The House resumed from December 7 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the motion that the question be now put.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise after many of my colleagues have spoken in the last few months to Bill on military justice.
In 2003, the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, who was the former Chief Justice of our Supreme Court, presented his report containing an independent review of the National Defence Act. That report contained 88 recommendations pertaining to military justice, the Military Police Complaints Commission, grievance procedures, the Provost Marshal and so on.
The bill is the legislative response to these recommendations. Thus far, however, only 28 recommendations have been implemented in legislation, regulation or by a change in practice.
In 2010, Bill was introduced to respond to the Lamer report, and in essence this bill is similar to Bill that came out of committee in the previous Parliament. The amendments carried over include court martial composition and military judge security of tenure.
However, other important amendments—and it is really important that we all be aware of this—that passed committee stage at the end of the last parliamentary session did not end up in the bill. These include the following three NDP amendments that I will mention.
First, the authority of the Chief of the Defence Staff in the grievance process: This was amended clause 6 in Bill , responding directly to Chief Justice Lamer's recommendation. That is not here.
Second, changes to the composition of the grievance committee to include a 60% civilian membership: This was an amended clause in Bill . Again, this is not in Bill .
Third and finally, a provision ensuring that a person who is convicted of an offence during a summary trial is not unfairly subjected to a criminal record: This is amended clause 75 in Bill . This last amendment from Bill that did not reappear in the bill will be the main focus of my own remarks.
The NDP will be opposing the bill at second reading. However, we do hope that some of these shortcomings that I will be emphasizing, and have been emphasized by some 50 or 60 of my colleagues in the House, will be looked at seriously. The practice of committees of the House will vary somewhat in this case, I hope, and some amendments will come back at third reading.
I want to clarify that the amendments to Bill do not adequately address the injustice of summary trials. Summary trials are by far the most used military tribunal within the military justice system. The purpose of a summary trial is to deal with minor military-related offences. The objective is to quickly deal with alleged offences within the unit, so members can be returned to active service as quickly as possible, which helps promote and maintain discipline within the unit.
In his brief, Colonel Michel Drapeau stated that the summary trial was the most frequently used disciplinary method to deal with offences committed by Canada's military personnel. In 2008-09, 1,865 cases in total—96%—were resolved through summary trial, while only 67 cases—4%—were heard through court martial.
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 forces can result in a criminal record. Summary trials are held without the ability of the accused to consult counsel. There are no appeals, there are no transcripts of the trial and the judge is the accused person's commanding officer.
This reflects an undue harshness when certain members of the forces who are convicted of various minor service offences end up with a criminal record, leave the service at some point and enter into society, with a criminal record and everything we know that can imply for their prospects, whether it is looking for jobs or advancing in the educational sphere. The fact that people have criminal records can sometimes be looked at when they want to upgrade their education.
Some of the minor service offences include insubordination, quarrels, disturbances, absences without leave, drunkenness and disobeying a lawful command. These, by definition, could be extremely important matters to military discipline, as we can imagine, every one that I have just listed. Discipline and efficient functioning of a military unit has to be at the very core of how the military functions, and we can see how these could be of great instrumental concern to the military. However, they are not worthy of a criminal record, I suggest.
Bill makes exemptions for a select number of offences if they carry a minor punishment, which is defined in the act, or a fine less than $500. These would no longer result in a criminal record. This is to be welcomed, but my point is that the recommendations in Chief Justice Lamer's report and the NDP amendments in Bill have to be taken seriously. We have to go further.
What we propose, by increasing from 5 to 27 the number of offences that would be exempt from a criminal record after summary conviction, responds to a very serious need in the military to hear that society, outside the military, understands the incredibly tough job people expect of members of the military and the pressures they are under that can often lead to summary conviction trials. People also want to welcome them back into society without the burden that is the worst kind of send-off for their service to our country—namely, a criminal record.
A criminal record can make life after the military very difficult, to put it mildly. It can make getting a job, renting an apartment and travelling very difficult. Imagine having a criminal record and trying to travel to the United States these days. A lot of Canadians would be shocked to learn, frankly, that 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.
I have spoken to my colleague from , who has had some experience in the military. He spoke in the House, not by way of a speech but by way of several interventions, and I want to put the interventions on record as part of my speech so they can be integrated into a broader theme.
First, the member for stated:
|| My experience has shown me that soldiers are subjected to conditions that are extremely different from what is experienced in the civilian world.
|| People are encouraged to join the Canadian Forces in order to gain experience and come out with some incredible tools. I made mistakes, minor ones. It happens to everyone. For example, you go before a superior officer and get charged, fined, patted on the back and told not to do it again. That is part of life's lessons. We are talking about young people who enlist at the age of 18, 19 or 20 and who need guidance. I do not think that providing guidance for minor offences involves encouraging young people to join the Canadian Forces, exposing them to extreme conditions and handing them a criminal record on their way out. That does not work.
In another intervention, my colleague from had the following to say:
|| For the last 10, 15 or 20 years, professionals, members of the military and experts have been requesting changes that should be made.
|| These amendments were brought forward and agreed to during the previous Parliament. Everyone agreed. Now the Conservatives are proposing half measures by saying that they are going to send the bill to committee for review, but they are not giving any guarantees.
I presume he means any guarantees that they actually will modify in light of common sense.
Finally, the member for said something that I think is indeed disturbing, if what he says is true, and I believe it to be true. I spoke to him yesterday to confirm that Hansard is correct. He stated:
|| Mr. Speaker, being an ex-member myself, I have seen trials that colleagues and friends have gone through and the impact they can have to ruin careers and leave people looking at the military in a certain way but not necessarily understanding the system. I have seen summary trials put onto military personnel in such a way that they were used as a training tool. I think there is a serious problem with this.
