We fundamentally disagree with the opposition on its position. We recognize the true value and benefits for Canada's middle class.

My question is related specifically to the issue of tax fairness. What we have seen under the Prime Minister and this government over the last three years is a great deal of effort on that file. We could talk about the special tax on Canada's wealthiest one per cent. We could talk about the tax break for Canada's middle class. We could talk about the close to $1 billion put in by this government to go after individuals who are avoiding taxes. Now we have a legislative response to try to ensure that Canadians are taxed in a fairer way. It is budgetary. It is legislative. It is a progressive government moving forward on what is an important issue for Canada's middle class.

When the member reflects on the bill itself, would he not say that the bill itself is worthy of supporting?

Multilateral Instrument in Respect of Tax Conventions ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

The answer is yes, Madam Speaker. I said it in my remarks earlier, and I say it again here. I will be supporting Bill C-82, because I agree with the intent of the bill. However, as I pointed out in my remarks, the government has failed in its ability to follow through on that intent.

I have not seen any meaningful recovery of tax dollars yet by the government. There has been some minor recovery, but certainly not to the extent the government should be attacking the problem.

The problem is that currently between $20 and $60 billion a year is leaving this country through tax avoidance measures by multinational corporations. Think of what that $20 to $60 billion could do for our country. Think of the benefits for our country in terms of health care, as one example.

The government has shown decidedly no desire whatsoever to go after some of these multinational companies that continuously flout the tax system by avoiding taxes. Instead, and I have to point this out, since my hon. colleague raised the question, all the government has done over the past couple of years is try to label small business people as tax cheats. If there are tax cheats out there, they are on the large multinational scale.

The government has done absolutely nothing to try to recover that money but instead tries to turn hard-working, small business people in Canada into tax cheats themselves with its own legislation, and that is shameful.

Multilateral Instrument in Respect of Tax Conventions ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Is the House ready for the question?

Multilateral Instrument in Respect of Tax Conventions ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Multilateral Instrument in Respect of Tax Conventions ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Multilateral Instrument in Respect of Tax Conventions ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Multilateral Instrument in Respect of Tax Conventions ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Finance.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House resumed from October 1 consideration of the motion that Bill C-77, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

National Defence ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the very fine and hon. colleague from Kingston and the Islands.

It is an honour for me to once again rise in this honourable House to speak on behalf of the residents of my riding of Davenport on Bill C-77, which is an act to amend the National Defence Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other acts. The focus of my comments over the next 10 minutes is to discuss the importance of this bill and its implications for indigenous peoples.

Before I begin, I want to say that repairing the relationship and building a new nation-to-nation relationship with the indigenous people of this country is very important to Davenport residents. They want to see both a renewed relationship and that we have made key progress. I am very glad to be focusing on the implications for indigenous peoples and highlight two key things that this bill would do that would specifically benefit the indigenous peoples of Canada.

The first is that Bill C-77 includes indigenous sentencing provisions that would require that military tribunals consider the circumstances of indigenous offenders at sentencing, as is the case in the civilian justice system. The second is that through Bill C-77, we would ensure that indigenous people are given the same rights and respect in the military as in civilian courts.

I am getting a little ahead of myself, so I will provide some context. Each time that Canada has called upon its armed forces, indigenous peoples have volunteered to proudly and honourably serve their country. Many have done so while facing discrimination and inequality from the very people they were sworn to defend and the very institution they have chosen to serve. It is part of our history that we acknowledge sadly, and a wrong that we seek to right each and every day.

As all members of the military, indigenous service members make sacrifices to serve. They have left their homes, families and communities to fight in war zones so that Canadians may enjoy peace and security here at home in Canada. They were valued allies in the War of 1812. Then came the First and Second World Wars when thousands of indigenous servicemen and women risked their lives for freedom. They did so again in the Korean and Gulf wars. More recently, indigenous Canadian Armed Forces members served in missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and other UN-led missions.

When I was in Iqaluit, I saw a monument that was dedicated to indigenous Canadians who died in service of this country in various wars in our past. There are countless members of the Rangers who work diligently to protect our sovereignty, perform search and rescue operations, and carry out operations and patrols. I had a chance to meet with a group of them when I arrived in Iqaluit over the summer via the Canadian leaders at sea program that sailed on the HMCS Charlottetown from St. John's, Newfoundland, to Iqaluit. It was wonderful to meet the Rangers, to understand the work they do and how well they work with our Canadian Armed Forces. It was wonderful to have an opportunity to meet them.

I am not here to give a history lesson but to reaffirm the respect we have for indigenous Canadian Armed Forces members and how the legislation our government is proposing now reflects that respect.

