The House resumed from October 22 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the motion that this question be now put.
Mr. Speaker, it is important for me to rise in this House and speak to Bill because justice is more than just a system of laws and regulations; it is also a fundamental value for me and for my NDP colleagues, as it should also be for the military system.
This bill is step in the right direction, but it does not address the key issues related to reforming the summary trial system and the grievance system and strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission.
That is why, although the bill's primary objective is laudable, it does not satisfy our objectives. Much more needs to be done to bring the military justice system more in line with the civilian justice system. We on this side of the House want a comprehensive bill that adequately addresses the problem. No justice system is perfect, but that should not stop us from trying to improve our system as much as possible.
Many elements have been left out of Bill : reforming the summary trial system, reforming the grievance system and strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission.
The fact that the NDP included these three elements in amendments of the previous version of the bill and that those amendments are now absent cannot be a coincidence. As I said, the NDP is not opposed to the spirit of this bill. We want to work with the Conservatives to get it right in order to ensure that the bill is relevant and that it has a broad enough scope.
I do not understand why the government did not include these elements in the bill. They are important in a consistent military justice reform.
Let us look specifically at the grievance system. We must understand it in order to appreciate the importance of the improvements proposed by the NDP.
I would like to quote the directive on military grievances, which is found on the Department of National Defence website. It indicates:
The DND and the CF shall manage all grievances through the Canadian Forces Grievance System...and ensure that:
all grievances are processed as efficiently and expeditiously as possible;
a CF member is not penalized for submitting a grievance; and
assistance is made available to a CF member in the preparation of a grievance.
The last point is important: the Canadian Forces has the responsibility to help its members because they do not have a union-type association to defend them. This lack of counter-balance is another reason why it is important to ensure that we have an effective and impartial system.
The NDP proposed two improvements. First, we proposed that at least 60% of grievance board members must be civilians who have never been an officer or a member of the Canadian Forces and, second, that the Chief of Defence Staff be given more authority to resolve the financial aspects of grievances.
The first improvement, namely, that the grievance board strike a balance between military and civilian membership, is important to ensure that this process is perceived as being external and independent. When it comes to the military, perception is very important for Canadians. Everyone in the country should be able to see that the system is independent and fair. Members of the military have a great deal of experience in managing such situations, so it is rather important that they are truly involved in the process. However, the presence of civilians is also important to dispel the idea that members of the military are subject to a different kind of justice than ordinary Canadians.
I would like to once again quote a Canadian Forces document. This time, I will be quoting an excerpt from chapter 34 of the “Military Administrative Law Manual” to demonstrate how this process, which may generally seem strange to Canadians, works. Point no. 24 of the section on the CF grievance board states:
The CF Grievance Board...is an external body independent from DND and the CF that has been established by section 29.16 of the NDA. The role of the CFGB is to provide findings and recommendations on grievances referred to it by the CDS. It does not have the authority to grant or deny redress regarding any grievance.
Article 25 states:
There are certain grievances for which the CDS is required to request CFGB findings and recommendations. These grievances relate to:
a. administrative action resulting in the forfeiture of, or deductions from, pay and allowances, reversion to a lower rank or release from the CF;
b. the application or interpretation of CF policies relating to expression of personal opinions, political activities and candidature for office, civil employment, conflict of interest and post compliance measures, harassment or racist conduct;
c. pay, allowances and other financial benefits; and
d. the entitlement to medical care or dental treatment.
Article 26 states:
The CDS is also responsible for ensuring that any grievance that concerns a decision or action of the CDS is forwarded to the CFGB for its findings and recommendations.
As the policy states, such an important board must be effective and beyond reproach. The NDP believes that a significant civilian presence on this board would help maintain this perception. When we look at how to strengthen the Military Police Complaints Commission, the merits of this idea and our position are quite obvious.
Police officers, as agents of social control, have a key role to play in our society, which is based on the rule of law. They are effective not only because they have the manpower and equipment, of course, but also because of their perceived legitimacy by the public. The military police is no exception. For a police force to operate properly, whether it is military or civilian, it must have the approval of those under its authority. A police force gains legitimacy through its perceived integrity. This perception is built on the actions of the police force and the perception of fairness and justice in its operations.
There is no better way to prove the integrity of a police force than by having a strong monitoring body. A Military Police Complaints Commission that is legitimate and reports to Parliament is the best way to ensure fairness in the actions of military police and, just as importantly, the perception of fairness and justice by Canadians.
The second improvement is that the Chief of Defence Staff should have more authority to resolve financial aspects related to grievances. This is a simple requirement to ensure that the grievance system is consistent. If the Chief of Defence Staff does not have the ability to resolve financial aspects, it calls into question the relevance of the grievance process.
I should point out that Canada is not the only country to be reviewing its military justice system. Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Ireland have recently done the same. We are in an excellent position to pass a comprehensive and effective bill while taking into account what has been done in other countries. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the bill as it stands. As I already said, the NDP proposed amendments to the bill in its previous form. But those amendments are no longer part of the current bill. We would like to see something constructive if and when the bill goes to committee.
In conclusion, although I focused mainly on the grievance system, it is important to note that this is just one thing missing from this bill. The NDP will continue to work to include the essential measures that it had passed in the former version of this bill. There is no reason for the Conservatives not to admit the relevance of these measures. Their hiding of this fact reeks of partisanship.
Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a great honour to rise in this House and represent the people of the region of Timmins—James Bay, who have put their trust in me to represent their concerns.
The discussion we have before us this morning on Bill is really what this Parliament should be doing, which is to ensure that the people who put themselves on the front line of defence for the Canadian people have their rights protected when they return from overseas or from whatever work they are doing, whether they are in the army, with the RCMP, or in the various federal police forces across our country.
That is an obligation we have to those men and women and their families, regardless of political stripe. Unfortunately, there are times when the government and Parliament have failed those front-line workers.
I am looking at Bill , and I understand the government's intention to address the serious shortfalls in terms of military justice. However, I am quite concerned that the government has decided to ignore numerous recommendations that came from the Lamer report. This whole process is supposed to be a result of the 80 recommendations brought forward by the Lamer report. The government cherry-picked them down to 28.
This bill is also a follow-up to , from the previous Parliament. Numerous amendments were actually passed by a parliamentary committee to ensure that we were improving the system of military justice and representation for our armed forces personnel. Yet the government, in the present Parliament, has taken those amendments passed by a parliamentary committee and thrown them out the window.
That is highly problematic. If we look at some of the amendments the government walked away from, they had to do with the authority of the Chief of the Defence Staff in the grievance process, which was amended under clause 6 in , responding directly to Justice Lamer's recommendation.
There is also the issue of changes in the composition of the grievance committee to include 60% civilian membership, which was amended in clause 11 in . There was also the provision ensuring that a person who is convicted of an offence at a summary trial is not unfairly subjected to a criminal record. That was amended in clause 75 of .
What we are talking about is basic justice and basic fairness for those who put themselves in harm's way.
The 80 recommendations from the Lamer report remind me of the 80 recommendations that came down after the Kashechewan prison fire, where Ricardo Wesley and Jamie Goodwin burned to death in a makeshift police cell in 2006, in a federal facility, under Nishnawbe-Aski police.
I was at the funeral for those young men. There was trauma within the community and within the police force among the men and women who were hired to represent Canada and protect communities in the far north. The Nishnawbe-Aski police, like the military, sometimes face extreme circumstances. All they ask for is fairness.
Unfortunately, what I see in the far north in our policing services, which are funded 52% by the federal government and 48% by the provincial government, is that they are often facing combat conditions and third-world conditions.
In Kashechewan, one of our police officers had to live in a tent. The jail cells did not have a basic water sprinkler system. On any given day we have maybe 30 officers out of 150 off on stress leave. We have suicides. We have an incidence of post-traumatic stress among our front-line officers at the level of combat casualties.
These are officers who dedicate themselves to ensuring the health and safety of communities.
The government ignored almost all of the recommendations in that report, in the same way that they are ignoring the Lamer report.
I think that is unfortunate, because once again, it is about our obligation as legislators. The most serious job we do in this House is make a decision on whether to put someone's life on the line, whether we send them into combat or on peacekeeping missions or whether we send them to represent justice and the protection of civilian life in the far north.
When those officers, those men and women, find themselves in trouble, they should have a system in place that ensures a level of fairness. I was thinking about the various opinions we have heard on this bill . Once again, people want to see the military justice system improve, but they are concerned that the government is clearly walking away from key provisions that will ensure fairness and the right to due process.
Colonel Michel Drapeau, military law expert, said that the issue of summary trials must be addressed, because “[t]here is currently nothing more important for Parliament to focus on than fixing a broken system that affects the legal rights of a significant number of Canadian citizens every year”. He continued that “I find it very odd that those who put their lives at risk to protect the rights of Canadians are themselves deprived of those charter rights when facing a summary trial. If Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland have seen fit to change the summary trial system, it begs the question: why is Canada lagging behind?”
Why indeed? As I was preparing for the discussion this morning, I was thinking about the situation of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, and Harold Leduc, who was drummed out of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board for making waves. The waves he was making were in defence of the needs of soldiers who are coming before the appeals board. He was ruffling feathers within the bureaucracy and the government. The story of his being drummed out as a representative of the armed forces is very disturbing, because we are talking about allegations of harassment and corruption at the board. Mr. Leduc was targeted. His privacy was violated. The issue of post-traumatic stress was used against him, which he took to the Human Rights Commission. He won. It found that he was facing harassment for speaking up for the men and women who put their lives on the line and are only asking for fairness.
When the government decided to remove Mr. Leduc from the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, he said that he was not surprised. He said, “To me, it speaks to the overall corruption I've witnessed”.
That is a pretty disturbing allegation against the board whose job is protecting the needs of those who serve. Just as we see in the far north with the Nishnawbe-Aski police, who have a right to ensure that if they put themselves at risk or they get injured or have post-traumatic stress there will be services for them, so too should the soldiers who come back from Afghanistan or from other duties have a right to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. Yet we see the government shutting down the veterans' spokesmen, the people who are defending those in need.