That is the understatement of the century.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House today to oppose this bill. It is a particularly glaring example of how this government thinks it has a monopoly on good ideas and that no one else has any, especially not the opposition.
Our party has long been calling for changes to ensure greater justice for members of the Canadian Forces. There is no denying that this is the fundamental principle behind this bill and our discussion. Why should a soldier, who is a citizen like anyone else, not have access to a fair and balanced justice system where human dignity is a priority? Whether we are soldiers or not, a person's career choice should have no bearing on the level of justice he or she can expect to enjoy. It is that simple. Changes have to be made.
Unfortunately, this bill does not go far enough and contains measures that are sometimes inappropriate. I would like to point out that it provides for greater latitude in sentencing and introduces new sentences, such as absolute discharge, intermittent sentences and restitution. It makes changes to the membership of the court martial panel according to the rank of the accused, and to the summary trial limitation period and the option of waiving the limitation period at the request of the accused. The responsibilities of the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal and the delegation of the Chief of Defence Staff's powers as the final authority in the grievance process have also been changed.
In light of all these changes, there are questions that must be asked. How is this of benefit to the simple soldier, who needs recourse to a justice system that does not penalize him unduly and does not jeopardize his future after his military career? The proposed changes may even strengthen some of the powers of certain senior levels in relation to the ordinary soldier. We must be sure that our constituents can benefit from measures needed to defend themselves in these situations. The bill appears to be a step in the right direction toward greater standardization of the military justice system. However, it does not address the key issues in reforming the summary trial process and the grievance system and strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission. These are three things that would give greater strength to ordinary soldiers in our Canadian Forces.
We have supported updating the military justice system for a long time now. Members of the Canadian Forces are subject to extremely high disciplinary standards, and they deserve a justice system that is subject to standards that are just as high.
Nevertheless, we will oppose Bill at second reading, as it contains a number of shortcomings, which, we hope, will be discussed in committee if the bill is passed at second reading, something that is very likely, given the majority held by the Conservative government. Here are the major amendments that we are proposing.
The amendments to Bill C-15, for instance, do not deal adequately with the injustice of the summary trial process. Currently, a conviction at a summary trial in the Canadian Forces leads to a criminal record. Summary trials are held even though the accused are unable to consult with counsel. There is no appeal, nor is there a transcript of the trial.
Furthermore, the trial judge is the accused person's commanding officer. This is too harsh for some members of the Canadian Forces who are convicted of minor offences. These minor offences include insubordination, quarrels, misconduct, absences without leave, drunkenness and disobeying a lawful command.
We must be very careful, because it is obvious that soldiers, like us, have good days and bad days. They are subject to a great deal of pressure and stress, particularly in combat situations and other difficult situations. It is also perfectly normal that soldiers, who are often very young, should commit minor offences. I am not saying that people are not very smart when they are young, but they may be a little more adventurous and resist authority a little more. It is normal for people to go through this stage of life. Penalizing a soldier who has committed a minor offence by saddling him with a criminal record seems completely unreasonable. We must be absolutely sure that measures are put in place to determine whether or not an offence is a serious one.
Bill also provides for an exemption so that certain offences will no longer be included in a criminal record, if there is a minor punishment under the act or a fine of $500 or less. That is not necessarily a bad thing. That is one of the positive aspects of this bill, but in our opinion it does not go far enough.
Last March, when Bill was considered in committee, the amendments proposed by the NDP called for the list of offences that could be considered to be minor to be extended to 27 from five. The question is therefore what is considered to be a minor offence or a major offence. In our opinion, too many offences are considered to be major. The list of offences considered to be minor should be extended to 27 from five, which is entirely reasonable.
In addition, the amendment proposed by the NDP called for the list of sentences that can be imposed by a tribunal without the offender having a criminal record to be extended as well, with the addition of a severe reprimand, a reprimand or a fine of up to one month of basic pay or other forms of minor punishments. I reiterate: one month’s pay.
In speaking with my military constituents, I have realized that they are not wealthy. There is no point in pretending otherwise: an average soldier who is not an officer does not get the highest pay in the world. Their pay cannot be compared in any way with a member of Parliament’s pay. Fining someone a month’s pay is a harsh punishment, particularly when they have a young family to feed. Soldiers often have young families. We have to acknowledge that this is a severe punishment.
As a final point, I will stay on the subject of that amendment, to complete my comments in that regard. That amendment was an important step forward for summary trials. However, since it was not incorporated into Bill , we want it to be included again.
A criminal record can make life after a military career extremely difficult. Having a criminal record can make it very hard to get a job, rent an apartment or travel abroad.
We ask soldiers to make the transition between military life and civilian life, but if they commit a minor offence, they have a criminal record. That is completely illogical.
In conclusion, a bill about military justice has to take into account the fact that our soldiers are also citizens who deserve justice.
Mr. Speaker, we cannot really talk about Bill unless we talk about the Lamer report. Contrary to some of my colleagues across the floor it is not the “Lay-mer” report, it is actually the Lamer report.
In 2003, the Rt. Hon. Antonio Lamer, who is a former chief justice of the Supreme Court, presented a report that made recommendations on how we could improve our Military Police Complaints Commission. Looking at that report and then looking at Bill , I can say with confidence, as many of my colleagues have, that the NDP will vote against Bill C-15.
Bill is a step in the right direction. The NDP absolutely acknowledges that. However, it does not go far enough. I can only imagine the bill will get through second reading and get to committee because the Conservatives will vote in favour of it. When it does get to committee, I am very hopeful that we can bring in some witnesses and talk about how to improve the bill and what kinds of amendments we should make to it to make it stronger and to actually implement the recommendations that were in the Lamer report.