As the Prime Minister has stated before, no relationship is more important than our relationship with indigenous peoples. Based on self-identification statistics from May 2017, indigenous Canadians make up a total of 2.7% of our armed forces. This means that nearly 2,500 indigenous members, in total, now serve in the regular and reserve forces. They are employed in careers throughout the Canadian Armed Forces and have become leaders in fields as diverse as engineering, physiotherapy, vehicle maintenance and systems specialities. Suffice it to say, their contributions are notable and Canadians owe these members a great debt of gratitude.

Our government has put an unprecedented focus on reconciliation with indigenous peoples. We understand that for far too long, indigenous peoples have had to prove their rights exist and have had to fight to have them recognized.

This past November, our Prime Minister delivered a powerful and long overdue apology to residential school survivors in Newfoundland. However, as the Prime Minister stated, saying sorry is not enough. Saying sorry does not undo the harm that was done and does not bring back the culture they lost. A real apology begins with action. That is why we are taking steps for real and lasting change.

Earlier this year, our Prime Minister stood in the House to discuss the recognition and implementation of rights framework. That was done in February of this year. The importance of that is we are taking a much more proactive stand and in doing so, we are not only transforming the status quo of how Canada operates and interacts with indigenous people, but also challenging and supporting indigenous communities in a positive way to lead change, rebuild and find solutions, and take their rightful place within Confederation in ways that reflect indigenous self-determination.

I am very proud that we did that earlier this year. Our Prime Minister further stated that it is our job as a government to support, accompany and partner with first nations, Inuit and Métis people. It is our responsibility to provide them with the framework and tools they can use to chart a path forward. The framework will lay the foundation for real and lasting change. It is up to us to take concrete action toward a better future for indigenous peoples.

Actions include reducing the overrepresentation of indigenous Canadians in federal prisons, which is about one-quarter of all inmates in Canadian prisons. Unfortunately, female incarceration rates are higher than men's, at 38%. It is something we really need to work on.

Indeed, this is one of the priorities set out in the Minister of Justice's mandate letter from the Prime Minister when she first was appointed. This speaks directly to the calls to action declared by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was called upon by our government to address the overrepresentation of indigenous people in custody.

While the military justice system has not experienced overrepresentation of indigenous offenders, the proposed changes to the National Defence Act reflect our understanding that indigenous Canadians have faced very difficult histories and that they should be taken into account when determining which sentences would best serve justice in each particular case. The proposed amendments to the National Defence Act mirror the civil system's considerations for sentencing and our nation's history.

As it currently stands, the National Defence Act does not mandate military tribunals to consider the specific circumstances of indigenous Canadians when determining sentencing the way our civilian criminal justice system does.

This legislation will change that and bring the military system more in line with our civilian criminal justice system. Canadian civil courts are mandated to consider the circumstances and history of indigenous offenders when considering sentencing options. This information then informs the judge's decision about appropriate sentencing for the indigenous offender.

Bill C-77 would enshrine those same principles in the military justice system. The proposed legislation will expand on the principle that, in all cases, a sentence should be the least severe sentence required to maintain the discipline, efficiency and morale of the Canadian Forces that is appropriate given the gravity of the offence committed and the responsibility of the offender.

The legislation then goes a step further and mandates particular attention to the circumstances of indigenous offenders when determining appropriate sentences for service offences. The hope is that keeping indigenous offenders out of civilian and service prisons and detention barracks, when justice can be met through other punishments, will allow for better outcomes, greater rehabilitation, less recidivism and a greater sense of justice within Canada and our military.

Amending the National Defence Act speaks directly to our government's efforts to repair and renew our relationship with indigenous peoples. Our Department of National Defence is also committed to focus on building relations with local chiefs and engaging with local communities. I know there is a lot more work that needs to be done in our reconciliation efforts, but I know that the bill goes a long way along this path. I am confident that our government will continue to take this right path forward.

National Defence ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her presentation.

However, we are left wondering why it has taken so long to introduce this bill and why the proposed measures, which we generally support, were not introduced along with those that went into effect in September 2018.

There is one question that has gone unanswered, and I hope that the member will be able to enlighten me. Acts of self-harm continue to be considered an offence in the military justice system.

What protections will the Liberals put in place to ensure that members of the military have access to mental health services without fear of reprisal or disciplinary action?

National Defence ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, in terms of timing, I think we all wish things moved a lot faster in the government. All I say is that I am absolutely pleased that we finally have this before the House that we are finally strengthening victims rights within the military justice system.