We see the same system in the criminal justice system the soldiers face, where they do not have proper counsel or civilian intervention. They have to go sometimes before what essentially could be seen as an old boys' club. This is not fair. The need to reform this has been spoken about. Yet the government has once again decided, for whatever purpose or whatever reason, to ignore the key recommendations on transformation, key recommendations that would actually ensure some fairness. It will go with this bill that is quite simply insufficient for the purposes at hand.
We want to work on reforming military justice in this country. We will not be supporting a bill that so clearly ignores the key recommendations.
The issue of summary trials is key.
There is the issue of having civilian involvement in the review process. The Lamer report talked of the need for 60%. There is a need for the grievance committee to have an external review process. It is presently staffed by retired officers, some only recently retired. If the Canadian Forces Grievance Board is to be perceived as an external and independent oversight civilian body, as it was destined to be, then the appointments process needs to reflect that reality. Once again, we are saying that it cannot be just internal. It has to have outside voices so that we do not see the same kind of harassment of veterans as at the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, with the shutting down of the people who are actually there to stand up and speak for veterans. We need to have some sort of system of external fairness.
Sometimes when soldiers are charged, they could face having a criminal record for something that in civilian court would be considered minor. If they leave the army with a criminal record, it would affect them for the rest of their lives.
Once again, those who are serving our country should be entitled to due process. That is a fundamental principle. We have seen reform happen in England and Ireland. The question is why the government is ignoring key recommendations of the Lamer report. Why is it not working with us to ensure that we have a system that ensures fairness for those men and women who put themselves at risk for our country?
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill , a bill that would change the nature of the National Defence Act and, in some ways, improve the military's system of criminal justice.
This legislation has been a part of ongoing debate in Parliament over a number of years. We have some serious concerns with this legislation and will be opposing it at second reading. Committee stage has not been all that fruitful over the last year and a half of the majority Conservative government, but I suppose that if we did get some amendments that brought the legislation back to the state it was in the previous parliament, then we could get onside with that. Here we are debating this legislation in the House of Commons, recognizing that committees have not been doing their due diligence on many of the bills that have gone forward. The government has been using its majority in committees to block many useful amendments. That problem, we all recognize, has been changing our ability to provide good legislation for Canadians.
I want to talk about the summary trial system and the fact that a conviction of a service offence in a summary trial of a Canadian Forces member may result in a criminal record. I am concerned about the vast number of Canadians who may end up with a criminal record for offences that are relatively minor and the fact that we do this at a higher rate than many other civilized countries in the world.
We have a system that puts a criminal record on the backs of Canadians for a variety of offences, including in some cases for very minor and victimless offences that really do not warrant the kind of long-term impediment to a convicted person's lifestyle that a criminal conviction entails. That impediment includes getting a job, getting a place to live or travelling to other countries. Having a criminal record in Canada seriously impedes the progress of someone's life, and we here in Parliament should take it seriously. A conviction becomes part of a citizen's history and affects his or her life going forward.
Now we have summary trials in the military tradition. The NDP worked hard on the previous bill to get an amendment that would strike off a great number of the offences under the National Defence Act that can result in criminal records. In the previous bill the government was going to remove five of those offences but we managed to get that number up to 27. I am not familiar with precisely which five offences still remain in this legislation.
When I look at the offences under the National Defence Act, such as disobedience of a lawful command, for instance, should that carry forward in every instance in a summary trial? Remember that we are talking about a summary trial where there is no obligation on the part of those conducting the trial to provide legal counsel to the people standing in front of them. We are dealing with a hierarchical system where the complainant in the military tradition has the upper hand over the defendant.
Providing prompt but fair justice in respect to minor service offences contributes to the maintenance of military discipline and efficiency. However, given that our military personnel are under great stress and have to deal with being away from home for long periods of time under a very strict command and control structure, they are likely to offend in some way if, under the command system, they are identified as a problem. That is the nature of military service.
We have to think about what we are doing with or creating for these people when they come out of the military into the general population. That is very important. It is a very serious situation for them if, from a summary trial, they have a criminal record for some minor service infraction. I think this goes on quite often In Canada. We give people a criminal record for a variety of small offences in the military, which I do not think is appropriate to do there or in the general justice system. We need to reform all of our justice systems so that we not too easily burden people with a criminal record designation.
Under the National Defence Act we have offences such as abuse of subordinates, connivance at desertion, absence without leave, cruel or disgraceful conduct, insubordinate behaviour, quarrels and disturbances. These are all part of life. They are things that happen to one degree or another. How is something like a quarrel or disturbance designated? I hate to think that by quarrelling with the government here over the bill that I could be up on a summary offence by some trial in the House of Commons. However, that is what happens in the military.
We must maintain military discipline and there are reasons to have summary trials, but the sentencing that goes along with that is what we are talking about here. That is at question. Should minor offences have a long-lasting impact on a person's life? This is why the NDP is taking a strong position here, because we do not want to see this happen. We did have good results in the last Parliament in getting 27 of these offences removed, and I think that would make the bill more palatable.
It is not every day that we discuss the nature of military justice. This is our last shot at it. Once the bill has gone through the process, it may not come before Parliament for another decade. There may be many instances where people end up with criminal records for relatively minor offences over the next decade, if the bill passes during the course of this session.
We have important work to do here and want to see this done right. We want to ensure that the kinds of penalties given for offences in this regard are well thought out and are not punishing Canadians unduly for things that may occur under the conditions of military service.
Mr. Speaker, on October 7, 2011, the introduced Bill . Bill amends the National Defence Act to strengthen and alter military justice following the 2003 report of the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, the right hon. Antonio Lamer, and the May 2009 report of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
Among other things, the bill would provide greater flexibility in the sentencing process and additional sentencing options, including absolute discharges, intermittent sentences and restitution. It would modify the composition of a court martial panel according to the rank of the accused person and modify the limitation period applicable to summary trials. It would also allow an accused person to waive the limitation periods. The bill would clarify the responsibilities of the Canadian Forces provost marshal and, finally, it would make amendments to the delegation of the Chief of Defence Staff powers as the final authority in the grievance process.
New Democrats believe that Bill is a step in the right direction to bring the military justice system more in line with the civilian justice system. However, it falls short on key issues when it comes to reforming a number of required aspects of the military justice system, including the summary trial system, the grievance system and the Military Police Complaints Commission.
I will provide some background. In 2003, the right hon. Antonio Lamer, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, presented his report to the independent review of the National Defence Act. The Lamer report contained 88 recommendations pertaining to military justice, the Military Police Complaints Commission, the grievance process and the provost marshal. Bill is the legislative response to these recommendations, but thus far only 28 of those recommendations have been implemented in legislation, regulations or via changes in practice.
This bill has appeared in earlier forms. First, Bills and died on the order paper due to prorogation by the Conservative government in 2007 and an election in 2008. In July 2008, Bill came into force simplifying the structure of the court martial system and establishing a method, which was more closely aligned with the civilian system, for choosing the type of court martial. In 2009, the Senate committee consider Bill and provided nine recommendations for amendments to the National Defence Act. In 2010, Bill was introduced to respond to the 2003 Lamer report and the Senate committee report. It outlined provisions related to military justice, such as sentencing reform, military judges and committees, summary trials, court martial panels, the provost marshal and limited provisions related to the grievance process and the Military Police Complaints Commission.
In essence, Bill is similar to the version of Bill that came out of committee in the previous Parliament. There are a number of amendments that carry over, which include the court martial composition, military judges' security of tenure and provisions relating to the appointment process and the age of judges. However, other important amendments that passed at committee stage at the end of the last parliamentary session are not included in Bill . These include the following, which were also presented by the New Democrats as amendments to that piece of legislation.
What is missing from this bill is the authority of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process, which responds directly to Justice Lamer's recommendation; changes to the composition of the grievance committee to include a 60% civilian membership; and finally, a provision to ensure that a person who is convicted of an offence during the summary trial is not unfairly subjected to a criminal record. It is this last point that causes particular concern to all Canadians who care about the justice system in this country.
There are many important reforms in this bill and the NDP supports the long overdue update to the military justice system. Members of the Canadian Forces are held to an extremely high standard of discipline and they, in turn, deserve a judicial system that is held to a comparable standard. The NDP will be opposing this bill at second reading. However, there are shortcomings in this bill that we hope can be addressed at the committee stage if, in fact, it gets that far. Here are some of the amendments that we hope to see passed.
The amendments in Bill do not adequately address the unfairness of summary trials. Currently, a conviction of a service offence from a summary trial in the Canadian Forces may result in a criminal record. Summary trials, though, are held without the ability of the accused to consult counsel. There are no appeals or transcripts of the so-called trial, and the judge is the accused person's commanding officer. This causes undue harshness on certain members of the Canadian Forces who can be, and are, convicted of very minor service offences, offences that would not otherwise be criminal offences.
For example, some of these minor service offences include insubordination, quarrels, disturbances, absence without leave, drunkenness and disobeying a lawful command. These could be matters that are extremely important to military discipline, but they are not necessarily worthy of a criminal record. Certainly drunkenness is not a criminal offence, and many members of the House would probably attest to that.
Bill also makes an exemption for a select number of offences if they carry a minor punishment, which is defined in the act, or a fine less than $500 to no longer result in a criminal record. This is one of the positive aspects of the bill but it does not, in our opinion, go far enough.
At committee stage last March, the NDP amendments to Bill were carried to expand this list of offences that could be considered minor and not necessarily worthy of a criminal record. We would increase that number from five specified offences to 27, if the offence in question received a minor punishment.
The amendment also extended the list of punishments that may be imposed by a tribunal without an offender incurring a criminal record, such as a severe reprimand, a reprimand on its own, a fine equal up to one month's basic pay or another minor punishment.
This was a major step forward for summary trials. However, this amendment was not retained in Bill , and we want to see it included here.
We also believe it is important to reform the grievance system because at present the grievance committee does not provide a means of external review. Currently it is staffed entirely of retired Canadian Forces officers, some only relatively recently retired. If the Canadian Forces Grievance Board is to be perceived as an external and independent oversight civilian body, as it was designed to be, then the appointment process needs to be amended to reflect that reality. Thus, some members of the board should be drawn from civil society.
