House of Commons Hansard #389 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-77.

Topics

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4:15 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Stetski NDP Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Madam Speaker, we are very much in favour of the bill, but we did propose an amendment and I would like to hear from the member why the government did not accept it. I want to read a quote from Sheila Fynes, who appeared as an individual before the committee. She said:

...it is disturbing that even today, under paragraph 98(c), a service member could face life imprisonment for an attempted suicide. It would be more appropriate to consider self-harm under such circumstances as being symptomatic of a serious and urgent mental health concern, and signalling the need for appropriate and immediate medical intervention.

Why did the Liberal government not remove subsection 98(c) from the legislation?

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4:15 p.m.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Lib.

Matt DeCourcey

Madam Speaker, this government, and I am sure all parliamentarians in the House, take very seriously issues of life and death, issues of suicide. I have no doubt and entire confidence that this issue was studied in-depth with a certain comprehensiveness at the committee and the report stage. It was a decision of the committee, which is independent of the government, and a decision at report stage by parliamentarians not to adopt this motion.

We continue to monitor the effectiveness of the military justice system by moving forward with Bill C-77, but it will not end there. We will continue to ensure we have an effective, fair, responsive military justice system that ensures Canadian Armed Forces members receive what they need and delivers fair, robust and accurate results.

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4:15 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened closely to the speech of my colleague across the way.

At first he seemed to want to make a distinction between the bill the Conservatives introduced in the previous Parliament and the one before us today.

One thing that is clear is that the bill is being met with broad consensus, give or take a few amendments that some wanted to see included, such as the one we just discussed.

My question is as follows. Since the bill has the consensus of the House and almost had consensus in the previous Parliament, then why did we have to wait for the last year of the Liberal term to move forward with these long-awaited measures?

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4:15 p.m.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Lib.

Matt DeCourcey

Madam Speaker, I think that our government's record on national defence over the past three and a half years speaks for itself.

We have made unprecedented investments in the military. Some of those investments were made at Base Gagetown, in my community. Not only did we invest in infrastructure and the needs of our military members, but we also invested in their physical and mental health, as well as the well-being of the members and their families.

I believe we have an exceptional record on military issues, and Bill C-77 enhances it even further. We are proud of our record, and we will always support Canadian military members and their families.

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4:15 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, as we debate the legislation, the issue of health comes up on an ongoing basis. We have seen a commitment from the government of about $17.5 million for a centre of excellence, which will focus on the prevention, assessment and treatment of PTSD and related mental health conditions.

Could my colleague provide his thoughts not only about legislation, but other budgetary matters that will make a difference?

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4:15 p.m.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Lib.

Matt DeCourcey

Madam Speaker, that is another element of the record this government has when it comes to supporting the military, which is so important to the service women and men of our armed forces and their families.

There have been great advancements over the last number of years in recognition of and research on how to prevent and treat different forms of mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder to which far too many members of our military succumb. We will always stand to support the mental health of the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces as well as their families and the communities that support them right across the country.

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4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ziad Aboultaif Conservative Edmonton Manning, AB

Madam Speaker, before I begin, I would like to inform the House I will be sharing my time today with the hon. member for Red Deer—Mountain View.

It is a pleasure to rise in the House today to discuss an issue of great importance to members of the Canadian Armed Forces, their loved ones and all those who support both victims of crime and our Canadian Armed Forces. As a member of Parliament from northeast Edmonton, I have the great pleasure of representing many members of the Canadian Armed Forces who live off base while deployed at Edmonton Garrison.

When I meet with these men and women, their conviction, dedication and love for our country never ceases to amaze me. I am very pleased to be able to lend my voice to them this afternoon as we continue to discuss Bill C-77, an act to amend the National Defence Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other acts.

In the last Parliament, the former Conservative government worked hard to develop and entrench the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights in law. It was a very proud day when the legislation was enacted, as it rebalanced our justice system to put more of an emphasis on protecting and empowering victims and standing up for their rights during criminal proceedings.

Over the years, there was an emphasis on ensuring accused people were treated properly, and everyone here understands how important that is as well. However, Canada's Conservatives believe victims rights need to be at the heart of our justice system. We understand victims deserve the right to information, protection, participation and, where possible, restitution.

