Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to join colleagues here today for the third reading debate of Bill C-77, an act to amend the National Defence Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other acts.
I must say that it is my profound honour to represent the city of Halifax in this place. The riding of Halifax includes the home of Canada's east coast navy and the Maritime Atlantic Command, or MARLANT. It includes elements of the 5th Canadian Division, the great Mighty Maroon Machine. It includes elements of the 12 Wing Shearwater air force base and, of course, all of their families. All these servicemen and women call Halifax home. Over these years, I have developed many lasting friendships as I meet them on base or on ship and as they meet me in their member of Parliament's office.
I am so pleased that this bill is before us. With it, our government is going to be strengthening victims' rights within the military justice system. With Bill C-77, we would also enshrine a declaration of victims' rights in the code of service discipline within the National Defence Act. We would also ensure victims' rights are respected and, notably, that we are providing victims the right to a victims liaison officer, who will help victims navigate the often confusing justice system. The bill would also enhance the speed and fairness of the summary trial system to address minor breaches of military discipline.
I am very proud to be in this House today to contribute to our government's efforts to have the military justice system continuously evolve to comply with Canadian laws and values, and we will ensure it remains responsive to both accused and victims. Reforms are building on Canada's military justice system in the long, proud history that it has of helping to maintain a high level of discipline, efficiency and morale within the Canadian Armed Forces, and it is in that spirit that our government has committed to reviewing, modernizing and improving our civilian and military systems of justice.
I am happy to reiterate what many of my colleagues around the House have said today: While some of the changes we are proposing to the National Defence Act are minor and some are considerably more significant, at their core each strives to make sure that the military justice system remains relevant and legitimate.
The Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed on multiple occasions that the military needs a military justice system. Our military justice system contributes to the maintenance of discipline, efficiency and morale in the Canadian Armed Forces, but what is more, the military justice system is needed to deal with cases of breaches to military discipline that have no equivalent and no raison d'être in Canada's civilian criminal justice system.
I will now offer a broad overview of the changes that we are proposing through Bill C-77.
To start, the amendments will clearly enshrine victims' rights in the military justice system and make sure adequate support is put in place to support them by adopting a more victim-centred approach in the military justice system. To do that, Bill C-77 proposes to add a declaration of victims rights within the code of service discipline. This declaration will ensure that the victims of service offences are informed, protected and heard throughout the military justice process.
The declaration provides victims of service offences with four new rights.
The first is the right to information, so that victims understand the process that they are a part of, how the case is proceeding, which services and programs are available to them and how to file a complaint if they believe their rights under the declaration have been denied or infringed.
The nature of the military justice system is unique, and understanding it can be difficult and even sometimes intimidating. For those reasons, this legislation includes the appointment of the victims liaison officer to help guide victims through the process and inform them of how the system works. Under the victims' right to information, they would also have access to information about the investigation, prosecution and sentencing of the person who has harmed them.
The second core right in the legislation is that of protection, so that victims' privacy and security are considered at all stages of the military justice system. Moreover, where it is appropriate, it will ensure that their identity is protected. It also ensures that reasonable and necessary measures are taken to protect victims from intimidation or retaliation.
The third right is for participation, so that victims can express their views about the decisions to be made by military justice authorities and have those views considered. This right also includes the right to present a victim impact statement at a court martial so that the harm they have suffered can be fully appreciated at sentencing. In addition, it will be possible to submit military and community impact statements to the court martial. These will convey the full extent of the harm caused to the Canadian Armed Forces or the community as a result of the offence.
The fourth right is to restitution, so that the court martial may consider making a restitution order for all offences when financial losses and damages could be reasonably determined.
The next notable change introduced by this legislation relates to how indigenous offenders are sentenced. This is also a change that stems from the evolution of Canada's civilian criminal justice system and our desire to ensure that the military justice system reflects our times while remaining faithful to its mandate.
In the case of the military justice system, the changes introduced by Bill C-77 will make the system faster and simpler. The summary hearing will be introduced and will address minor breaches of military discipline in a non-penal and non-criminal manner. This new system will be more agile, timely and responsive. More serious matters will be directed to courts martial, and there will no longer be a summary trial.
The summary hearing will only deal with a new category of minor breach of military discipline termed a service infraction. All service offences that are more major in nature will be dealt with at a court martial. There will be no criminal consequences for service infractions, and military commanders who conduct summary hearings will be limited to non-penal sanctions to address them.
This approach has the added benefit of improving the chain of command's ability to address minor breaches of military discipline fairly and more rapidly. We expect that this will enhance the responsiveness and efficiency of military discipline, thereby contributing to the operational effectiveness of the Canadian Armed Forces.
In 2017, our government launched Canada's defence policy, “strong, secure, engaged”. It is a policy that charts a course for the defence of Canada for the next 20 years. It puts our people first and at the heart of what we do. It spells out clearly how the government will support the Canadian Armed Forces as an organization and support its women and men in uniform as our most important asset. On the whole, that policy is a commitment to take concrete steps to give service members what they need to continue excelling in their work, as they always have.
The military justice system is central to how the Canadian Armed Forces accomplishes what it does every single day. It sets up the framework for service members to maintain an outstanding level of discipline and a high level of morale so that they can successfully accomplish the difficult tasks we ask of them. Knowing that they are protected by a military justice system that keeps pace with Canadian values and concepts of justice builds great unit cohesion among our forces as well.
It is a pleasure to see this legislation progress to second reading, as we continue to make every effort to deliver for the women and men of our armed forces and for all Canadians.
The drive to be fair, to be just, and to restore that which has been harmed is a drive that dates back to the very foundations of our country and our armed forces. Today we are taking steps in the pursuit of justice, steps to take care of victims while we seek to ensure justice is served, steps to ensure that indigenous peoples in the military justice system receive the same considerations when sentenced as those in the civilian justice system and steps to uphold justice within our military so that they can continue defending this country.
I thank every member in this House who will be supporting this very important bill and working with us toward that very worthy goal for the servicemen and women in Halifax, across Canada and indeed around the world. It is just the right thing to do.