What kinds of amendments would we want to see? When we are looking at Bill , the NDP takes the same approach as former chief justice Lamer took in his report . I will read from the summary because there is a nice set-up in the summary of the report. It says:
|| While not entirely without room for improvement, it is my conclusion that the military justice system is generally working well. However, the grievance process, also a subject of Bill C-25, unfortunately is not. The large number of outstanding grievances—close to 800 at last count, some outstanding for ten or more years—is unacceptable. As a result, I have made many recommendations to ensure that grievances are dealt with much more quickly and in a fair and transparent manner.
This set-up for the report is the same kind of balanced approach that the NDP is trying to take to the bill. We do believe, very much so, that the military justice system is working well. However, there are flaws and when there are flaws, and perhaps more importantly when there are solutions or fixes for those flaws, we must act to implement those changes.
There are important reforms in Bill and the NDP does support the long overdue update to the military justice system. However, there are important measures that need to be included in the bill and without these measures being included, the bill is incomplete. If the bill is incomplete, it is something that we should not support.
I will start with the grievance process. I will refer directly to the Lamer report. Chief Justice Lamer wrote that although the grievance process that was created seems to be sound on its face, in theory, the way that it actually operates has not been sound. That is really important. We need to pay attention to the way things play out in real life, not just how they look on paper.
He pointed out that grievances still caught in the process after 10 or 12 years are not unheard of and those of two or more years at the level of Chief of Defence Staff seem to be the norm. He further pointed out that many grievers complained that they were not advised as to the reasons for their delays or where their grievances were in the grievance process. Therefore, the Lamer report recommended new measures to end these unacceptable delays, reduce bureaucracy and ultimately increase transparency.
His first recommendation in this section was that the Chief of Defence Staff must be given the power to delegate decision making in respect of all grievances to someone under his command and control, except those that may have significant implications for the Canadian Forces.
Members will remember that this recommendation came out in 2003 and here we are in 2012. This flaw still exists for some unimaginable reason. As I said earlier, when there is a flaw we have to act to correct that flaw, particularly when we have solutions. This is a very solid recommendation and I do not understand why Bill would not take into consideration something as basic and simple as this. This is not a recommendation that creates bureaucracy and red tape or requires money or even thinking outside the box too much. It is a pretty straightforward recommendation. Therefore, I do believe it is incumbent on us to act and to make sure that Bill C-15 would include a sound recommendation such as this, because the flaw still exists.
The Chief of Defence Staff presently lacks the authority to resolve any and all financial aspects arising from a grievance, in direct contradiction to the recommendation of the Lamer report. Despite the fact the at the time agreed to this recommendation, there have not been any concrete steps over the past eight years to implement this recommendation.
It is worth pointing out that the bill has appeared in different incarnations and at committee in other Parliaments. The NDP did propose an amendment to this effect at committee when the bill was called Bill . The consensus at the table was that it was a sound recommendation and the NDP will fight to include a similar amendment in Bill .
At committee I will watch with great interest the testimony and discussion around the reform of the summary trial system. Here, I will say that I am proud to represent the riding of Halifax, a military town, as I am sure members know. It is the home of Canada's east coast navy. Although I meet members of the Canadian Forces every day in their role as service members, I also meet them and their families in and about the community, because they are not separate from the community. They are not separate from us. Rather, they are like us and part of our community. They are our neighbours and hockey coaches. Their families are in our schools and they volunteer there. They are part of who we are as the community of Halifax. We therefore come to know them and their families quite well and understand the incredible sacrifices their families make because one or both parents are serving. It is not easy to be a military family.
I have visited the military family resource centre in Halifax a few times and have had great discussions there. I heard first-hand from spouses about the difficulties of having their partners away for so long and not having control over that process. They are constantly moving, so even doing some things that we might think simple, such as buying or selling a house, causes great stress and often it is just one parent who has to do that. The kids have to adjust to new schools, find new friends, and figure out their new community as they move around. They undergo a lot of stress and pressure and really do sacrifice a lot because one or both parents serve in the Canadian Forces.
Then imagine a forces member going through all of these sacrifices with their families and at the end being released with a criminal record. Can we imagine how difficult that would make post-service life, and how hard it would be to get approved for an apartment or find a job outside of the Canadian Forces? That is a distinct possibility because the way the system is set up now, quarrelling or making a disturbance or even being drunk are considered summary offences. The person could end up with a criminal record because of these charges. God forbid that people in the rest of Canada, or perhaps even people here in the chamber, should end up with a criminal record for drunkenness.
While the bill does change that fact, the NDP would like to expand the list of minor offences because a lot of them are not worthy of a criminal record. If one thinks about the impact these minor offences would have on families and the community if considered cause for a criminal record outside of the Canadian Forces, they are unfair and unjust. If we talk to other organizations in the community they would agree that this is something that needs to be reformed. Therefore, I will watch the discussion on this subject at committee with bated breath.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to participate in the debate on Bill .
I do believe that bringing the military justice system more in line with the civilian justice system is a step in the right direction. However, there are some key issues where the bill falls so far short that it is impossible for me to support it at second reading.
I will quickly highlight the key issues. The bill falls short when it comes to reforming the summary trial system, reforming the grievance system and strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission. Those three areas are critical when we go back to first principles with respect to military justice.
I would remind members of a speech made by my friend and colleague, the NDP defence critic, the member of Parliament for . I think he articulated the challenge best in his opening remarks on this bill. He reminded us that it was important to have a good look at our whole military justice structure because there were a number of problems that needed to be resolved.
Military justice needs to fit in with our entire justice system. We need to ensure there is conformity between the kinds of laws we have in relation to military justice, as well as our general justice system, certainly in terms of the fundamental principles of law. We need to understand that there are differences between military law and our general legal system, and there are good reasons for that. The military justice system recognizes the relationship between the justice system and discipline within the military. There is a significant importance to discipline in the military.