Bill C-77 is an important piece of legislation. It continues the good work of our former Conservative government of enshrining the rights of victims of a crime in law, this time for our military justice system. The bill is largely based on legislation our former government put forward, which was Bill C-71 from the last Parliament.

Bill C-71 was introduced to ensure victims going through the military justice system had many of the same protections provided to civilians by the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. I am very pleased the Liberal government did the right thing and used our previous legislation as the basis for Bill C-77 .

Canada has a long history of having a parallel justice system for our military. There are those who rail against this idea and believe military justice issues should be handled in civilian courts. Perhaps they do not understand why we have two systems, or maybe they do and simply disagree. Having these parallel systems has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada a number of times, and is even protected in the charter under section 11.

The sad reality is that we often must ask much of the members of the Canadian Armed Forces. We ask them to risk life, limb and mental health for the protection of our great country and the promotion of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, often in far off and hostile environments. This operational reality of the military means Canadian Armed Forces members must be held to a higher standard than what would be expected of a civilian.

This reality is recognized in the Supreme Court's 1992 ruling of R. v. Généreux, which acknowledges the armed forces must be able to deal with discipline issues quickly, effectively and efficiently for the sake of the operational readiness of our armed forces so that they may defend against threats to Canada's security. For this important reason, the armed forces has its own code of service discipline, as well as military justice tribunals to enforce it and ensure the military can accommodate its particular disciplinary needs.

That decision is from 1992. However, it has been upheld a number of times since then, most recently in 2015.

While out of necessity there is an imperative for the armed forces to be able to administer justice in its unique way, there is no reason why victims rights should not be also featured prominently in the military justice system. I believe that Bill C-77 is a good step forward in accomplishing this goal while building on the established code of service and Operation Honour to effectively combat sexual misconduct, harassment and deal with issues of intolerance in the Canadian Armed Forces.

While this is good legislation, which I am looking forward to supporting once again, I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to highlight some concerns I have with the bill as well.

Under the military justice system currently, charges can be dealt with through a summary trial or a court martial. Bill C-77 introduces a new category of service infractions consisting of minor infractions that can be dealt with through a new method of summary hearings, replacing summary trials. In proposed subsections 163.1(1), (2) and (3), Bill C-77 shifts the burden of proof. In a summary hearing it goes from “beyond a reasonable doubt” to “on a balance of probabilities”.

Currently, proof must be beyond a reasonable doubt, the same as in the civilian legal systems. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is one of the pillars of the Canadian justice system, and I believe that it should remain the case for our military justice system, particularly when we consider that through a summary hearing, a service member's commanding officer is able to confine them to barracks or ship for up to 21 days. In light of that realization, I believe the burden of proof should remain higher than “on a balance of probabilities”.

Unfortunately, our colleague for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman's amendment to make this sensible change was voted down at committee, though I hope it will receive further consideration at the other place. Failing that, I hope this will be able to be reconciled through regulation to both avoid a charter challenge and ensure that the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces can be treated justly if they find themselves being called to a summary hearing.

The last issue I want to briefly touch on is the issue initially raised by our NDP colleague for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke that Bill C-77 does not repeal parts of paragraph 98(c) of the National Defence Act, which lists self-harm as an offence that can result in a fine and/or imprisonment.

I take heart in the fact that the committee heard that this is rarely used and it is my understanding that the intention is to provide recourse against individuals who may maim or injure themselves in order to be excused from duty or to be discharged. I do appreciate that rationale, but we also cannot overlook that we ask members of the Canadian Armed Forces to do and bear witness to extraordinary things and that, as a result, not only their bodies can be damaged and scarred but their minds as well.

I do not believe anyone with the privilege to sit in this chamber supports prosecuting people who make a desperate act like self-harm because they are suffering from a mental health issue. Even if it is rarely used, I do not think it should even be an option. It is my understanding that when this issue came up in relation to Bill C-77, it was ruled out of scope of the legislation.

With that in mind I would like to echo our colleague for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman in calling for the Minister of National Defence to take this issue and come back to the House with a separate piece of legislation to address this oversight at the earliest opportunity.

The Canadian Armed Forces is a source of great pride to our country. Its members conduct themselves with honour as they serve, both in our communities and abroad. Due to their sacrifices and the sacrifices of those who came before them, we can afford the privilege to live in relative peace and security—

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4:30 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The time is up. Maybe the hon. member will be able to finish his thoughts during the questions and comments. I did allow him a bit of time.