The NDP amendment provides that at least 60% of the grievance committee members must never have been an officer or a non-commissioned member of the Canadian Forces. Again, this amendment was passed in March 2011 in Bill but was not retained in the bill before the House. We think it is important to see that amendment retained in the bill.
Finally, the NDP believes we must strengthen the Military Police Complaints Commission. The bill amends the National Defence Act to establish a timeline within which the Canadian Forces provost marshal would be required to resolve conduct complaints as well as to protect complainants from being penalized for submitting a complaint in good faith. Although a step forward, the NDP believes that more needs to be done to empower this commission.
Care has not been taken to provide the Military Police Complaints Commission with the required legislative provisions empowering it to act as an oversight body. This commission must be empowered by a legislative provision that will allow it to rightfully investigate and report to Parliament.
Let us talk about what some independent people have said about the bill. I want to quote Colonel Michel Drapeau, a retired colonel from the Canadian Forces and a military law expert. Here is what he said in February 2011:
I strongly believe that the summary trial issue must be addressed.... There is currently nothing more important for Parliament to focus on than fixing a system that affects the legal rights of a significant number of Canadian citizens every year. Why? Because unless and until you, the legislators, address this issue, it is almost impossible for the court to address any challenge, since no appeal of a summary trial verdict or sentence is permitted. As well, it is almost impossible for any other form of legal challenge to take place, since there are no trial transcripts and no right to counsel at summary trial.
Colonel Drapeau also said:
—I find it very odd that those who put their lives at risk to protect the rights of Canadians are themselves deprived of some of those charter rights when facing a summary trial. If Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland have seen fit to change the summary trial system, it begs the question: why is Canada lagging behind?
I believe all members of the House want to see members of the Canadian Forces guaranteed the very charter rights that we send them into harm's way to fight for on our behalf. One part of those rights is that when people face potential criminal sanctions, they have a right to counsel. They have a right to a judge that is independent. They have a right to transcripts and a meaningful right to appeal. Bill does not allow this and I urge all members of the House to work on this bill to address those serious problems.
Mr. Speaker, today I will be speaking about Bill . I will begin with a brief history of this bill.
In 2003, the right hon. Antonio Lamer, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, tabled his report on the independent review of the National Defence Act.
The Lamer report contained 88 recommendations concerning military justice, the Military Police Complaints Commission, the grievance process and the Canadian Forces provost marshal. Bill is the legislative response to these recommendations.
We must mention, however, that only 28 of the 88 recommendations have been included in this legislation. Thus, the response is incomplete. Bill is not a full response to the Lamer report.
Bill has appeared in a number of previous forms. First there was Bill , which died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued in 2007—an act that, by the way, was undemocratic—and then Bill , which met the same fate when the 2008 election was called.
In July 2008, Bill came along, simplifying the court martial structure and establishing a system for choosing the court martial format that would harmonize best with civilian justice.
In 2009, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs examined Bill and made nine recommendations for amendments to the National Defence Act.
In 2010, Bill was introduced as a response to the 2003 Lamer report and the 2009 report from the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
It included provisions related to military justice, such as reforms to sentencing, military judges and committees, summary trials, the court martial panel and the Canadian Forces provost marshal, as well as provisions pertaining to the Military Police Complaints Commission.
Essentially, Bill is similar to the version of Bill tabled by the Senate committee in the last Parliament. The accepted amendments included the composition of the court martial panel and the appointment of military judges during good behaviour until their retirement.
Some important amendments were adopted at the committee stage, at the end of the last parliamentary session. Unfortunately, they were not included in Bill . It is really strange, because many of these amendments were suggested and supported by the NDP and by others. For example, one amendment dealt with the authority of the Chief of the Defence Staff relative to the grievance process. That was a direct response to a recommendation in the Lamer report, and it is missing. There was also an amendment regarding changes in the composition of the grievance board, so that 60% of its members would be civilians. Once again, it is not in this bill. Finally, there was a provision to ensure that a person found guilty of an offence at a summary trial would not be unjustly burdened with a criminal record. That, too, is missing.
What the NDP wants are simple and important things that affect military justice and show respect for the people who serve the country by defending our rights and freedoms.
This bill does propose a number of important reforms. The NDP has long been in favour of the necessary updating of the military justice system. Members of the Canadian Forces are subject to very severe discipline and, thus, deserve a judicial system that is governed by rules comparable to those in the civilian system.
This bill has many shortcomings that we hope will be discussed in committee if the bill is passed at second reading.
The first thing that must be reviewed is the reform of the summary trial system. It is a serious problem. The amendments in Bill do not deal adequately with the injustice of summary trials. There is a true injustice in these trials. At present, a guilty verdict from a summary trial in the Canadian Forces results in a criminal record. Summary trials can cover many things, some of them insignificant.
They may apply not only to such serious charges as insubordination, but also to less serious offences such as drunkenness or the like, which have nothing to do with the criminal offences that would be found on a criminal record. This is a serious problem that must be reformed, and it must be done immediately.
For example, summary trials are held without the accused being able to consult counsel. There is no recourse and no transcript. We can imagine how a trial is conducted when there is no transcript of what was said. The name says it all: “summary trial”. It is summary, with no real justice and no recourse to a real, fair justice system. Summary trials are held for minor and major reasons, and there is no logic to them.
Moreover, the accused person’s commanding officer acts as the judge. That is much too harsh for some members of the Canadian Forces who are convicted of minor infractions. The fact that the commanding officer is also the judge raises questions about the impartiality of the process. Therefore, changes are needed.
These minor offences include insubordination, as I said, but also quarrels. “Quarrel” is a pretty big word to describe someone raising their voice to someone else. We have to look at the definition of “quarrel”. We are not talking about striking and injuring someone here. Accordingly, we do not see why this should result in a criminal record. Misconduct, again, is very broad. As I said, it is the commanding officer who decides all of this.
Absence without leave, drunkenness and disobeying a command are all undoubtedly very important for military discipline, I agree, but they do not deserve a criminal record, particularly since these soldiers have lives after their military service. Someone who quarrelled with one of his colleagues and who returns to civilian life could find himself with a criminal record because of this.
It then becomes difficult to find a job, to travel outside Canada and to find housing. This creates a whole host of problems for people who, let us not forget, serve the Canadian public and defend our rights and freedoms. Because of some of these measures, their own rights and freedoms are being trampled on somewhat by this military justice system. This process needs to be revised.
I could touch on many other aspects that need to be revised, but I will not have time. A lot of competent people have looked into this. Bill does not properly reform the military justice system.
To conclude, we in the NDP believe the Canadian Forces already have to meet extremely high standards when it comes to discipline. We know the strict discipline this job calls for. Members of the military are entitled, in return, to a judicial system that is required to meet comparable standards. A criminal record can make life after the military very difficult. Criminal records complicate the process of finding a job, renting an apartment or travelling.
Accordingly, the NDP will fight to make the Canadian military justice system fairer for the men and women in uniform who have risked their lives in the service of Canada. For that reason, it is very important that this act be revised, to respect and honour our soldiers.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in this House on the subject of Bill . We have before us a bill that is a recognition of a serious problem in the administration of military justice. In this regard, we are unfortunately lagging behind many other countries that have identified the same problems as we have, but have made faster and more effective efforts to fix them.
What is strange is that while our Conservative friends acknowledge the problem, they have deliberately chosen to fix only half of it. And that is why we have a problem; that is why we oppose this bill.
My colleague has talked about the first problem: summary trials that are held in circumstances that do not allow for the accused to make a fair defence. Summary trials are really the nub of the problem. The vast majority of offences committed by members of the military are dealt with by summary trial. One of the statistics we have here seems frightening to me: in 2008-09, a total of 1,865 cases—96% of all cases—were disposed of by summary trial. Obviously it is a euphemism to say “seems”, because 96% says it all.
What this system means is that the accused does not enjoy rights that are otherwise considered to be fundamental in an ordinary justice system: the right to be represented by counsel; the right to appeal; a transcript of the trial so the person can appeal based on the trial; and the right to an impartial judge. As it stands, the person’s commanding officer is the judge. That situation is clearly unfavourable.
What if there was judicial error? What if the decision was tainted by personal tensions between the accused and the judge, for example, who happens to be the person’s immediate superior? Anyone who works in an ordinary situation will agree that these are certainly not ideal circumstances for making an objective decision. There is no organization in which such a structure exists without the opportunity to have the decision reviewed.
The expression “criminal record” is probably the one that most clearly expresses something that can harm and weight down a person’s life. The circumstances in which that record is created are therefore a matter of concern for us. It is in fact a very good thing that we are trying to address this issue. Once again, we are expressing this kind of confidence in our parliamentary system so that we can find concrete solutions for people having to deal with this problem.
When we consider the consequences of having a criminal record, we can say that the decisions of these tribunals in fact have very serious consequences. These are decisions that harm a person’s entire life. In the first place, having a criminal record will certainly harm the person’s entire existence, jeopardizing all his opportunities to gain access to certain positions, certain jobs, certain countries and so on.
Imagine you are enrolled in the army and are told to go and fight for your country, for noble values and so that young girls can go fly kites. You are given a weapon, sent into mine fields and left to live in misery, sadness, loss and anger. After all those tribulations and the incredible stresses to which you are exposed, you are given a criminal record for a breach, a breach of discipline, a breach of some barracks code of conduct, for example. That is not even a serious crime, an abuse of power or a violent act, but rather an act of disobedience or insubordination, or merely the result of one pint too many. And you are unable to defend yourself adequately at your summary trial. Imagine that later on, years later, you travel to the United States for a one-week vacation and are turned back. You are in the car with your daughter, and the customs officer says you cannot enter the country because you have a criminal record. One can see the heresy in that situation, when someone who has served his country clearly suffers an injustice.
In the spring of 2011, the NDP proposed many amendments in committee, one of which in particular comes to mind. We proposed that there be 27 minor penalties, that is to say penalties not resulting in a criminal record. There are currently only five. That is definitely a step forward that should be looked at more closely, since this is clearly a form of injustice. This seems obvious to a novice, since I do not claim to be a legal expert.
These exceptions must absolutely be brought back to the table in order to put a stop to the injustice of giving military members criminal records for inconsequential offences.