This is what the author of the only significant legal text in Canada used in law schools, Michel Drapeau, has said about the importance of discipline in military law:
|| Few professions are as dependent on discipline as is the military. Discipline is fundamental to military efficiency, cohesion, esprit-de-corps permitting commanders to control the use of violence so that the right amount and type of force can be applied in exactly the right circumstances, the right time and the right place. At the personal level, discipline ensures also that in times of great danger and risk, the soldier can and will carry out orders even if his natural instinct for self-preservation and fear tells him otherwise. Likewise, group and individual discipline ensures adherence to laws, standards, customs and values of civilian society, even during combat operations.
He went on to say that discipline was integral, not only to the maintaining of an efficient armed forces but also to ensuring that the rule of law predominates within the military, particularly when engaged in great peril and danger in combat.
Military discipline is important for two reasons, not only for maintaining discipline so that when someone violates the law there is quick action and a speedy response to breaches of disciplines, but also because there may well need to be procedural differences available in the military context. Nonetheless, it is also extremely important that when engaged in combat there always be an adherence to the rule of law.
Our country certainly wants a military force and troops who are capable of carrying out their use of force in a lawful manner, regardless of the circumstances of grave peril that others take. Therefore, we say that the military justice system does not only exist to punish wrongdoers but it is also a central part of command discipline and morale.
Here in Canada, we have a voluntary military and the military justice system must be seen as equitable and fair. Otherwise, we will not only have a justice problem but we may very well also have an operational and recruitment problem. We must recognize that people who volunteer for military service have a right to know that they will be treated fairly.
Therefore, we must emphasize the justice side as well as the military side. We want, expect and need a high level of morale in our system among our troops and we demand loyalty, but that is a two-way street and the system must be seen as being fair.
That is the crux of my concern with Bill as it is before us today. Yes, it finally takes steps to update the military justice system but it does not go far enough in recognizing that the members of the Canadian Forces who are held to an extremely high standard of discipline, in turn deserve a judicial system that is held to a comparable standard.
I will now speak to the three issues that I referenced at the beginning of my speech. I hope I will be able to address each one in some detail, although I am always dismayed by the fact that we only get 10 minutes in these debates to address issues as important as this one. Nonetheless, I will give it a whirl and I will try to be a concise as possible.
I will talk first about reform to the summary trial system. The amendments in Bill simply 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 undue hardships on certain members of the Canadian Forces who are convicted for very minor service offences.
For example, some of the minor service offences include insubordination, quarrels, disturbances, absences without leave, drunkenness and disobeying a lawful command. These could be matters that are extremely important to military discipline but they are not 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 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 go far enough.
At committee stage last March, NDP amendments to Bill were carried to expand 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. 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 fine equal up to one month 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.
A criminal record can make life after the military very difficult. Criminal records can make getting a job, renting an apartment and travelling very difficult indeed. A lot of 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.
A similar unfairness persists with respect to the grievance system. The way the system currently works, 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. In other words, some members of the board should be drawn from civil society.
Our 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. This amendment was passed in March 2011 in Bill but was not retained in Bill . It is important that this amendment be included once again in this bill.
Finally, I will briefly touch on the third point related to the strengthening of the Military Police Complaints Commission. Bill would amend the National Defence Act to establish a timeline within which the Canadian Forces provost marshal will be required to resolve conduct complaints, as well as protect complainants from being penalized for submitting a complaint in good faith. Although a step forward, we in the NDP believe that more needs to be done to empower the 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. The Military Police Complaints Commission must be empowered by a legislative provision that will allow it to rightfully investigate and report to Parliament.
I will conclude by summarizing all of these issues in one sentence. Systems that impose significant penalties on individuals require increased procedural protections and surely we can all agree that the brave men and women who serve our country deserve nothing less.
Mr. Speaker, it is with some pleasure I enter into this debate because both on form and substance the New Democrats have pointed out what often fails the government on the process that has been used on this very important bill.
As my colleagues have said, the official title of Bill , allows for some improvements that are long overdue with respect to the men and women who serve in the Canadian Forces when they face any kind of charges or penalties and how those are then carried out by court martial or other services that the Canadian Forces provide. That is what the act seeks to do.
As I said in my question to my friend from Hamilton, this is not the first time the House has seen the bill. We have seen it a number of times. In the two most recent presentations of the bill, it was by the Conservatives' own hand that the bill was killed, once through prorogation, when the was worried much more about his job than the jobs of Canadians. By proroguing Parliament, the government clearly knew it would wipe out all legislation that was on the table at the time. That was the consequence of the 's action. That was his choice and his choice alone.
The second time the bill was introduced into Parliament it was killed by a second act of the Conservative government. That was forcing an early election upon Canadians, breaking the Conservatives' own fixed election date laws.
I remember back in the Reform Party days when the Conservatives believed in a reformed Senate, for example, rather than stuffing it full of one's friends and cronies, which, by the way, the Conservatives have also done. The Reform movement that came predominantly out of the west, but also from Ontario and other parts, believed in the idea that fixed election dates were important. It took some of that enormous power away from the sitting government to determine when the election would be called because that was fundamentally an undemocratic power that the government, under our system, held. Therefore, fixed election dates were promoted and campaigned upon.
I remember the campaigning upon this as something very important for Canadians to rely upon and that the government would introduce legislation that would allow Canadians to know when the next election would be called and that it could not be manipulated by the sitting government to play to its favour.
I remember the member for , the , also talking about the importance of having that assuredness so democracy would be given a fair shot every time, that every party and all Canadians would know when the next election would come.
That was inconvenient for the . He wanted an election at a different time, so he called it early and killed this exact legislation for a second time.