Questions and comments, the hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader.

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4:30 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, at the onset let me just acknowledge that it is encouraging that we have all members supporting the legislation. That is very encouraging to see. It is in the best interests of our women and men of the forces and the broader community as a whole.

One of the aspects of the legislation that I like, and that we have not heard much discussed today, is the whole idea that within the legislation we are putting into place a declaration of victim rights. That is being very well received, virtually universally. The right to information, protection and participation and, where possible, even restitution, these things put the legislation more in line with civil law. Because we have not heard it in a while, I am interested to know what the members opposite have to say about that aspect of the legislation because it is very new to military law.

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4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ziad Aboultaif Conservative Edmonton Manning, AB

Madam Speaker, in the spirit of agreement today about Bill C-77, this is a very important piece of legislation. I did touch a bit on this in my speech, but on such very important areas more discussion takes more time. Definitely, we are supportive of strengthening the bill as much as possible to make sure it emphasizes the importance of the bill, what it can do and its purpose.

As I said in my speech, it was a very good start. It is built on a previous bill by our former government, Bill C-71 in the past. I hope the government can enhance it further to make it strong and to make it meaningful.

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4:30 p.m.

NDP

Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.

I would like to know what he thinks about the fact that the Liberals rejected the NDP's amendment to strike paragraph 98(c). Under this paragraph, a service member could face life imprisonment for attempting suicide.

We know that mental health problems also exist in the Canadian Armed Forces. Would the member agree that it is important to acknowledge that fact? Why did the Liberals reject our amendment? We in the NDP believe that this section should have been eliminated. I would like to hear my colleague's thoughts.

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4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ziad Aboultaif Conservative Edmonton Manning, AB

Madam Speaker, I touched on this topic in my speech. The government should answer the question of why it did not go for the amendment that was presented by the NDP member at the time, when we believe it was a very important element.

Again, in the spirit of agreement, I was hoping the Liberals would have taken into consideration this important element. If we are going to introduce such a law or regulation or legislation, I believe it to be in the best interests of all, and specifically our armed forces, to make the bill as perfect as possible. I was hoping that the government would have taken into consideration the amendment proposed by the NDP member, and I will encourage the Liberals to do so if it is not too late.

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4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer—Mountain View, AB

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to speak to this bill.

In talking about military justice reform and justice reform, I want to thank the former attorney general. The difference between a justice system and the potential for injustice, integrity versus undue pressure, and of course, rule of law versus political manipulation is certainly an issue that many of us were seized with last night as we heard the testimony. Hopefully there will be an opportunity for everyone to get to the bottom of that, because Canadians are extremely concerned about that type of action.

I want to talk specifically about the military, keeping in mind that for those in the military, there are certain rules and responsibilities they have to deal with. Mistakes made can well result in death, whether it is operational or in training. These are very important issues and why there has to be a system of rules and laws that make sure that everyone follows the same set of rules. That is critical.

Some of the discussion here today has included the mental health aspect, PTSD and making sure that there is help along those lines. That is extremely important. I come from an area where I know many military members and their families in the community. I listen and find out what their stories are. It is not the things veterans tell me; it is the things those engaged in the field now have to say. It is very important that we keep that in mind and respect it, because that is what is involved with the different laws we are talking about today.

The intention of the bill is to make changes to Canada's military justice system, and it does it in a number of ways. As was mentioned by one of the members opposite, it would enshrine victims rights in the National Defence Act, which is certainly important. It would also put a statute of limitations of six months on summary trial cases and clarify what cases would be handled by summary trial.

Victims rights would include enhanced access to information through the appointment of a victims liaison officer; enhanced protection through new safety, security and privacy provisions; enhanced participation through impact statements at sentencing and enhanced restitution. A court martial would require considering making a restitution order for the losses someone might have endured. Those issues are certainly critical.