Now I would like to talk about respect for the standing committee and its work. It is surprising that the majority in this House did not want to adopt the amendments we introduced last spring. These are not partisan proposals. Instead they are an appeal to common sense and show respect for our military members. This is even a matter of respect for the standing committee’s work. The committee worked long and hard, as many of my colleagues can attest. We can also attest to the enormous amount of work that is done in the committees and that generally appears to remain a dead letter.
This committee heard evidence and thoughts, recorded appearances and heard many speeches. What about the result of its work? Is it merely good for the shredder? One would think so.
Ultimately, the committee thought it was good and wise, when Bill was introduced in spring 2011, to adopt the proposal made by the members of my party, who felt that special attention should be given to cases in which an offence does not deserve a criminal record. Why not respect the committee's work and restore that proposal, which was made in good faith and in a non-partisan manner?
I would also like to note the importance of the Military Police Complaints Commission and of enhancing its work capacity, which is absolutely necessary. Limited by the fact that it cannot examine cases that arose before 1999, the commission is designed to handle those in which doubts are raised about the military police's work. I have seen cases in which the commission appeared to be powerless in difficult situations where lives were at stake; I hope to have the time to discuss them. For the good of military personnel and the credibility of the military police, it is essential that the commission be able to operate efficiently in a manner respectful of the players who constitute it.
Lastly, we believe that, to be relevant, the grievance committee that examines the rights of military personnel respecting their benefits, their release, internal issues, harassment and medical matters must be independent and stand outside the Canadian Forces. We have previously suggested, for what I believe are obvious reasons, that 60% of the committee members should be individuals who have never served in the Canadian Forces. This is a reasonable proposal that, like everything we are discussing here, is a matter of natural justice and of aligning military justice with civilian justice.
The members of the Canadian Forces obviously have no association or union to which they can turn. That is why we want the committee to receive and hear the grievances of Canadian Forces members in the rigorous, impartial manner characteristic of an independent outside agency.
This is a matter of natural justice. No one can dispense justice on his or her own behalf. I am going to act like an intellectual and translate that sentence into Latin: Nemo iudex in causa sua. I have quite a Latin accent; I am trying to entertain my colleagues.
Everyone has a right to be heard, and that includes the opportunity to appeal a disputed decision or apply for a review of a decision that appears to be incorrect. As that first rule was very popular, I am going to add a second: Audi alteram partem. This is a reference to our basic system and to the Latin language. These are rules of natural justice commonly in effect in civilian law courts in Canada. They are also in effect in military courts in many countries such as Great Britain—which, it must be acknowledged, the government likes so much—New Zealand, Australia and Ireland.
Why do these rules and rights not apply in our own military courts? Are we saying, “Join the army, sign here, and lose all your rights”? That is a good question.
What I find most disturbing is the extent to which these people devote their lives to defending their country. It seems almost old-fashioned to say it, but they have to be effective, not drag their feet and solve a problem. They are doing it for us. Honestly, as a parliamentarian, I am embarrassed that it has taken so long to move forward on this issue; we are dragging our feet. I hope we can show some collegiality and resolve these matters as soon as possible so that our men and women in uniform feel they are being heard by civilian society.
Mr. Speaker, on October 7, 2011, the introduced Bill . The NDP believes that this bill is a step in the right direction in order to make the military justice system and the civilian justice system more uniform. Still, it does not address the key issues needed to reform the summary trial system and the grievance system. Today I will speak to the grievance system.
Significant amendments were made at the committee stage at the end of the last session of Parliament, but have not been included in Bill . These include the NDP’s amendments concerning the authority of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process, changes in the composition of the grievance board, and the provision that a person found guilty of an offence through a summary trial would not be unjustly burdened with a criminal record.
I want to say something about the last point. This bill proposes many important reforms. The NDP has long advocated the updating of the military justice system. Members of the Canadian Forces are subject to very high standards of discipline and, as Canadian citizens, they deserve a justice system that is subject to the same standards as those that apply to other Canadian citizens.
With regard to reforming the summary trial system, the amendments in Bill do not properly address the unfairness of summary trials. At present, a conviction at a summary trial in the Canadian Forces results in a criminal record. The accused is not able to consult counsel. There is no appeal and no trial transcript. In addition, the judge is the accused's commanding officer. That is unduly harsh for some members of the Canadian Forces who are convicted for minor offences.
Among those minor offences are insubordination, quarrels and disturbances, misconduct, absence without leave, drunkenness and disobeying a lawful command. They are very important for military discipline, but not worth a criminal record.
Bill provides an exemption so that some offences—with minor punishments or fines under $500—would not be put on a criminal record. This is one of the bill’s positive aspects. But we do not think it goes far enough.
In committee, in March 2012, the NDP proposed amendments to Bill that would have expanded the list of offences that could be considered minor and thus would not attract a criminal record if the offence in question received a minor punishment. The amendment also would have expanded the list of penalties that could be set by a tribunal without being noted in the criminal record.
That was progress in terms of summary trials, but since that amendment was not included in Bill , we want it to be included now.
I want to mention Colonel Drapeau, a retired Canadian Forces colonel and an expert in military law. He testified before the Standing Committee on National Defence in February 2011. This is what he said about summary trials:
...I'll get right to the point. The answer is yes...Decriminalize the summary trial system. End of discussion. Remove today the custodial power of the commanding officer to send somebody to detention. If that needs to be done, then that person ought to be tried by court martial where all the rights are provided. So you remove that in the same way as Ireland has done it, as Australia has done it; you decriminalize it. There's no record.
The individual would not have that stigma attached to him just because he didn't shave that morning or he showed up late. Whether he gets a fine or a suspension of leave or he has to stay on the ship when alongside, I can live with that, and that would apply in Canada and abroad. And if there really is a requirement to prosecute someone because of the severity of the offence, then a court martial, and a court martial can be held any place in the world.
That results in a criminal record.
A criminal record can make life after a military career very difficult. Having a criminal record can make it difficult to find a job, lease an apartment, travel or obtain insurance.
I researched the effects of a criminal record on persons who do not go to court and found that it can affect a number of aspects of the person's daily life: employment, entering another country and insurance.
That is right. We can be refused insurance coverage if a member of our family, perhaps a child who was a soldier, has a criminal record because he did not shave his beard one morning.
People with criminal records have difficulty finding work, especially in security. Who better than a former soldier to work for a security company? But he would not get the job.
In general, two out of three employers require a criminal record check.
Under the Criminal Code, civilians can have a criminal record for such offences as assault, extortion, harassment, kidnapping, identity theft, murder, homicide, abuse and theft. That is not the case for our soldiers.
We are severely punishing certain Canadians. Our soldiers, members of our armed forces, receive harsher penalties.
The list of crimes against justice is a long one and includes corruption, failure to report a crime, obstruction and perjury. These are all good reasons to be in such a situation, but a young soldier arriving late for his shift is not a good reason.
Another witness at committee, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, said that military officers who impose penalties during a summary trial are often trying to set a disciplinary example within the unit in order to discourage future infractions, rather than burden the accused with the consequences that come with having a criminal record in civilian life.
The goal is to achieve discipline within our armed forces. I do not believe that the officer imposing the sentence necessarily wants to punish a young man who makes a mistake for his entire life. Soldiers simply want discipline within the military, and that is a good thing.
We therefore have a problem of basic fairness dominating a system that imposes harsh sentences on people who need increased procedural protection.
Colonel Drapeau went on to say:
I strongly believe that the summary trial issue must be addressed by this committee. There is currently nothing more important for Parliament to focus on than fixing a system that affects the legal rights of a significant number of Canadian citizens every year. Why? Because unless and until you, the legislators, address this issue, it is almost impossible for the court to address any challenge, since no appeal of a summary trial verdict or sentence is permitted. As well, it is almost impossible for any other form of legal challenge to take place, since there are no trial transcripts and no right to counsel at summary trial.
The summary trial is by far the most commonly used form of service tribunal in the military justice system. The summary trial is designed to deal with minor service offences.
The NDP believes that Canadian Forces personnel must comply with extremely high standards of discipline and that, in return, they deserve a justice system that also meets standards similar to those applied to other Canadians.
Having a criminal record can make post-military life very difficult. It complicates everything from finding a job, to renting an apartment and so on.
We really want to see this bill improved and to ensure that the committee members' amendments will be included in the bill. That is why we plan to oppose it in the upcoming vote.
Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives really have trouble with happy mediums and balanced approaches. One place where this is obvious is in the area of foreign policy, but we also see it in legislation. Just this week, we have again been presented with a mammoth bill that covers pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. And yet on a subject as important as military justice and the rights of the men and women who defend our country, the Conservatives have brought forth a mouse. I think there is room, somewhere between the mammoth and the mouse, for legislation that is a little more worthwhile.
In 2003, as we know, Justice Lamer submitted his report on the independent review of the National Defence Act. He made 88 recommendations relating to military justice, the Complaints Commission, the grievance procedure and the Canadian Forces provost marshal. We are talking about 88 recommendations. And here we are with a bill that covers only 28 of those recommendations. Once again, this is the approach the Conservatives always take: to pick and choose only the things and the testimony that suit them.
A lot of things are missing in this bill and I will not address them all, since that would take too long. However, I am going to focus on one aspect in particular where the bill does not go far enough: summary trials and the mark they leave on the lives of soldiers, in the form of a criminal record, even after they return to civilian life.
We know that a summary trial can be debatable. It is a judgment dealing with matters that can be as trivial as a quarrel or absence without leave. It may relate to misconduct, insubordination, and so on. But the point is this: someone can be convicted of a relatively minor offence and end up with a criminal record for the rest of their life. This is particularly troubling when the accused in a summary trial cannot be represented by counsel and cannot appeal. There is no transcript and the judge is too often, and very often, the accused’s commanding officer. In other words, the people who defend our rights and freedoms are not entitled to the protections under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms at summary trials. If this were merely a question of internal military discipline, we could always debate it, but the problem is that summary trials leave indelible marks on people’s lives in the form of criminal records.