Most recent the government actually tried a tactic, a trick if you will, Mr. Speaker, in the House that tried to force and extend the hours of sitting so Parliament would suddenly sit all night to get through debate on the bill because it was now in such a panic over these reforms that were so essential.
The undemocratic tendencies of the government have been well documented. The Conservatives have introduced more motions of closures and shutting down of debate than almost any government in Canadian history, which is passing strange to Canadians. After all, they have that coveted majority they narrowly won in the last election. We would think, with having the most votes in the House, it would allow them a certain level of maturity and calm on that side, to not have to abuse Parliament's rules to constantly invoke closure, time allocations and shutting down debate in Canada's centre of democracy in Parliament.
Yet the Conservatives get impatient. They get frustrated. They get a little incompetent from time to time and that incompetence then forces them to hit the panic button, shut down debate one more time and then try to blame somebody else for their own failures.
On Bill , we have talked a bit about the process that we have reached on this point. One last note on that, and it has been well made but it has to be driven home for my Conservative colleagues who ask us why we simply cannot trust them. They have said that the and the have made comments and that those comments should hold that they will fix the mistakes still in the bill.
It gives us pause because we went through that process as good members of Parliament, going through the committee stage, hearing the witnesses that came forward. We rely upon expert testimony on this side. We rely on people who are actually professionals and base their testimony on science and things like evidence.
I know the Conservative government has a certain allergic reaction to facts and figures being presented before it, but we relied on key testimony in making amendments to the legislation, which I will get into in a moment. These amendments were absolutely critical to improving the safety and certainty of our men and women who served in our services throughout Canada and around the world.
In relying on those expert witnesses, we found that there were some fundamental failures as the legislation was then put and we amended the bill. Parliament is supposed to make legislation better by finding the mistakes, look for corrections and fix them.
You will know that, Mr. Speaker, through your experience and vast knowledge of this place. I think you are regularly voted by your colleagues as one of the most, if not the most, knowledgeable members of Parliament consistently. You are even getting cheers from the Conservative benches and a standing ovation from the minister.
However, when legislation is done poorly, to then go back and correct the legislation is both very expensive within Parliament, with the amount of time we have to spend to fix it, and it can also be very expensive in human terms for the Canadians who are affected by bad legislation and rules. Therefore, could there be anything more serious than what happens under a court martial situation? If the rules and guidelines that are meant to both serve the defence and prosecution are badly designed, as they are in the bill, then clearly that will have some real human impact.
The Conservatives and the minister have said that we should not worry as they will make those corrections, which were already made a year or year and a half ago. However, it is confusing and concerning to us that the Conservatives have promised to fix a bill that was already fixed.
When the Conservatives reintroduced the bill for the third or perhaps fourth time now, all those improvements that were made last time around were suddenly gone. It is as if they pulled the old broken one off the shelf and reintroduced it. We are confused because we fixed that old broken one and made it better for the Canadian Forces, our troops and the process for any allegations that might be made.
The government said that it agreed with all those changes, but it did not put it in the legislation. The Conservatives so much agreed with the changes that they would reintroduce them into the legislation when the bill went to the committee stage. What lunacy is that? That does not make any sense at all.
One has to wonder. This is coming from a government that is going through the final stages of its second omnibus bill this year, which is a massive piece of legislation that traditionally ranged from 15 to 20 pages and affected 3 to 7 pieces of legislation. However, the Conservative omnibus bill affects upwards of 60 to 70 different laws of Canada all in one bill and sometimes strips the law down to virtually nothing, as was done to the environmental assessment. It takes out key pieces of the Fisheries Act such as habitat protection, which suddenly does not matter when it comes to protecting Canada's fisheries.
The massive omnibus bill two had to fix the mistakes made in the spring omnibus bill one, which the Conservatives rushed through the House. They did that by shutting down debate and invoking time allocation. They rushed things through and got it wrong. Now we are back taking up Parliament's time with the fixes to their first mistakes, and they have done this repeatedly.
I remember the Internet snooping bill. Canadians will remember this one well because it was so badly explained by the . He said that we should support this bad legislation that the government had and allow the police to look at one's email traffic and whatever website one happened to be looking at without any judicial supervision at all.
I am sure the had some pause when he saw the drafting of the legislation. The basic idea of invasion of one's privacy requires that there be some sort of oversight, that the police cannot take the discretion to go into a home, business or someone's email account without some judicial oversight. However, the said to us that we were either with this bad legislation that allowed people to snoop into our emails and websites or we must be with the child pornographers.
My goodness, if there has ever been a lesson on how not to convince the public of one's initiatives, it was done by that minister, and the bill seems to have disappeared.
Therefore, on key things such as taking out more minor offences that are now in this judicial system, the grievance committee that is obviously flawed because it does not have enough civilian participation, the Military Police Complaints Commission that does not have enough oversight with these new powers that are given, on the substance of the bill, the Conservatives got it wrong again.
Of course the New Democrats will stand up when Conservatives get it wrong. The New Democrats stand up often because it is often that Conservatives get it wrong.
Mr. Speaker, what we are holding up is the bad process the Conservatives use time and time again to introduce legislation.
Because my friend asked a substantial question, allow me to offer up my specific concerns and those that have been shared by my colleagues. On the minor offences list, which have been introduced by the government in this iteration, this tries to take those minor offences out so men and women in the forces do not end up with a criminal record through this process. The list is not exhaustive. This is a problem that we raised the last time with the government and the government in fact agreed in some measure, but then backtracked. We have no idea why. As this legislation is designed, it still creates the scenario that men and women charged with minor offences, by anyone's determination, could potentially still end up with a criminal record that would prevent them from having that full and free life they deserve to have after their service in the military. That is one concern.