In the discussions, a number of amendments were introduced, some of which were accepted and some of which were not. I know from many committees that this is a normal situation. The first was civilian criminal records for uniquely military offences. The issue was that if a soldier were found guilty and sentenced, it would result in a criminal record in the civilian world. The committee looked at five uniquely military offences that would be considered minor offences: insubordinate behaviour, quarrels and disturbances, absence without leave, drunkenness and conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline. The committee tried to fit those activities into what the general public would have. Consequential amendments were made to ensure that a soldier convicted one of those minor offences would not be given a civilian criminal record, no matter what the severity of the sentence would be if served in the military. The legislative counsel flagged that and said that it was outside the scope of Bill C-77. Nevertheless, it is perhaps something that could be addressed later.

The other issue was burden of proof. When we considered what we had in BillC-77, the burden of proof was shifted from beyond a reasonable doubt to a “balance of probabilities”. The burden of proof does not provide the same level of protection for service members undergoing a summary hearing. As a result, there is a concern. The change to “balance of probabilities” from beyond a reasonable doubt is certainly something everyone should be aware of.

One of the other amendments was on recording of proceedings and reasons for findings. This is just making sure that the information would be available for the accused and for others associated with the trial.

Appeals was another issue. Certain punishments resulting from the summary hearings could be penal in nature. However, there was no avenue to an appeal this to a higher or different authority. The amendment would allow an appeal to a judge at the Court Martial Appeal Court in the case of sentencing arising from a summary hearing that was penal in nature.

The issue of rank was a concern because of the way the military is set up. In some cases, a non-commissioned member could be one rank below an officer and making decisions. It was important that this language be dealt with.

Those are some of the key things that were involved in the discussion. It made me feel good that under those circumstances, there was certainly ample time taken to deal with those items that are unique to the system.

As has been mentioned many times, Bill C-77 is similar to the legislation we presented a few years ago. It is important that we continue to look at and flag some of the important things that were done by our Conservative government and recognize the system that is in place right now and the problems we see in this country. Perhaps it will not be too long before we will be able to have a Conservative government back and doing something that will be good for everyone.

The purpose of Bill C-77 is to align the military justice system with the Criminal Code of Canada. Enshrining a victims bill of rights in the National Defence Act, putting a statute of limitations on summary hearing cases and clarifying what cases should be handled by a summary hearing are significant points.

The legislation before us today would enact in the Code of Service Discipline a declaration of victims rights. It would give victims the right to information, protection, participation and restitution. These rights mirror those in our previous government's Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, which received royal assent on April 23, 2015.

When we consider the severe offences that have diverse victims, including military members and their families and members of the broader civilian community, to many of these individuals the military justice system can be unfamiliar and potentially intimidating. Therefore, to help ensure that victims were properly informed and positioned to access their rights, the legislation would provide for the appointment of a victims' liaison officer when a victim required this appointment.

The bill would ensure that victims of service offences within the military justice system would be able to exercise their rights, as detailed in the proposed legislation, such as the right to protection and participation. The legislation also proposes complementary changes to many court martial processes. For example, the proposed legislation would enhance a victim's ability to participate in court martial proceedings by broadening the way victim impact statements could be presented at the court martial.

There are many similarities between the legislation before us today and the legislation our Conservative government introduced. It has enough worthwhile similarities to our government's legislation that it deserves the support of the House at this point.

My Conservative colleagues and I are committed to standing up for victims of crime and ensuring that victims have a more efficient and effective voice in the criminal justice system.

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, the bill proposes the introduction of a victims liaison officer. I wonder if the member could share with us his thoughts on the importance of this position and the difference it could make for victims.

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4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer—Mountain View, AB

Madam Speaker, that is certainly something that was critical for us as Conservatives. Whether it be in the military or in the general public, we need to make sure that we recognize the damage done when criminal activities affect an individual. Therefore, it was important that we set up a structure for the general public, but it is also important to bring that into the military justice system as well.

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4:45 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, one of the issues that comes up time and again is the very serious issue of PTSD and other mental health issues in our military. Certain elements can be best addressed through budgetary measures. One of the things we have seen over the last couple of years is a sincere commitment to centres of excellence to deal with mental illness, which we think is a good thing. We have seen an increase in the number of health care workers. I believe it is now at around 200.

The Conservative Party has been very supportive of the legislation. Even the NDP supports the legislation. We also need to look at other ways we can support our women and men in the Canadian Forces, and that includes investing in health care. I wonder if my colleague could provide his thoughts on that.