We recognize that the bill makes a vague attempt to remedy the situation. However, it really does not go far enough. It proposes that five offences be considered minor and not result in a criminal record. That is all well and good for the offences in question—and I will not continue to harp on it—but much more could be done. In fact, Bill , Bill 's predecessor in the last Parliament, was debated in committee and amended to expand the list of offences and the types of sentences that would not result in a criminal record. I do not know why the Conservatives did not keep this amendment.
What we want is to expand the list of offences from 5 to 27, and the committee already agreed to this. It is so important. As retired Colonel Michel Drapeau, an expert on military justice, said:
There is currently nothing more important for Parliament to focus on than fixing a system that affects the legal rights of a significant number of Canadian citizens every year.
Why? Because unless and until we, the legislators, address this issue, it is almost impossible for the court to address any challenge, since no appeal of a summary trial verdict or sentence is permitted.
We must stand up for and respect our soldiers. As Colonel Drapeau went on to say, “From where I stand, I find it very odd that those who put their lives at risk to protect the rights of Canadians are themselves deprived of some of those charter rights when facing a summary trial.”
Why should the consequences of relatively minor offences related to military discipline extend into the civilian lives of our men and women in uniform? Once again, we are not the ones saying this. I would like to quote the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.
“Presiding officers in summary trials...are military officers...and their primary concern is likely to be unit discipline and deterring future violations, not the effect the sentence they impose will have on an accused in the civilian world.”
In short, we have a system that is not working and that needs to be reformed. This bill clearly does not go far enough to do that. Furthermore, in terms of reforming the system, our greatest allies—Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand—have changed their systems.
Our soldiers often participate in joint missions with the soldiers from those countries and are able to see first-hand the injustice that is being done to them, an injustice that this Parliament must agree to remedy today.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to discuss Bill .
By way of introduction, it is worth noting that, as members of the House of Commons, we not only have the great honour of representing Canadians, we also have the opportunity to learn a little more about matters under federal jurisdiction that were perhaps addressed in previous parliaments, but that, for one reason or another, we are not familiar with.
For me, military justice is one such matter. I am no expert when it comes to this issue. However, since I now have the opportunity to discuss it, I did my research. I tried to look at what other Parliaments have done. It became clear to me, when reading the 2003 Lamer report, that reform is necessary. Anyone who has studied the recommendations therein can see that a lot of work was done and that much progress was made in the context of the previous Bill . It is apparent now, however, when considering Bill , that a lot of work was unfortunately done for nought. There is no other way of putting it.
I will speak about this work and the reason why a lot of it has gone by the wayside. To begin with, one of the best opportunities for a member of Parliament to speak about a bill or an issue is to take part in the work of committees. It gives us an opportunity to discuss issues with witnesses, who are often experts in their respective subject areas. At the end of the day, we cannot be experts in everything. Asking witnesses questions and listening to their testimony is an extremely important exercise in our legislative and democratic process. We also have the opportunity to carry out clause-by-clause consideration of different bills and to propose amendments.
Clearly, the party in power enjoys a majority in the House. When there was a minority government, however, the work of committees held more sway. That is certainly what we are increasingly witnessing today as we see the government attempt to take away committees’ power. But that is another debate for another day.
Having said that, several amendments were proposed at the time—in February 2011, unless I am mistaken—at the Standing Committee on National Defence. These amendments were passed by all parties. It must be understood that committees represent all elected representatives and parties. The committee, therefore, made amendments that were in line with the most important recommendations in the Lamer report. This was done in an effort to reform the military justice system.
Some of the amendments to Bill , which is before us today, have been scrapped and others retained. I am asking myself the same question that I just asked of my colleague, the member for . Unfortunately, given the dearth of speakers on the government side, I will not have an opportunity to ask the government this question. I nevertheless wonder why—after being proposed democratically in committee, where the bulk of the work in our parliament was done on this—certain amendments to the bill were retained and others scrapped.
After a bill legally dies on the order paper, there is no obligation to keep the previously adopted amendments when the same bill is presented in another form. Nevertheless, as a democratic and moral principle, and as matter of principle in general, one wonders why the government did not decide to keep these amendments in place, especially since they were not of a partisan nature, and were in line with the ideas put forward in the recommendations of the 2003 Lamer report.
Allow me to speak to a number of these recommendations. After all, the amendments that were not included in the bill in its current form are, unfortunately, reason enough for the NDP to oppose this bill. One of the most important questions concerns summary trials. All citizens of law-based societies such as ours want a balanced system of justice that affords citizens protection.
That said, it is important to understand that the system that exists within the military is not exactly the same. That is precisely why the necessary reforms are meant to bring the military justice system more in line with the civilian justice system. We want to bring these systems more in line with one another to ensure that the members of our armed forces enjoy adequate legal protection, since they deserve our utmost respect, for reasons that I do not need to repeat here. We know the importance of the sacrifices they make. They do incredible work for our society. It is important that they have adequate legal protection.
When we look at summary trials, one particular aspect is extremely problematic. A number of my colleagues have talked about this aspect, the fact that people can be saddled with a criminal record for violating military regulations. In normal proceedings, such behaviour, while certainly unacceptable, would not be sufficient reason to burden someone with a criminal record.
It is important to maintain discipline within the armed forces. We understand that it is important for commanders who make the decisions in these cases to maintain discipline. We are not saying that any of the regulations themselves should change. The penalties must be strict enough to ensure that offenders understand the seriousness of their mistakes. At the same time, however, we must not saddle them with judicial baggage that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
All of the members of this House understand how careful we need to be about burdening people with a criminal record, because it will stay with them forever. It will follow them everywhere—when looking for a job, when signing a lease, basically, it affects all aspects of everyday life. Such measures could force someone into a precarious situation.
I am being very careful. I really want to be clear that we are talking about minor transgressions. We know that people who commit serious crimes deserve a criminal record. We realize this and we obey the laws of our society. We respect the fact that the punishment should fit the crime. However, we really are talking about transgressions that do not warrant a criminal record. When we take a look at this process, what is really problematic is that summary trials are often overseen by a commanding officer who, for understandable reasons that I mentioned earlier, wants to instill discipline in the armed forces. This sense of discipline is so very important in our traditions and also in the work of the men and women of our Canadian Forces.
When we realize that the commanding officer, understandably, may not really be interested in the concerns pertaining to criminal records, we have to bring clarity to the regulations. I believe that this must be one of the reforms we have to make. One of the amendments that we proposed was establishing a more complete list of the circumstances where a criminal record is, or is not, warranted.
In closing, I would like to make one last very important point. One thing dropped from this bill is the composition of the grievance committee.
I would like to make a comparison. In the United States, the founding fathers ensured that the commander in chief, or the U.S. president, is a civilian, not a member of the army. The objective was to balance the importance of a hierarchy within the armed forces and also within civilian society. Another recommendation we hoped would be adopted was that civilians make up 60% of the committee membership. That is another important measure that is unfortunately not in this bill.
Unfortunately, my time has expired and I will not be able to go through the list. However, I am certain that I will have the opportunity to do so during questions and comments.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure and an honour for me to rise in the House today to talk about Bill .
In essence, the purpose of this bill is to enhance and reform the military justice system. Previous parliaments have attempted to come up with similar bills. Despite all of the work done in committee, where all parties agreed to amendments, here we have a bill that, unfortunately, does not go far enough and does not include all of the recommendations that were made. We must oppose it. The government is refusing to work with the opposition parties to come up with a bill that will really be good for the military justice system and, more importantly, military personnel.
As the representative for the riding of Brossard—La Prairie, I have had the honour of meeting many former members of the armed forces and current members who are making sacrifices for their country. I truly admire these people. Often, they are deployed to places where many of us would never dare to go. They do incredible work and make enormous sacrifices. We are asking the government to help them. But the government does not really seem interested in supporting veterans.
In the case of the government forcing veterans to live on less when it decided to claw back veterans' benefits, the veterans actually had to go to court and expend a lot in terms of money and stress when the government on its part could have acted.
We had to wait for the Federal Court to render a decision in favour of veterans saying that what the government did was unfair.
The government is talking out of both sides of its mouth. It says that it supports soldiers. It sends them on missions that Canadians do not always agree with, as we can clearly see in the case of Afghanistan. I am very proud to be a member of a party that is opposed to military intervention in that country.
Let us come back to Bill . My colleagues have already mentioned that the way this bill is written poses a problem for the reform of the summary trial system. The members opposite have had a lot to say about it.
I would like to briefly explain what a summary trial is. When a soldier commits an offence, there is a summary trial. There is no legal counsel present and no transcript of the proceedings. The soldier may also end up with a criminal record. I will come back to that a little later.
Summary trials have no appeal mechanism. The judge is the accused's commanding officer, which is a significant conflict of interest. From a purely legal perspective, this type of trial is not valid. When soldiers undergo a summary trial, they do not have the right to receive legal counsel to defend themselves. They are therefore at a clear disadvantage, which is unacceptable.
A criminal record has fairly serious consequences. Soldiers can end up with criminal records as a result of reprimands. We understand that, in the military system, it is important that there be discipline and that soldiers follow certain rules. However, when soldiers become veterans and return to civil society with a criminal record, there are consequences for them. I think that is a problem. What are these reprimands for? Soldiers can be reprimanded for insubordination, misconduct, absence without leave and drunkenness.
We are also talking about disobeying an order. We can see that this goes too far in some of these cases. Think about this: an individual who has served Canada and who has sacrificed himself or herself would be given a criminal record. The Conservatives keep saying that we must trust and value our military members. However, if they truly believe that, then why give military members a criminal record when they return to civilian society? What does it mean to have a criminal record? It can prevent you from working, from travelling outside Canada, and it can cause you problems every day, when you try to sign a lease, for example. Some problems are really more serious. That is why we asked the government to pay attention to that.
The NDP made a number of specific proposals when this was studied by the Standing Committee on National Defence during the last Parliament. We suggested 27 “cases” in which a criminal record was unnecessary. A penalty might be necessary, no doubt a stiff penalty, but not a criminal record.
The will say that amendments were proposed by the government, but we do not understand why the government has not done its job. This was discussed during a previous Parliament. Does this mean that the government does not respect what was previously done, the discussions, the debates and the recommendations made by the Canadian Forces? Does that mean nothing because they suddenly won a majority? Does nothing that is in the best interests of Canadians and veterans count any more because they have a majority? What counts now is their take on things.
