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.