The grievance committee is a second concern. It was a recommendation from Lamer in those 88 recommendations, saying that if we wanted to move toward something that was more in line with the civil courts then we would actually need to have not just Canadian Forces members on the grievance system panel. That was a recommendation the Conservatives said they agreed with, yet it does not exist in the legislation.
Therefore, on real substance, not just process, we are confounded that the Conservatives do this from time to time. A report will come, say from an auditor general, or a judge, or a panel that they struck will present its recommendations, and the minister will get up and say that they agree with the recommendations. One would then infer that they would then put those recommendations into law. That has not happened and we do not understand why. It does not serve our Canadian men and women who so valiantly serve our country, so let us do them justice in the justice system that they work under.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak after my colleague, who gave an excellent speech, not only on the substance of the bill, but also on its form and the Conservatives' process of introducing omnibus bills, proroguing Parliament and not respecting the work of parliamentarians. We are being repeatedly gagged: over 30 gag orders in a year and a half.
This highlights how the majority Conservative government is undermining the health of our democracy and respect for the work of parliamentarians. This bill is yet another example of that. In a way, the government is not respecting the work of parliamentarians because we are being asked to redo something that was already done once before.
I really liked the analogy that it is as though the government took the previous version instead of the new version of the bill out of the photocopier. The government figured it was no big deal, that it would all be sorted out in committee, since it would ask parliamentarians to redo what their predecessors had already done. It is a waste of time. The Conservatives are used to wasting money. Now, they are wasting time.
Before outlining all our concerns with this bill, I would like to make something clear. When we discuss justice or correctional systems issues that affect people's lives, we must not underestimate the importance of these debates and discussions in our society.
Mr. Speaker, you are more aware of the repercussions of the justice system, whether civilian or military, than many people here. Today we are pleased to be discussing the military justice system that affects the men and women who serve in the Canadian Forces.
We New Democrats believe that some elements that are not in the current bill should be there in order to improve the bill and respond to the legitimate hopes and aspirations of the people in our armed forces. The men and women in our armed forces serve under extremely strict and severe rules of discipline. We understand why that is, of course. However, it is important that they have an equally strict justice system that is functional and well managed in order to ensure that justice is done, that they are not victims of inequity and that the consequences do not follow them into their lives after they leave the armed forces.
Most people join the armed forces when they are quite young. It is not often that someone my age signs up. Thus, they are in the prime of life when they finish their service. They will need to continue working, to find a job and housing, and perhaps they will want to travel or study abroad. But under the current system, there are consequences from offences that are minor, but serious within the Canadian Forces, which we acknowledge. And that can leave its mark—it has been discussed to some extent—such as a criminal record that will complicate their lives.
We are aware of that, and I think that many Quebeckers and Canadians would be shocked to learn that people who risk their lives, their safety and their health while serving their country could be penalized for the role they have played. If they committed a similar offence in civilian life, the consequences and the price to pay would be less significant. That needs to be said. We must discuss this so that Canadians and Quebeckers have confidence in the military justice system. At this time, major improvements are needed in order to respect the sacrifices being asked of the men and women who serve in our armed forces.
In our opinion, the key issues in reforming the system are the issue of summary trials, which we will come back to; the existing grievance system; and the need to strengthen the powers of the Military Police Complaints Commission. This is not our only request for strengthening the powers of certain commissioners or officers; I am spending my days arguing in favour of more powers for the Chief Electoral Officer, but that is another topic.
There is a lot of background to Bill , which we are studying today. We have been considering this matter and trying to find ways to improve it for some time now. In 2003, Antonio Lamer, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, tabled a report on his independent review of the National Defence Act. The Lamer report contained 88 recommendations on military justice, the Military Police Complaints Commission, the grievance process and the roles and powers of the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal. Bill C-15 is the response to those recommendations. However, only 28 of them were included in the Conservatives' bill. What happened to the other 60? They suddenly disappeared with a wave of the magic wand by the Conservatives, who feel they are not necessary. However, we think the recommendations contain important ideas on necessary improvements to the military justice system.
Bill is the latest version of a bill that is part of a long legislative saga. Let us not forget bills and , which died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued in 2007 and an election subsequently called in 2008. The prorogation that killed Bill C-7 was caused by the Conservative , who was afraid his government would be overturned by legitimately elected parliamentarians democratically representing the citizens of Canada. He therefore chose to shut down Parliament rather than step up to his responsibilities.
In July 2008, Bill came back with a vengeance, simplifying the structure of courts martial and establishing a method for choosing the kind of court martial most consistent with the civilian justice system. In 2010, Bill was introduced as a response to the 2003 Lamer report and the 2009 Senate committee report. It contained provisions respecting military justice issues, such as sentencing reform, military judges and committees, summary trials, court martial panels and the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal, and certain provisions respecting the Military Police Complaints Commission.
Bill is essentially similar to the version of Bill C-41 that the Senate committee introduced in the last Parliament, of which I was obviously not yet a member. The amendments made to it include some aspects that were already there, whereas others have been forgotten along the way. It is as though Tom Thumb left some pebbles along his path but lost a few.
Some ideas in the amendments introduced by the NDP are thus not included in Bill , and yet they are important: provisions respecting the authority of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process, which is a direct response to a Lamer report recommendation; changes in the composition of grievance committees so that they include more civilians—we have to open the door and welcome people who have a different perspective, outlook or viewpoint than those of people who have come directly from the Canadian Forces because we believe that would help strike a balance—and provisions guaranteeing that a person convicted of an offence in a summary trial is not unfairly subject to a criminal record. Once again, we are being forced to do a job that has already been done.
The bill contains many important reforms. There is a silver lining because there are some good measures in the bill. In fact, improvements have been made. However, we believe that we must do much more to ensure that members of the Canadian Forces have a good justice system. For these reasons, the NDP will be voting against Bill at second reading stage.