We in the NDP understand that the system must be reformed, but it is a problem when they do not listen to what has been proposed and debated. The former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, made recommendations in his report. Of his 88 recommendations, only 28 were retained. Why does this Conservative government always refuse to listen to what people have to say when solutions are proposed?
I have previously discussed the government's truly unacceptable attitude toward what veterans and the Canadian Forces request. This government does what it wants and does not listen to what people have to say. And we in the official opposition have a duty to promote these discussions. That is why we are debating this bill, which is imperfect. We understand the government's intention: it wants to reform the system. We agree with the government, but we believe this does not go far enough.
Let us look at the conflicts of interest in the grievance system. This is the situation if you have a grievance. The grievance review committee consists of retired members of the Canadian Forces. However, there may be some doubt about the impartiality and objectivity of certain committee members. Members may include commanders, for example. What we are seeking, and what the NDP proposed, in the way of specific solutions that could improve the system and that were proposed during a previous Parliament, is a slightly more civilian system, one in which 60% of committee members are civilians.
In that way we ensure that, when a grievance arises, the individual who says he or she has a problem is not punished, the process is a little more transparent, and there is less of a conflict of interest, which makes it possible to consider the matter.
Once again, our aim is really to help military members, those people who, in certain cases, must forge ahead. We respect that, but the government must respect what the opposition requests, but especially what veterans, the Canadian forces and the public request.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Saint-Lambert for the question, which demonstrates her thorough knowledge of the subject and shows that she shares my concerns.
In a summary trial, there really are no consultations. I also heard someone across the floor say that their objective is to speed up the process.
There has to be a balance between speeding up a process and respecting certain rights. When there are no appeals allowed and no transcripts of the trial, when the accused has no right to legal counsel, and especially when the judge is the accused person's commanding officer, we are entitled to ask some questions.
I understand the desire to speed up the process and take some pressure off the system. However, when the fundamental right to protect and defend oneself is at stake, when the consequences can be devastating and last a very long time, in short, when we are talking about a criminal record, we cannot take this matter lightly.
I know the members opposite are saying they simply want to speed everything up, but we must not forget that there are people behind all this, behind the process. This can have a serious impact on them; it can change their lives.
This whole process really cannot be taken lightly. Respecting certain rights is crucial, I think.
Mr. Speaker, Bill , proposes a series of measures to enhance the military justice system. This bill is a legislative response to some of the recommendations made by Justice Lamer in 2003 following his review of the National Defence Act and to recommendations made by the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs six years later. Of Justice Lamer's 88 recommendations, Bill takes just 28 into account. Sixty recommendations were not included in the bill that the Conservatives introduced in response to the key concerns raised by the Lamer report on national defence.
In its current incarnation, the bill resembles previous national defence and military justice reform bills introduced in the House, such as Bill and Bill , which died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued in 2007 and when the election was called in 2008.
The following year, in July 2008, Bill proposed a simplified courts martial structure and set out a precise method for choosing a type of court martial that would harmonize well with Canada's civilian justice system. It was introduced and debated in the House before being referred to the Senate committee that studies legal and constitutional affairs. After a painstaking review of the bill, the Senate committee made nine recommendations for changes to the National Defence Act.
Later, in 2010, Bill was introduced in the House of Commons. The main purpose of the bill was to address the key recommendations that Justice Lamer made in 2003 and that the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs made in 2009.
Bill included provisions to reform the military justice system in the areas of sentencing, judges and military committees, summary trials, court martial panels and the Canadian Forces provost marshal. Further provisions proposed changes to the Military Police Complaints Commission.
The bill before us today, Bill , is similar to Bill , which was introduced by the Senate committee in the previous Parliament. It provides, among other things, greater latitude regarding the sentencing process and additional sentencing options, such as absolute discharges, intermittent sentences and restitution. It modifies the composition of a court martial panel according to the rank of the accused person, and the limitation period applicable to summary trials. It also allows an accused person to waive the limitation periods. In addition, the bill sets out the Canadian Forces provost marshal's responsibilities.
As the NDP members who spoke before me pointed out, our party believes that the bill is a step in the right direction to bring the military justice system more in line with the civilian justice system. Unfortunately, it fails to address the fundamental issues that a serious military justice reform must tackle, including summary trials, grievances and measures that should be contemplated to strengthen the Complaints Commission.
Because it is silent on these substantive issues, Bill seems from the outset to be unfinished business that has not been given proper consideration.
During the debates on previous bills dealing with National Defence reform, relevant amendments were proposed and adopted at committee stage at the end of the last parliamentary session. We are sorry to see that these amendments were not even taken into consideration in Bill as it now stands.
The amendments proposed by the NDP included changes to the powers of the Chief of the Defence Staff in the grievance process, which stems directly from a recommendation made in the Lamer report, changes to the composition of the grievance committee so that 60% of its members would be civilians, and a provision to ensure that a person found guilty of an offence during a summary trial would not unfairly be given a criminal record. The Conservatives rejected all of these amendments.
The NDP has long supported a necessary update of the military justice system, but not at any cost. We, New Democrats, think that members of the Canadian Forces are subject to extremely high disciplinary standards. Therefore, they deserve a justice system governed by similar standards.
Many Canadians would be shocked to learn that the people who have served our country with such valour can have a criminal record under a system that does not have the procedural regularity that is ordinarily required in the civilian criminal courts.
The NDP will firmly oppose Bill at second reading as long as measures have not been adopted to improve it throughout. New Democrats will continue to fight to make the Canadian military justice system fair for the men and women in uniform who have risked their lives in the service of Canada.
That said, the weaknesses and flaws in this bill mean that we cannot support it. The following are some of the weaknesses in the bill that make it impossible for New Democrats to agree to it.
Let us talk about the reform of the summary trial system. The amendments in Bill do not adequately address the injustice of summary trials. At present, a conviction in a summary trial in the Canadian Forces means that a criminal record is created. When summary trials are held, accused persons are unable to consult counsel. There is no appeal and there is no transcript of the trial. In addition, the judge is the accused’s commanding officer. This is too harsh for some members of the Canadian Forces who are convicted of minor offences. Those minor offences include insubordination, quarrels, misconduct and absence without leave. This is undoubtedly very important for military discipline, but it does not call for a criminal record.
Bill provides an exemption so that certain offences, if there is a minor sentence determined by the act or a fine of less than $500, will no longer lead to a criminal record. This is one of the positive aspects of this bill. We think this bill does not go far enough.
Last March, at committee stage, the amendments to Bill proposed by the NDP called for the list of offences that could be considered to be minor, and not merit a criminal record if a minor sentence were imposed for the offence in question, to be increased to 27 from five.
This was an important step forward for summary trials. However, that amendment was not retained in Bill and we want it to be included again.
A criminal record can make life after a person’s military career very difficult. With a criminal record, getting a job can be a thing of the past, and renting an apartment and travelling can be very difficult. Many Canadians would be shocked to learn that members of the military who have served our country so courageously can have a criminal record because of flaws in the military justice system.
Let us talk about reforming the grievance system. At this time, the grievance committee does not allow for external review. Retired employees of the Canadian Forces, some of them very recent retirees, sit on the committee. If the Canadian Forces Grievance Board is to be seen as an external, independent civilian body, as it should be, the appointment process needs to be amended to reflect that. This committee should therefore be composed, in part, of civilian members.
The NDP amendment suggests that at least 60% of the grievance committee members must never have been officers or members of the Canadian Forces. The amendment was adopted in March 2011, for Bill , but it was not incorporated into Bill . It is important that this amendment be included again.
Let us talk about the authority of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process. One of the major weaknesses of the military grievance system is that, contrary to a recommendation in the Lamer report, the Chief of Defence Staff lacks the authority to resolve the financial aspects of grievances. Although the defence minister approved the recommendation, no concrete action has been taken in the past eight years to implement it. The NDP proposed an amendment to this effect when Bill was at the committee stage. Although this amendment passed in March 2011, it was not retained in Bill . The NDP will fight to have it put back in.
Let us talk about strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission. Bill amends the National Defence Act to establish a timeline in which the Canadian Forces provost marshal will be required to resolve complaints and protect complainants from being penalized for submitting a complaint in good faith. The NDP believes that more needs to be done to strengthen the commission.
Retired Colonel Michel W. Drapeau is an expert in military law. Here is what he had to say before the Standing Committee on National Defence on February 28, 2011.
I strongly believe that the summary trial issue must be addressed by this committee. There is currently nothing more important for Parliament to focus on than fixing a system that affects the legal rights of a significant number of Canadian citizens every year. Why? Because unless and until you, the legislators, address this issue, it is almost impossible for the court to address any challenge, since no appeal of a summary trial verdict or sentence is permitted. As well, it is almost impossible for any other form of legal challenge to take place, since there are no trial transcripts and no right to counsel at summary trial.
It is up to the Conservatives to explain to the House why the relevant recommendations that were agreed to during the debate on Bill have not been incorporated into this bill.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House today to speak to Bill .
This morning, I had the opportunity to hear speeches by a number of my NDP colleagues. Some points they raised were very interesting. I also noticed that a number of members on the other side of the House were interested in the debate, including the parliamentary secretary with his questions. After this morning's discussions, I have a better understanding of the bill.
I would like to take a moment to mention that all of the parties agree that the Canadian Forces are important and that they deserve our respect. These men and women put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms. They go all over the world to protect us and to promote freedom for everyone. It is with a tremendous amount of respect that I rise today to very humbly speak to Bill .
It is often very hard for these people to be away from their families. That is something that many of us do not understand. I have friends in the Canadian Forces. Some of my friends' parents were also members of the Canadian Forces for decades. I have heard all kinds of stories, each more incredible than the next. They are always very proud to talk about their experience in the Canadian Forces. Sometimes it can be difficult. That is something to think about, because it is a whole other world.
It is worth taking a moment to talk about this. I talk about it often with people at the Canadian Legion in Laval, which is in my riding. For example, I have coffee with Jocelyn and Marcel, who served in the Canadian Forces. Some people have never been members of the Canadian Forces, but have a great deal of respect for our military personnel and want to give of their time to them. When they return to their communities, our military men and women try to help out civilians.
