Mr. Speaker, as I indicated from the outset in response to the parliamentary secretary's speech, the NDP is very proud to support the bill. In response to another question for the Conservative member, our position is that we want to get the bill to committee as soon as possible.
No bill is perfect and we have some suggestions of a constructive nature that would deal with strengthening the rights of indigenous people who serve our country in the military.
As I indicated in a question for the parliamentary secretary that we believe the code of service, the service offences and the discipline changes ought to occur to address those who attempt to take their own lives, a far too common occurrence in the military. We do not think that should be the subject of discipline as it currently is now. We think a more compassionate approach is required. Therefore, we will work, I hope arm in arm with the government and the Conservatives, to see if we can effect those changes at committee when we get there.
As a little background, the bill before us enacts reforms to the military justice system that were left out of Bill C-15 from the previous Conservative government, which received assent five years ago, in 2013. It is not clear why the Liberals did not introduce changes earlier to complete the system, but better late than never would be how I would summarize the position in which we find ourselves.
This is a good legislation. We are not alone in taking that position. It was said by Lindsay Rodman, a fellow of the Global Affairs Institute, in the Globe and Mail earlier this year. By establishing a victims bill of rights in the military, as this bill would do, it would mirror protections that already exist for Canadian civilians with one additional provision. That provision in the bill. It calls for the creation of a “victim liaison officer” to help shepherd the victim through the justice system. This is a very laudable step for the armed forces to take and it will go some distance to deal with the pernicious issue of sexual assault in the military. I commend the government for realizing that. This step, although not sufficient in and of itself, will be very valuable in getting more justice for those kinds of victims. I salute the government for such a creative position.
What happens until Bill C-77 is enacted? That commanding and designated officers, with often no legal training, preside at summary trials in the military justice system.
Summary trials are where most of the action is, where most of the offences are dealt with in a summary fashion for the vast majority. These people are not legally trained. They are not required to prepare a transcript of the proceedings. There is no ability to effectively appeal. There is no requirement to apply rules of evidence to assure a fair trial. An accused person can be compelled to testify against herself or himself. Therefore, there is no constitutional right to protection against self-incrimination. Adverse inferences can be drawn from the silence of the accused and the accused cannot be assisted by legal representation.
Those are serious drawbacks in our system of military justice. It did not need to be this way. Other countries have given criminal justice over to the civilian courts in the context of military discipline. In other words, there is no similar provision in the National Defence Act of the kind before us today.
The need to overhaul rights for the accused is as important as dealing, as the government so laudably has, with victims in the military justice system.
Perhaps I can be forgiven if I try to put this debate in a slightly broader context. Why do we have a separate system of military justice in the first place? People watching this debate may wonder that because other countries have not chosen to do so at all. For example, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Belgium and France have removed criminal offences from the jurisdiction of military courts. Their military personnel have the same rights in the same courts as civilians.
Therefore, Canadians may wonder, why is it that we do have this separate system of military justice, and why is it so important that in this bill we move to modernize it and bring it into compliance and conformity with the rights that Canadians have elsewhere? That is a fair question. The answer to that is that the courts of Canada have long accepted that there needs to be a separate military justice system for people in the military. Chief Justice Lamer, in 1992 in the Supreme Court of Canada, said that “The purpose of a separate system of military tribunals is to allow the Armed Forces to deal with matters that pertain directly to the discipline, efficiency and morale of the military.”
Those words are now found in the amendments before us today in recognition and confirmation by Parliament of what the Supreme Court has said. Those words were also repeated in a subsequent case in 2015 by Justice Cromwell in the Moriarity case. However, the difference is that the court now has said we do not need to have things pertain directly to the military; there does not have to be what Justice Cromwell called a “nexus” to the military. There was just a broad understanding that we need to have this separate code as a consequence. Therefore, people might ask, why do we need to have a separate code of military justice? Indeed, the charter acknowledges that it will be separate. For example, there is no trial by jury, per section 11 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The charter acknowledges that there will be military tribunals and military law, so even in our Constitution we accept that this would be necessary.
These offences can occur, I remind members, abroad or in Canada. If our military men and women are serving in Mali, they will be subject to the same sort of code in that country, not the country in question where they are serving but under Canadian military law and there is the special Code of Service Discipline, which is at issue. Part III of the National Defence Act before us adds this declaration of victims' rights to that code, but that code contemplates that we need, for purposes of discipline in the field, to have a separate disciplinary jurisdiction for service offences that may be, as my Conservative colleague acknowledged, not offences in the normal course of criminal law but pertain particularly to the need for military discipline no matter where people are serving, such as arms misconduct in the presence of the enemy, mutiny, disobedience of a lawful command, desertion, absence without leave, negligent performance of duty and conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline. That is a pretty big waterfront of things that can go wrong if one is serving in the military, and that is why there need to be broader rights granted to the accused individuals so they can face their accuser with the same kind of rights that Canadians have come to expect under our Constitution and under our criminal law system. That is why this bill is so important and so long overdue.
What would this bill do? Among other things, we have talked about the victims' rights aspect of this bill, but it also deals with a number of important principles that would dramatically change the military justice system. I would just like to make sure I get the wording right in describing that. Among other things, in addition to this declaration of victims' rights in the Code of Service Discipline, there are other things that are added or amended in that code. First, it confirms that the purpose of the code and the fundamental purpose of imposing sanctions is to protect the privacy and security of victims and witnesses in proceedings involving certain sexual offences; specifying factors that a military judge can take into consideration when determining whether to make an exclusion order; and a lot of additional changes to the way in which witnesses can testify, even allowing them to do so with a pseudonym in appropriate cases.