Important work remains to be done, including reforming the summary trial system. Amendments made to Bill do not do enough to correct the injustice of summary trials. At present, a conviction results in a criminal record. Summary trials are held without the accused being able to consult counsel. There are no appeals or transcripts of the trial, and the judge is the accused person's commanding officer. We believe that this ignores the principles of natural justice that are features of legal systems around the world. The fact that the commanding officer is the judge can sometimes cause problems with the impartiality of his judgment and ruling.
Minor offences, such as insubordination, quarrels, misconduct, and absence without leave, do not warrant the harsh consequences of a criminal record. We believe that, to be fair to our soldiers, we have to improve the bill. We hope to work with all members to ensure that justice can finally be done for the people working in the Canadian Forces.
Mr. Speaker, I am sure people will say that the NDP members ramble on, always saying the same things in their speeches on Bill , but we have not finished repeating ourselves. We want to make our voice heard.
I am very pleased to be taking part in this debate on Bill , which I believe says a great deal about the values the Conservative government has chosen to promote and those it has decided to disregard. When a country claims to establish democracy and social justice in foreign countries, it is interesting to see how the government of that country treats its citizens.
And it is all the more interesting to see how this government decides to treat those who defend its citizens. Unfortunately, I believe this bill neither respects the men and women in uniform who defend this country nor represents Canadian values. Although it would be a good opportunity for the Conservatives to enter the 21st century, once again, they have missed the boat.
Bill is not new to this House. It is a response to a report by a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, who in 2003 made 88 recommendations in his review of military justice. The Conservatives have accepted 28 of that number. Military justice was also the topic of a report by the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in 2009 and has been the subject of many bills: , , and , all of which died on the order paper.
It is unfortunate to have to say it, but the Conservatives do not surprise me. They have gotten into the habit of taking half-measures by introducing half-finished bills to impose their ideological agenda on all government bodies. I would never say these kinds of things if they were not true. I repeat, only 28 of the 88 recommendations in the Lamer report were accepted for the purposes of this bill.
Even worse, the Conservatives knowingly disregarded all the work done by the Standing Committee on National Defence. The bill's title has changed, but its objectives remain the same. So why forget in 2012 work that was done in 2011? With the Conservatives, it is the myth of Sisyphus: we always have to start over, again and again.
The way the Conservatives use our institutions never ceases to astonish me. We have everything we need to conduct a discussion and come up with proposals that are more in line with what Canadians want. Unfortunately, the Conservatives prefer to squabble in the House rather than conduct a healthy debate. If that were not the case, why would they have rejected the NDP's amendments to Bill , a forerunner to Bill ? The truth is that, in committee and in the House, the Conservatives only hear one voice: their own.
However, the government has every interest in listening to the NDP on this matter, if it wants to avoid making a serious mistake. I want to focus on one point regarding Bill that I find particularly annoying: summary trials. The claims Canadians know that the military justice system treats those who serve them fairly and in accordance with Canadian standards and values. It is all well and good to say that, but when the facts do not support the allegations, it is better to say nothing.
So let us talk about Canadian values. Aside from empty rhetoric, I wonder where those values now stand. There is a very useful document that we can refer to in these kinds of situations: the Constitution. In 1983, this country included in its Constitution a passage on the rights of military members. It states that, like all Canadians, they are entitled to a fair trial, represented here by a court martial.
In spite of the Constitution, the Lamer report, the Senate report and numerous recommendations by the NDP, the Conservatives have retained summary trials. But what is a summary trial? It is a judgment rendered by an immediate superior officer without a public trial, without any written record of the proceedings and without any right to counsel, and it automatically results in a criminal record.
Even minor offences result in a criminal record. When they leave the military, people convicted in this way may have trouble finding a job or a place to live.
Is that any way to thank those who defend us, by throwing them out into the street for a minor offence?
This is no exaggeration. In 2008 in 2009, 96% of military offences were prosecuted by summary trial. This is the armed forces, and a firm hand is called for. Our military members are used to strict discipline and expect to be treated strictly. That is why the NDP proposed that harsh penalties be applied, such as imposing fines and docking pay, but there is quite a difference between that and handing out criminal records for being 10 minutes late.
The military members who serve this country deserve all our consideration. They are career military people who know the responsibilities inherent in their choice of occupation. We no longer have conscription. It is time we recognized that fact. They are in the armed forces because they are concerned about defending all citizens and are prepared to make major personal sacrifices. The least we can do is treat them fairly.
Summary trials have been abandoned in Great Britain, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. Why should Canada insist on continuing this old tradition?
The NDP believes this bill is headed in the right direction by further harmonizing the military justice and the civilian justice systems. However, it does not address key issues involved in reforming the summary trial system and the grievance system or in reinforcing the Military Police Complaints Commission.
I have met veterans in my riding who are proud of the work they have done. Every year, we honour them on Remembrance Day. However, perhaps the best way to thank them would be to give those who follow in their footsteps a little more respect.
Ultimately, I believe that the Conservatives have missed an opportunity with Bill . They are delaying Canada's entry into the 21st century.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill . This very important initiative, which deserves our full attention, has been under consideration by the House since 2007.
What I find most regrettable is that the bill responds to only one-third of the recommendations made by former justice Lamer. He had raised some very interesting issues that need to be addressed to ensure a fairer and better military justice system for those who proudly defend and represent our country.
During recent minority governments, the House supported the amendments tabled by the NDP. However, after reading the bill, I realized that many of these recommendations had been left out, including important ones concerning the powers of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process, changes to the composition of the grievance board so that 60% of the members would be civilians, and a provision that would ensure that a person convicted at a summary trial would not be unfairly subject to a criminal record. These are important amendments that are critical to the reintegration of veterans into civilian life once their tour of duty is over.