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4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer—Mountain View, AB

Madam Speaker, when Peter MacKay was minister of defence, we were looking at making sure that we had a lot more people available to deal with the mental health aspect. I appreciate the fact that the Liberals have continued on that same trajectory.

It is important, because often there is not the same type of skill set for those dealing with PTSD in the general public and in the military. With the types of things they see, whether operationally or even in training, they know that they are the ones responsible for some of the carnage there. Therefore, it is very important for them to have people who understand their circumstances. To have professionals who are directly related to the military when it comes to PTSD is certainly an important aspect. Hopefully, we will always be able to maintain that as one of the critical components of any type of military justice system and support for our military.

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4:45 p.m.

Andy Fillmore Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism, Lib.

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.

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February 28th, 2019 / 4:55 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.

Earlier I asked what I thought was a very simple question. Since there is broad consensus around this bill, I wanted to know why we had to wait so long to get it to this point and pass it. The member who responded talked about all kinds of other things that had been done in the Canadian Armed Forces but did not answer my question.

If the two or three years it took to get to this point had made it possible to resolve the self-harm issue, I might have understood the need to spend time hearing from experts in committee, but there is nothing about that in the final version of the bill.

How can a bill that has been met with such broad consensus take so long?

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4:55 p.m.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism, Lib.

Andy Fillmore

Madam Speaker, our government is committed to strengthening the rights of victims in the military justice system.

The member asked about delays with regard to drafting legislation. Indeed, five years to draft regulations is a long time. I am wondering if that delay is the result of the cuts to the public service that the previous Conservative government implemented.

I hope I have the support of my colleague in this important initiative for all of our men and women in uniform, but given this concern for the pressing nature of this issue, I would suggest he might ask the previous government why it tabled this bill in the dying days of its mandate.

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4:55 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, my colleague and friend represents a wonderful area of Canada where there is a very strong military presence. He has consistently been a very strong advocate for our women and men in the Canadian Armed Forces. As someone who served in the Canadian Armed Forces a number of years ago, I think one of the changes, and I mentioned this morning, is the difference between civilian life and military life.

If service members are absent without leave or even late, they subject themselves to a potential court martial, which would then give them a criminal record. That is under the current system. Let us compare that to civilian life: if people miss days of work, they are not going to have a criminal record.

In part, this legislation tries to address that inequity and allow for more discretion so that when Canadian Armed Forces personnel retire and become veterans, fewer will find themselves with a criminal record because of something that happened while they were an active member. We do not want to see that, although we heard many examples at committee.

Could my colleague provide his thoughts on why it is important to address this issue?

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5 p.m.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism, Lib.

Andy Fillmore

Madam Speaker, as we know, the new defence policy of “strong, secure, engaged” puts the men and women serving our country at the very heart of our decision-making process. It puts them at the very heart of our new and improved policies.

As the member would have heard me say in my speech, part of what the bill would accomplish is to make sure that service members are treated in a fair and reasonable way relative to non-service members and in a way that they can understand, and that they can have an expectation of being treated fairly. This is fundamental to creating a service that draws people to choose to serve, to take on the possibility of the greatest possible sacrifice for this country that we can imagine.

One of the wonderful things in the bill to make that happen is the creation of the victim liaison officer to pick through what can be an intimidating or daunting process. We are very happy that the liaison officer will help members to understand the code of service discipline as they proceed through it.

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5 p.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to rise in the House today. I would like to use my time to share how this government is supporting victims of inappropriate conduct by members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Last year, our government introduced legislation in the House that proposed to add a declaration of victims rights to the military's code of service discipline. This is good news. It shows that military justice in the country continues to evolve in the best interests of Canadians and the Canadian Armed Forces.

When victims display courage by coming forward with a complaint, we must ensure they are supported fully. Anything less would be unacceptable. Every victim, whether a Canadian Armed Forces member or civilian, deserves to be treated with trust, dignity and respect. This legislation shows that the government recognizes the harmful impact of service offences on victims, the military and society. It reconfirms this government's commitment to strengthen victims rights in the military justice system. It is our view that the legislation advances Canada's position as a global leader in support for victims.

The proposed amendments in the bill will strengthen and uphold victims rights within the military justice system, while ensuring these rights mirror those in the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. Simply put, the legislation creates and extends rights for victims in four specific areas: the right to information about how the military justice system works; the right to protection of security and privacy; the right to participation by expanding how victim impact statements can be presented at a court martial; and the right to restitution for damages or losses. These rights would be available to any victim of a service offence when he or she comes into contact with the military justice system.