In terms of my colleague's question around mental health and supports within this bill, what I will say is that this bill would give victims of service offenders clear statutory rights to information, protection, participation and restitution within the military justice system. It would also create the role of a victim liaison officer who would help guide victims through the military justice system and all the services and elements available to victims.

National Defence ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Madam Speaker, I think all of us at the defence committee are looking forward to having this bill get before us in relatively short order so that we can go through the bill clause by clause. This bill is a copy of Bill C-71 under the former Conservative government that was tabled just before the last election. It has taken three years to get it this far. I am glad we finally got it here but we have to move on it when we get it to committee.

I was wondering if my colleague would talk a little bit about this. She mentioned the victims bill of rights, which is in the Criminal Code now, and how we are incorporating that within the National Defence Act to ensure that victims of crime in the military system have the same rights and abilities. It also refers to the importance of rights to information for victims.

Unfortunately, correction services Canada broke the bill of rights when it transferred Terri-Lynne McClintic, the murderer of Tori Stafford, into a healing lodge. That information should have been shared with the family of Tori Stafford and in particular, Rodney Stafford, her father.

I wonder if my colleague would talk about how we remedy that within Corrections Canada since we are now bringing the rights for the victim into the National Defence Act in Bill C-77.

National Defence ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, there are a couple of comments that the hon. member made, which I would like to respond to.

My understanding is that there was a similar bill introduced under the former Harper Conservative government. However, it was introduced in the dying days of that government. I wonder whether there was any intention to actually pass that legislation. We have made sure that this legislation was introduced in more than enough time for us to be able to see this bill through the legislative process. I am very proud that we, through this bill, will be strengthening victims rights within the military justice system.

In terms of some of the additional comments that the hon. member made, there is, as part of this bill, the declaration of victims rights. It would ensure that victims who come forward to report harassment and misconduct would have the support that they need. It very much builds on Bill C-65, which is our commitment to create workplaces free from harassment and discrimination from the federal sphere. Also, as I mentioned earlier, for those victims who are looking for specific services, it would create the role of a victim liaison officer who would help guide them through the military justice system and what is available to help them.

National Defence ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Davenport for sharing her time with me today.

I stand today in support of Bill C-77, which would bring important changes to Canada's military justice system, including greater support and new statutory rights for victims of service offences.

During today's debate, I will focus my remarks on one specific aspect of the legislation: the proposed reform to the military's summary trial process. These changes would enhance the efficiency of the military justice system. They would preserve the current responsiveness of the system in maintaining discipline, while simplifying the process of dealing with more minor breaches of military discipline.

Our military justice system is unique and necessary. It contributes significantly to the ability of our armed forces to achieve its mission here at home and around the world. It does this by assisting military commanders in maintaining discipline, efficiency and morale.

In Canada we hold our military members to a high standard, a standard which is also different from what we expect from a civilian. These men and women not only serve our country,they also represent it within our borders and abroad. Their discipline affects not only the operations of the Canadian Armed Forces, but also our reputation as a great country throughout the world. They are expected to conduct themselves accordingly. They must reflect the best of us. In times of peace and armed conflict, the foundation of military efficiency and excellence is an adherence to law, a commitment to discipline and obedience to authority. Rules must be obeyed. The chain of command must be respected. Breaches of military law must bring consequences for the greater good of the military and all Canadians.

Serious breaches of military discipline are handled by courts martial. This would remain unchanged under the proposed legislation as courts martial would retain the sole jurisdiction over service offences. However, Bill C-77 would change and improve how minor breaches of military discipline are handled. It would replace the current summary trials process in the Canadian Armed Forces with a new system of summary hearings to better ensure minor breaches are heard and ruled on in a fair and timely manner.

In Canada we take pride in being a global leader in the development of a fair and effective military justice system. Bill C-77 demonstrates that continuing commitment by enhancing the rights of victims and the efficiency of our military justice system. Historically, summary trials have made up over 90% of all tribunals and courts martial have made up the remainder. This system was established under military law to ensure justice in respect of minor service offences. The proposed summary hearing process seeks to enhance the efficiency of the military justice system. It would do so by creating a process which deals with minor breaches of military discipline quicker and more simply.

The new process would be non-penal, non-criminal in nature. It would focus exclusively on minor breaches of military discipline. Hearings would be conducted fairly, more rapidly and by a wider range of military officers. The summary hearing process would maintain the current responsiveness and enhance the overall operational effectiveness of the Canadian Armed Forces. It is about ensuring that we, as a country, adapt with the times and continue to respect the guidance the Supreme Court of Canada provided us some 25 years ago. At that time, it noted, “To maintain the Armed Forces in a state of readiness, the military must be in a position to enforce internal discipline effectively and efficiently.”