These are things that would never be permitted in normal courts but are recognized as important in the context of the unique requirements of discipline in the military. There is the ability on application to make publication bans for victims under the age of 18 and so forth.
It seems to me that there are some really positive changes in the bill that need to be supported by members on all sides of the House.
For several years we have had the concept of victim impact statements. Why would that not be applicable in the context of military justice? There is no reason why not, and I proud to see that the bill would allow that to occur in the circumstances of military justice as well.
As I said, we have two types of military justice, two parallel tracks as the courts have said: regular civilian criminal law and the Code of Service Discipline in part III of the National Defence Act. The goal of this legislation, as I understand it, is to bring those in closer harmony so that the accused will increasingly have the rights that we have discussed and take for granted in the criminal justice system, while taking into account the needs of miliary discipline as well.
It is going to be a balancing judgment. When the bill gets to committee there will be some things that we may want to address to ensure that we have that balance right. By everyone's acknowledgement in the House, the bill is an enormous improvement over the status quo, but we still have quite a considerable distance to go if we are going to get that balance right.
I will speak to two things that need to be addressed when we get to committee and have the opportunity to roll up our sleeves and deal with this in trying to achieve the best balance.
We need to have greater protection for those suffering from mental illness. In my riding, and I am sure in the ridings of all members in this place, we have seen people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. We used to call it “shell shock” in the First World War. It is now manifesting itself in so many different ways. People are coming home crippled and wounded, not just in a physical sense but wounded mentally. In the 21st century, we have to do better at providing justice for those people who put their lives on the line for us but come home and often find they do not have the services they need.
What about when they are serving in the forces, however? Will they be stigmatized if they attempt suicide? Will they face disciplinary sanctions because it is a problem in terms of the line of command and discipline? We cannot have that. In a civilized country like ours, while acknowledging as I do the need for discipline, we cannot have people penalized for crying out for help because of a mental disorder, probably exacerbated if not caused by their service to their country. That has to be fixed and we are going to work with the government to fix it when we get to committee.
As has been acknowledged, there have been some things to improve the lot of indigenous people who served in the military. These are long overdue. When we work constructively in committee, we can make some positive changes to this aspect in the bill as well. In the proposed bill, judges are allowed to take into account the circumstances of aboriginal offenders when determining sentencing. That has been the law in the rest of the land since the Gladue principle in 1999, but it needs to find its way into the code of military justice, and it will, thanks to Bill C-77. Is that sufficient? We will suggest some improvements when the bill gets to committee.
This legislation should be understood as completing the reforms to the military justice system that were proposed under the previous Conservative government but left out when Bill C-15 was adopted in the 41st Parliament. It has taken over two years for the Liberals to finish the job and get the bill before us. We are getting there. We have improvements before us.
I am very happy this morning to note the goodwill on all sides to get this right, but we need to be treating our military personnel with the same kinds of rights, largely, as they are entitled to under the charter. The charter does apply to military justice. I did not want to leave anyone with the impression that because there is reference in the charter to military justice and military tribunals, with the charter saying that no juries will be part of that system, that somehow the section 7 legal rights of the accused, etc., are not fully there.
The problem, as we know, is that there are limitations on the charter. The government has the ability to say that the charter rights of an individual civilian may be larger than those in the military because it can say it can demonstrably demonstrate that those limits are justified in a free and democratic society. That is how the military justice system gets to kind of erode the rights that would otherwise be available to members of the Canadian Armed Forces. It says these limits are required because of the nature of being in the military. I understand that, but as much as possible, of course, our goal should be to ensure that those rights are as close to those available in civilian courts as possible.
Mr. Justice Gilles Létourneau, formerly of the Federal Court, and Professor Michel Drapeau, a retired colonel in the military, have written a book called Military Justice in Action. It is a gigantic tome that demonstrates there is a huge body of law that the JAG and people who defend military personnel before court martial, appeal tribunals and so forth, have had to learn. It is now well entrenched, ever since we have had a military in this country, that there are these parallel tracks.
The goal of Bill C-77, in short, should be to demonstrate why the limits that are there, the legitimate limits for morale and discipline, cannot approach those in civilian courts. If other countries have seen fit to eliminate military justice in the criminal context and give it entirely over to civilian courts, it is up to the government to demonstrate why the rights of the accused are somehow lesser simply because service members had joined the military. One might say that the rights should be broader because they are the patriots, putting their lives on the line for the rest of us. However, I do acknowledge continually that the courts have made clear that legitimate discipline and morale issues in Canada have been affirmed to require a separate track.
Our job, in short, as we address Bill C-77, is twofold. It is to make sure that the rights of the victims, the declaration that this bill contains, is not simply an empty declaration, but that we can make sure that those words mean something to those who have suffered as victims and, equally important, that the rights of accused are as broad as those enjoyed by other Canadians, unless the military can justify and demonstrate clearly that they need those restrictions on charter rights for purposes of discipline. This bill goes a great distance to achieving that goal. New Democrats will work with the government to make sure that we get it right, and we look forward to the opportunity to do so.