For example, at the beginning of the year, Marcel from my riding went over the 500 mark for blood donations. This is very important to him, and he continues to donate blood every two weeks. These people always go above and beyond, and we owe them a great deal of respect. We have to do things the right way for them, especially when it comes to a bill about very important issues such as summary trials, which most of my colleagues have spoken about in the House.
The first thing that struck me was the fact that not all the recommendations in the Lamer report were included, as my colleague just mentioned. The report contained 88 recommendations. From what I understand, the number of recommendations accepted by the government will increase from 27 to 43. Thus, 29 recommendations are already in place and a total of 43 recommendations will be accepted.
After all the work that was put into this report, why not accept all 88 recommendations? I am not an expert, but I did look over the recommendations. I really wonder why the government did not accept more. I would like to have the opportunity to ask some of the members opposite, if they speak to the bill, if there is a particular reason why more recommendations were not accepted.
We are pleased that several recommendations were included, but we feel that they do not go far enough.
I feel that Bill lacks balance because the reforms it proposes are a travesty of justice.
By that, I am referring to summary trials, which I mentioned earlier and my colleagues discussed at length. I expressed my concern about how people could easily end up with a criminal record, which is both troubling and hard to believe because these men and women give their time and, in some cases, many years of service.
It is appalling to see that a criminal record could be so easy to get. Moreover, summary trials are not transcribed. That worries me because the accused cannot appeal. I am concerned that this violates the rights of the men and women who go through a summary trial, because the proceedings are not transcribed and the individual has no recourse.
In the civilian world, accused persons can appeal. I do not understand why people who are members of the Canadian Forces cannot. Somebody on the other side should clarify this matter for me and tell me why things should be this way. I do not see why people in the armed forces should not have the same rights. These people sacrifice everything in service to their country, so why should they not have the right to appeal?
I think that this is a serious flaw. Perhaps the bill was drafted too quickly or the government did not give it enough thought. Are the Conservatives really serious about putting this bill before the House? Honestly, I have my doubts.
This morning, many members talked about studying this bill in committee.
I have a great deal of respect for our parliamentary institutions, and I believe that every parliamentarian tries to do good work in committee. However, it can be extremely difficult to suggest amendments in committee and discuss them properly because there is rarely enough time to talk about all of the bills.
I am currently a member of the Standing Committee on Public Safety, but I used to be a member of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, and I served as a substitute member for several committees. We often hear the same line over and over and see the same kind of thing in how committees operate. I do not wish to minimize the importance of Bill C-15, but I do have some doubts about how the bill will be examined in committee.
I have faith in my colleagues, regardless of their party affiliation. I know they will ensure a job well done. However, if this bill makes it to committee—which is likely, since the government has a majority—I want to be sure that all of my colleagues will take the examination of this bill very seriously.
After hearing from witnesses, committee members will propose amendments in order to ensure that Bill C-15 is as fair as possible when this government passes it. I simply want to be sure that this will be taken seriously. It is our duty as parliamentarians to introduce the best legislation possible. Unfortunately, this bill contains a number of flaws, as pointed out by many people who are not members of the official opposition.
For instance, Colonel Drapeau, a retired Canadian Forces colonel, said that the issue of summary trials needs to be reviewed. Personally, I think we need to listen to those who are asking us to review our procedures, such as the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and Mr. Drapeau. These people have experience that others probably do not have. I will trust our parliamentary system.
However, because of the flaws that appear in Bill , I have no choice but to vote against it and explore in greater detail why more recommendations from the Lamer report were not included in the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the debate on Bill . The short title is always the jazzier version, which is “strengthening military justice in the defence of Canada” bill.
I will pause before diving into the details of Bill that concern me. I find the character of this debate at second reading, and I am sure anybody observing this on the parliamentary channel will also find it, unusual in that, so far, until I rose to speak on behalf of the Green Party, we have only been hearing from members of the official opposition.
I do not know why this is. I think it is symptomatic of the unnecessarily partisan nature of debates in the House on legislation. There was a time, and I worked in Ottawa in that time, when working on legislation was not a partisan matter, but a largely co-operative and consensual matter to come to the best possible conclusions about how to improve legislative efforts before us.
Amendments were not considered a threat to the government of the day. The amendment and the debate processes were seen as part of the role and proper function of Parliament. In that sense, it would be totally in keeping with parliamentary democracy to always see members on all sides of the House put their oar in at second reading and suggest where they think the committee, which will be the specialist members of Parliament on all sides of the House, will dig in and what the committee should focus on when it looks a bill, such as a bill of this nature, which is largely a good work but has areas that need fixing.
We should approach debates in the House with much less partisanship. Every question I have heard from the hon. parliamentary secretary toward members of the official opposition has been to accuse them of somehow being hostile to the purposes of the bill or to try to stop it from being passed. I hear this far too often in this place.
When parliamentarians from any side of the House speak to legislation, that is our role and our job and it is not a political game or waste of time. The very purpose and essence of parliamentary democracy is to ensure that legislation, which Canadians will have to live with for a very long time, is derived through the most exultant of intellectual processes invoking rigour, thought and research so we come up with the very best possible legislation, not the very nastiest of debates.
With that set aside, I want to speak to the bill.
I want to associate myself with the purposes of Canadian military justice as set out by someone who has been quoted quite a lot in debate today, a former colonel and now professor in the faculty of law at Ottawa University, Colonel Michel Drapeau.
In this article, which originally appeared in the Hill Times, he set out very clearly where we were as we approached this debate today. He said:
At the end of the day, Canadian military law, which incorporates both the criminal law of Canada as well as civil offences committed outside Canada, is a vital and necessary law in order to maintain discipline and order among the troops, and is believed to be one of the many reasons why the Canadian Forces are considered one of the world’s best, despite its small size. Considering the power that military law has over its audience, our citizen-soldiers deserve a world-class military justice system. A military justice system which is, first and foremost, just and fair to the accused while being responsive to the military need for discipline.
Obviously, the National Defence Act is still deficient in some major areas and it requires more than tweaks and tinkering to bring it into the 21st century.
That sets the context. This is not a wholesale assault on military justice coming from opposition benches. It is an attempt to ensure that this time that when we take a crack at military justice, considering that the comments and the work goes back to the work of Judge Lamer back in 2003, that we get it right in the 21st century.
As a general comment, we have missed out because we are still reaching back to 2003, nine years ago, for our recommendations. They are good recommendations but the world has moved on in a number of areas.
Again, as a general comment, I hope the committee will look at the reforms that have been taking place among many of our allied nations and friends, such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Germany and France, that have been looking at their military justice systems. I do not like using nouns as verbs, but since Professor Drapeau did it, I will repeat it, “civilianizing”, taking a military justice system and seeing if we cannot combine resources. His recommendation is that the military justice system be folded into the Federal Court. There would then be within the Federal Court a specific area of expertise around military justice. This would achieve quite a lot of efficiencies and cost savings, something the Conservative government usually likes.
Another comment from Professor Drapeau, which is overarching to this whole process, was why we were looking at the bill now when just last March, Justice Patrick LeSage was appointed to conduct a review of the military justice provisions of the National Defence Act. Would we not be wiser in the House to see what he recommended in light of all the things that have transpired over the last nine years since the report of Justice Lamer?
In any case, in moving to some specific areas of concern about the legislation, I am sure the committee will look at this, but I hope it will be open to amendments.
To the question of efficiencies and costs, it is quite surprising to find new judicial positions being created. Particularly, on the creation of a reserve force military judge panel, Mr. Drapeau noted that the current military judiciary had one of the lightest case loads of any branch in Canada. We know the Supreme Court of Canada has a heavy case load as does the Federal Court and most provinces. Under the weight of their case loads, justice grinds slowly. However, here we have a light case load with the creation of an additional reserve force military judge panel, which Professor Drapeau terms, “a costly extravagance”. We should look at that and see if we really need those provisions and additional judges.
I want to direct most of my attention to the changes in grievance procedures. I will start the discussion by going back to Mr. Justice Lamer's report. Members can find this on page 86 of the report tabled to the in September 2003.
Mr. Justice Lamer puts it quite clearly. He wrote:
Soldiers are not second class citizens. They are entitled to be treated with respect, and in the case of the grievance process, in a procedurally fair manner....It is essential to the morale of CF members that their grievances be addressed in a fair, transparent, and prompt manner.
It is here to which quite a number of Mr. Justice Lamer's comments were directed in his recommendations. It is important to set the grievance process in the context to which Mr. Justice Lamer set it. The rest of what we are dealing with in the act is important, but I am concentrating on this because I heard relatively less of it in debate at second reading.
Unlike the rest of the military justice process, the grievance process is inherently non-adversarial. Nobody is being charged and it is not a question of whether members of our military force have access to a lawyer. It is a fundamental question of whether receipts have been honoured properly or that their working conditions are appropriate. It is in the standard management-labour context a grievance, but their grievances are treated differently.
Mr. Justice Lamer said that we should use a process that is, in essence, co-operative. Certainly this is a place where I can see efforts to take Justice Lamer's comments onboard. His recommendation 75 is virtually verbatim in clause 6, which in the act would be section 29.11, to move matters along as informally and expeditiously as circumstance and fairness permit. However, there are many other recommendations of Mr. Justice Lamer that have not been dealt with in this act.
One of the changes in the act for grievance procedures was not recommended by anyone. I query why we have to continually change the names of things but, for some reason, Bill would change the name of the Canadian Forces Grievance Board to the Military Grievance External Review Committee. Any time the name of a board is changed, although it may be a small matter, all the stationary needs to be redone. Why this change in Bill instead of some of the more pertinent things that Mr. Justice Lamer wanted done with the grievance procedure?
Right now grievance procedures still go all the way to the Chief of Defence Staff. The Chief of Defence Staff can delegate, but recommendation 78 would give the commanding officer a maximum of 20 days to try to explore alternatives to the grievance process before it would start to go up the hierarchy to the Chief of Defence Staff.
Mr. Speaker, I stand here with my colleagues sharing our position as the official opposition in opposing Bill at second reading. My colleague from and others have been involved with the content of the bill for some time. What I find disconcerting is that here we are rehashing the debate when so much good work took place at committee, where recommendations and changes were made to the legislation.