The proposed reforms would also show trust and confidence in our military leaders. By improving the chain of command's ability to address minor breaches of military discipline, we would contribute to improving the efficiency of the system and the operational effectiveness of our armed forces.

It is important to emphasize to this House and Canadians that these new summary hearings would focus exclusively on minor breaches of military discipline. These minor breaches would be called service infractions and would be created in regulation. They would not be considered criminal offences and would be dealt with at the unit level. They would be punishable by one sanction or a combination of sanctions, including reduction in rank, reprimands and deprivation of pay. More serious breaches of military discipline, known as service offences, would continue to be tried under our system of courts martial.

To further increase efficiency, the officers who conduct summary hearings would have an extended jurisdiction so that they are able to conduct a hearing for persons of all ranks as long as the officer conducting the hearing is at least one rank higher than the person charged.

The Supreme Court has affirmed on a number of occasions that our military justice system is necessary to meet the needs of our Armed Forces. It falls to the government of the day to ensure that the military justice system is configured to help ensure the highest standards of conduct and discipline. This is required so that our Armed Forces are ready at all times to act decisively and effectively in service to their country.

Military justice must evolve just as civilian justice changes with the times. The proposed changes I have outlined today are about making the military justice system simpler, more effective and more efficient. They are about ensuring that minor and serious breaches to discipline are dealt with in accordance with their respective character.

The new summary hearing process would help ensure discipline and preserve morale at the unit level by issuing sanctions that are corrective in nature but do not involve detention or a criminal record. It would allow the chain of command to address minor breaches fairly and more rapidly, which in turn would contribute to the operational effectiveness of the Canadian Armed Forces.

In summary, Bill C-77 would create a faster, fairer and more flexible process to handle minor breaches of military discipline, a process that reflects our Canadian values while supporting the unique needs of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Since launching the new defence policy, “Strong, Secure, Engaged”, our government has been improving support for the Canadian Armed Forces and the men and women who serve. Bill C-77 would further contribute to an effective military that is ready to defend and protect Canadians at home and abroad. This is a good law, and I look forward to seeing it passed by this House.

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4:30 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Madam Speaker, my colleague from Kingston and the Islands is a member of the defence committee. I am looking forward to some of the discussions we will have around the committee table.

I want to ask the member if he is aware that the Court Martial Appeal Court recently ruled in the Beaudry decision. It was a split decision that has now been referred to the Supreme Court. Everything that we are trying to do in Bill C-77 to strengthen the judicial system within the Canadian Armed Forces could be completely undermined by the Beaudry decision, which is saying that all crimes committed that fall under the Criminal Code should be tried in a civil court. That creates all sorts of difficulties as it relates to a good order of discipline and morale within the Canadian Armed Forces. Of course, I think the chain of command is very concerned about this. We know that in the civil court system there is a huge backlog, especially with respect to sexual assault cases. If Operation Honour is to work at dealing with sexual misconduct within the Canadian Armed Forces, we need to have a strong military justice system.

I wonder if the member could comment on the possible questions that will arise with respect to the Beaudry decision once this bill goes to committee.

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, as I have said before, I am not overly familiar with that particular case. I absolutely look forward to learning about it more so that we can have this discussion when the bill goes to committee. Having said that, I strongly believe there are always opportunities to improve the legislation, to adapt it, and to make the necessary changes. That is what our committee process is for. I look forward to working with the member for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman when we get to that stage so that we can have those discussions and see where we can improve upon things.

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4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, I had the opportunity to sit in committee during this study and there were some great witnesses, far more learned witnesses than I am. One of the witnesses, herself a criminal lawyer, testified that a great way to speed up the judicial process, which this bill is partly intended to address, was to fill some of the judicial vacancies. This administration has moved on that at a glacial pace. That impacts ridings, rural ridings specifically such as mine, Cariboo—Prince George. We are seeing cases being thrown out because a judge is not always available to hear some of the court cases. I would like to ask my hon. colleague his points of view on the glacial pace that his administration, this administration, is moving at to fill those judicial vacancies.

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, this might be slightly outside the scope of the discussion today as it relates to our military justice system, but I will say that when we get into any situation where we cannot try cases because of the fact that we do not have enough justices currently sitting on the bench, then we definitely need to ensure that the vacancies are filled.

I have great confidence in the Minister of Justice and her ability to exercise due diligence to make sure that people are appointed in a timely fashion so that we do not continue to experience the problems that the member suggested.