Let me expand more on each of the four rights.

The first is the right to information. Any victims of a service offence have the right to general information about their own role and how Canada's military justice system works. They will be informed about the services and programs available to them. They will have the right to know how their case is progressing within the military justice system. This includes any information related to the status and outcome of investigations and the prosecution or sentencing of the person who harmed them. It is vital to keep victims informed during what can be a complex and foreign process. However, it is only the first step.

Second, a victim's right to protection must be considered in any matter in which a service offence has been committed. That is why the bill extends victims the right to have their security and privacy considered at all stages in the military justice system. The legislation would give victims the right to have reasonable and necessary measures taken to protect them from intimidation and retaliation. Victims can also request that their identities be protected. This is paramount to ensuring that victims rights are protected when they come into contact with the military justice system through no fault of their own. It will protect vulnerable participants by giving military judges the power to order publication bans, the power to allow testimony outside of the courtroom and the power to prevent an accused person from cross-examining a victim in a court martial.

The third way this government is recognizing victims is by enhancing their right to participate in the military justice system. We are doing this by expanding how victim impact statements can be presented at court martial. We are also enabling victims to share at various stages of the legal process their views about decisions that affect their rights and to have those views considered by appropriate authorities. This will ensure that the views of victims and the harm and loss they have suffered can be fully considered by appropriate authorities in the military justice system. It will also allow for a community impact statement to be submitted, describing the harm, the loss and the overall impact of a service offence on the community.

In addition to victim and community impact statements, the bill would enable the submission of a military impact statement on behalf of the Canadian Armed Forces when one of its members commits a service offence. Such an impact statement could describe the harm done to the discipline, efficiency or morale within the unit or to the Canadian Armed Forces as a whole. The statement would be taken into account alongside victim and community impact statements. The victim's right to participate before courts martial is a crucial part of recognizing the losses, damages or wrongs he or she has suffered.

The fourth and final right for victims in the legislation concerns their right to restitution. This will ensure victims can ask a court martial to consider ordering restitution for damages or losses when that value can be readily determined.

These rights will be guaranteed for any victims of a service offence committed by a service member should they come into contact with the military justice system. We are committed to ensuring victims are treated with dignity and respect and we are taking this responsibility seriously. We owe it to victims and to their families.

I have a number of families in my riding serve. I have the Kingston armed forces base on one side and the Trenton air base on the other side of my riding, so I have a number of serving members and veterans who live within my riding. I have worked closely with the MFRC in Trenton, which provides incredible services to members of the Trenton air base. The Military Family Resource Centre is a valuable resource that provides a number of different types of services to military service personnel. This is another reason why I am so pleased to make this speech today. This is so important to the families, the service personnel and the many thousands of civilians who work in the military at these two bases.

By maintaining discipline, efficiency and morale, the military justice system helps the Canadian Armed Forces achieve its mission here at home and around the world. Adopting the declaration of victims rights in the Code of Service Discipline will strengthen the rights of victims within the military justice system. It will ensure that victims have the right to information, protection, participation and restitution when they have been wronged. It will reinforce Canada's position as a global leader in maintaining a fair and effective military justice system, one that evolves in harmony with our civilian laws.

For all these reasons, members on this side of the House will be supporting the bill. I am so proud to be part of a government that has brought forward a bill that will make such a difference in the lives of military service members and their families.

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5:10 p.m.

Yvonne Jones Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Intergovernmental and Northern Affairs and Internal Trade, Lib.

Madam Speaker, one of the things I like about the bill is that it seeks harsher penalties for crimes motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on gender identity or expression. Does the member see this as one of the fundamental changes the legislation would bring to those who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces across the country?

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5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, I enjoy working with my colleague on the indigenous committee. We have worked on together on numerous studies over the last three and a half years. She needs to be commended for her service to the indigenous community.

Our government is committed to strengthening the rights of victims in the military justice system. In addition to ensuring respect for victims rights, Bill C-77 includes a provision to incorporate aboriginal sentencing into the military justice system and more severely sanction military misconduct and misconduct related to prejudices against members of the LGBTQ2 community.