Yes, there was an election, so all of that work fell off the table. But when the government had the chance to put forward a bill that truly reflected the discussion that took place at committee, the kinds of testimony heard from top witnesses, it chose to discount the critical amendments to truly make the legislation what it could be, a piece of legislation that seeks to make military justice in Canada fair and truly just to the utmost extent.
The NDP has been clear in recognizing that, while Bill is a step in the right direction to bring the military justice system more in line with the civilian justice system, it falls short on key issues: reforming the summary trial system, reforming the grievance system and strengthening the Military Complaints Commission. It is really about two fundamental values that we hold dear as Canadians: the concepts of fairness and justice.
The reality is that we in the NDP believe that members of the Canadian Forces are held to an extremely high standard of discipline. It is something we all hold as such in our society. However, the members who put their lives on the line for our country deserve a judicial system that is held to that comparable high standard as well, something that is currently not the case and certainly will not be achieved by Bill .
Many Canadians would be shocked to learn that the people who bravely serve our country can get a criminal record from a system that lacks the due process usually required in civilian criminal courts. For us, it is critical to fight for more fairness in the Canadian military justice system for the women and men in uniform who put their lives on the line for service to our country.
I know a number of my colleagues have referenced the summary trial system and the importance of making sure we are moving forward in that respect. I would note that countries we often look to, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, have seen fit to change their own summary trial processes. The question is: Why is Canada lagging behind? We have the opportunity to follow in the steps of these countries, but also to set a leadership standard on our own and to clearly state as a priority that the military justice system stand for fairness and justice for people working in the military, something we civilians know to be the case when it comes to our system.
In terms of the summary trial system, the amendments in Bill do not adequately address the unfairness of summary trials. Currently a conviction of a service offence from a summary trial in the Canadian Forces may result in a criminal record. Summary trials are held without the ability of the accused to consult counsel, there are no appeals or transcripts of the trial and the judge is the accused person's commanding officer. This causes an undue harshness on certain members of the Canadian Forces who are convicted of very minor service offences.
For example, some of the minor service offences include insubordination, quarrels, disturbances, absence without leave and disobeying a lawful command. These could be matters that are extremely important to military discipline, as we know, but they are not worthy of a criminal record. As we know, it remains a struggle for military personnel, once they leave the military, to get on and get settled with their life outside the military. Obviously a criminal record would be debilitating and further exacerbate the challenges many former military personnel face as they go on to pursue employment opportunities outside the military.
What better role could the Government of Canada play than to ensure that military personnel both have the justice they deserve while they are providing military service and also are not unduly penalized because of that unfair system once they leave the service?
We noted that there needs to be reform of the grievance system. At present, the grievance system does not provide a means of external review. Currently it is staffed entirely by retired Canadian Forces officers, some only relatively recently retired. If the Canadian Forces grievance board is to be perceived as an external and independent oversight civilian body, as it was designed to be, then the appointment process needs to be amended to reflect that reality. Thus, some members of the board should be drawn from civil society. The NDP amendments have provided that at least 60% of the grievance committee members must never have been officers or non-commissioned members of the Canadian Forces. This is one of the amendments that was passed in March 2011 in Bill but was not retained in Bill , before us in the House today.
The third point is about strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission. Bill C-15 amends the National Defence Act to establish a timeline within which the Canadian Forces provost marshal would be required to resolve conduct complaints, as well as protect complainants from being penalized for submitting a complaint in good faith. Although this is a step forward, we in the NDP believe that more needs to be done to empower the commission. For example, care has not been taken to provide the Military Police Complaints Commission with the required legislative provisions empowering it to act as an oversight body. The commission must be empowered by a legislative provision that would allow it to rightfully investigate and report to Parliament.
On that note, on the need to strengthen the Military Police Complaints Commission to ensure that those in the military have access to the kind of justice all Canadians would expect, the concept of ensuring the independence of complaints commissions and the ability to review and investigate what is currently taking place is something to which we need to see a greater commitment from the government side in a whole host of areas. One of the areas that has also been discussed is the RCMP.
Despite the rhetoric we have heard from the government in favour of greater fairness for those working in the RCMP, the complaints commission there requires greater support. Canadians require greater assurance that the complaints commission of the RCMP will be independent. The reason I raise this is that we have heard about some serious allegations, some tragic stories around sexual harassment in the RCMP. That is something I am very concerned about, as the status of women critic for the NDP. There needs to be a policy when it comes to sexual harassment in the RCMP, but there also needs to be an assurance and clear legislative commitment to strengthen the independence and the role of the complaints commission. It is very much the same scenario in the case of the military. When we are talking about ensuring that members of the forces have access to justice and a fair system for recourse, we need to be looking at strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission.
Finally, what we are asking of the government, and certainly what we would have hoped for, is that it would have taken the deliberations of the committee and the final amendments made by the committee in hand and, rather than reinvent the wheel, recognize that the work has already been done and the template is already there to ensure that whatever we do with regard to strengthening military justice in Canada be done with access to justice and fairness for military personnel as a foremost priority. It is a priority for us in the NDP. We hope to see that same kind of reciprocation from the government at some point soon.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this particular subject, particularly so close to Remembrance Day. It is particularly fitting, apropos, if I may say, that we have this debate today.
I would like to give a bit of background for those who are perhaps not familiar with the bill and are watching at home. I am continually amazed at how many people in my riding watch CPAC and watch it carefully.
In October of last year, the introduced Bill . The bill is called an act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts. Its short title is the .
The bill would amend the National Defence Act to strengthen military justice, following the 2003 report of the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, and the May 2009 report of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
It is important for my friends across the way to listen carefully, because they need to know that the NDP believes that this legislation is a step in the right direction. The bill is not entirely out in left field. I am sure that some members will agree with me that the Conservatives have had bills that have been out in left field—
It is right field.
Mr. John Rafferty: They are the Cardinals to our San Francisco Giants, I guess, Mr. Speaker. That is the way I look at it.
Among other things, the bill provides greater flexibility in the sentencing process. It provides additional sentencing options, including absolute discharges, intermittent sentences, and restitution. It modifies the composition of a court martial panel according to the rank of the accused person. It modifies the limitation period applicable for summary trials. It allows an accused person to waive the limitation periods and clarifies the responsibilities of the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal. It makes amendments to the delegation of the Chief of the Defence Staff's powers as a final authority in the grievance process.
I do not want people watching at home to think that there are not some good things in the bill as it moves forward. The bill is a step in the right direction. It is a step in the right direction toward bringing the military justice system more in line with the civilian justice system. However, Bill falls short on key issues when it comes to reforming the summary trial system, reforming the grievance system, and strengthening the military complaints commission.
In 2003, the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, who is the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, presented his report on the independent review of the National Defence Act. It contained 88 recommendations. Bill is the legislative response to those recommendations, but to only 28 of those recommendations. Sixty are missing. Only 28 of those recommendations have been implemented by this legislation through regulations or by way of a change in practice.
This legislation has also appeared here in earlier forms, first as Bill and then as Bill , which died on the order paper due to prorogation in 2007 and the election in 2008. In July 2008, Bill came into force, and some changes were made at that time.
In 2010, Bill was introduced to respond to the Lamer report. It outlined provisions related to military justice, such as the things we are talking about today: sentencing reform, military judges and committees, summary trials, court martial panels, the provost marshal, and limited provisions related to the grievance and military police complaints process.
In essence, Bill is similar to the version that came out of committee in a previous Parliament. The amendments carried over include court martial composition and military judges' security of tenure, meaning appointments and age.
However, other important amendments passed at the committee stage at the end of the last parliamentary session were not included in Bill . These included, not surprisingly, NDP amendments that we felt were and are important. One was the authority of the Chief of the Defence Staff in the grievance process, which responds directly to Justice Lamer's recommendation. Another was a change to the composition of the grievance committee to include 60% civilian membership. Third was a provision ensuring that a person convicted of an offence during a summary trial is not unfairly subject to a criminal record, and that is no small thing.
Let me say again, because I know that my friend across the way will be asking me a question, that there are many important reforms in the bill. We support the long overdue update of the military justice system. Members of the Canadian Forces are held to an extremely high standard of discipline, and they, in turn, deserve a judicial system that is held to a comparable standard.
However, there are some shortcomings in the bill, and we hope that they will be addressed at committee stage if the bill passes second reading.
The first is the reform of the summary trial system. The amendments in the bill do not adequately address the unfairness of summary trials. Currently, a conviction for a service offence in a summary trial in the Canadian Forces may result in a criminal record. Summary trials are held without the ability of the accused to consult counsel. There are no appeals and no transcripts of the trial, and the judge is the accused person's commanding officer. This causes undue harshness for certain members of the Canadian Forces who are convicted of very minor offences.
Some of these minor service offences could include, for example, insubordination, quarrels, disturbances, absence without leave, and disobeying a lawful command. These are matters that could be extremely important to military discipline but that I do not feel are worthy of a criminal record.
Bill makes an exemption for a select number of offences if they carry a minor punishment, which is defined in the act, or a fine of less than $500 so that they no longer result in a criminal record. This is one of the positive aspects of the bill, but it does not, in my opinion and in the opinion of the NDP, go far enough.
At committee stage last March, NDP amendments to the previous bill, Bill , were carried. They expanded this list of offences that could be considered minor and not worthy of a criminal record if the offence in question received a minor punishment.
A criminal record could make life in the military very difficult and could make life after the military very difficult. Criminal records could make getting a job, renting an apartment, and travelling difficult. Many Canadians would be shocked to learn that the people who bravely serve our country can get a criminal record from a system that lacks the due process usually required in civilian criminal courts.
The second amendment we talked about was a reform of the grievance system. I know that my friend across the way will probably have a question about that. At present, the grievance committee does not provide a means of external review. I think that is important. Our amendment provides that at least 60% of the grievance committee members must never have been officers or non-commissioned members of the Canadian Forces. The amendment was passed but was not retained in the bill as it stands today.
The third amendment concerns strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission. I do not think care has been taken to provide the Military Police Complaints Commission with the required legislative provisions that empower it to act as an oversight body.