Even though the bill does contain some worthwhile ideas, I am afraid that I must oppose it given that it does have several major shortcomings that we must address.
For example, I am concerned about the summary trial provisions. Sentences imposed on accused persons have enormous ramifications, especially when they result in a criminal record. Given that the accused person is only entitled to a trial without the possibility of consulting with counsel and without any appeal or trial transcript, and given that the judge is the accused person’s commanding officer, I highly doubt that such a trial can truly be fair to the accused person. Although it is extremely important to me that the behaviour of our Canadian Forces members be above reproach, I think that saddling an individual with a criminal record that will stay with him when he returns to civilian life is too harsh a provision.
People still have much to contribute to their communities once their career in the military has ended. A criminal record can make it difficult for them to secure employment, rent an apartment or travel abroad. I want to make myself clear on this. While I do believe that a person should be punished for breaking the rules, he should not be saddled with a criminal record that could ruin his life.
While I am on the subject, I would like to point out one of the positive provisions in the bill. People convicted of certain offences are handed a sentence that no longer results in a criminal record. Personally, however, I think the bill should go even further and exempt more offences. Last March, at the committee stage, the NDP recommended that a total of 27 offences be on this exclusion list, and not just the five originally listed. I suggest that this amendment be included again, as it constitutes a major step in the right direction.
In my view, we need to take a closer look at the long-term implications of creating criminal records for Canadian Forces members. I am convinced that my constituents would be shocked to learn that shortcomings in the system could ruin the lives of people who have committed minor offences, when they have given their all for our country.
I am also concerned about the independence of the grievance process. At present, the board does not allow for an external review. To my way of thinking this board should be perceived as an external, independent civilian body and changes need to be made to the appointment process.
The NDP had suggested that at least 60% of the board members be civilians. This amendment was adopted in March 2011 when Bill , an earlier version of this bill, was before the House. However, it was left out of Bill .
I am very disappointed that an initiative aimed at lending greater transparency and legitimacy to such an important process has been left out when we had agreed earlier to include it.
I also feel the same way about a proposed amendment to grant more powers to the Chief of Defence Staff when it comes to dealing with financial considerations arising from grievances. I will continue to fight for the inclusion in the bill of these two forgotten amendments.
And finally, the Military Police Complaints Commission should, in my opinion, be granted more powers to conduct legitimate investigations and report back to Parliament.
I would like the members of our military to have a transparent and fairer justice system, where the consequences are more balanced when members return to civilian life and where those responsible for imposing sentences and reviewing grievances have the powers they need to ensure that justice is delivered diligently and effectively.
I have spent a considerable amount of time talking to veterans in my riding of Terrebonne—Blainville about issues that are important to them. Unfortunately, many of them live isolated lives with depleted means. It breaks my heart to see people who fought bravely for our welfare and freedoms forgotten in such a way.
I met with them last February when I led a round table discussion on poverty among seniors. I was completely flabbergasted when they told me they were forced to choose between housing, food, drugs and transportation because of their meagre pensions. Is this what we want for all of our seniors, including our brave veterans? I do not believe so.
I believe we can offer them more security and some hope that they can live out their lives more comfortably. I would like to mention at this time three agencies in my riding that are doing amazing work with veterans. They are the Amicale des vétérans de Terrebonnne, the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 208 in Sainte-Thérèse and the NATO Veterans Organization of Canada. The primary goal of staff, volunteers and members of these organizations is to provide a meeting place for military veterans and retired police officers.
Since 1945, the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 208, in Sainte-Thérèse, has provided veterans with a location where they can meet, talk and have fun. The Legion supports our war heroes by providing them with advice and assisting them in their dealings with the government so that they are treated with dignity. It also helps educate future generations about their heritage and our history, in order to keep our collective memory alive.
For more than 60 years now, the Amicale des vétérans has served veterans through meetings, discussions and entertainment. The agency is involved in the community by associating with other veterans' organizations in order to enhance the services provided, thereby contributing to the members' well-being.
For its part, the NATO Veterans Organization of Canada works in a number of areas with former and active members of the Canadian armed forces, the RCMP and the merchant navy. Its goal is to ensure recognition for the contribution of members of the Canadian armed forces, the RCMP, the merchant navy, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NORAD, the United Nations and other multilateral and bilateral institutions. Its actions make it possible to perpetuate the memories and deeds of members who lost their lives in the service of Canada. It provides support and contributes to the welfare of all its members, their families and their dependents. It fights to promote the interests of all veterans, brings together all those who have served and co-operates with other veterans' organizations with comparable aims and objectives. By establishing regional organizations, the NATO Veterans Organization hopes to reach as many veterans as possible.
We are fortunate to have organizations that, despite limited resources, work to help and support our veterans.
With this bill, we as parliamentarians have an opportunity to offer those serving in the military a better justice system that may have a positive impact on their personal and professional lives after their military career. We must go even further and adapt their military reality to suit the life they will be facing once their military service has ended.
Our serving members and our veterans deserve a military justice system that is fair and proportionate. They deserve the best because they give us their all. On their behalf, I am asking this House to assess the NDP's proposals and show the same courage that they showed for us. Let us have the courage to make the amendments that are needed to give them a better military justice system, a system that they deserve.
Mr. Speaker, Bill , seeks to address problems with military justice under the National Defence Act. It follows up on the 2003 report by the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, and the 2009 report of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
In Canada, we have a separate military justice system that includes military tribunals, and this is not a unique situation. Under the National Defence Act, there is a code of military discipline that includes specific military offences and all offences under the code or any other federal legislation. This code of discipline applies to members of the Canadian Forces. The system has evolved significantly since the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into force, because some provisions violated the fundamental rights of our men and women in uniform.
Military justice must be a part of Canada's justice system as a whole. We must ensure that military justice laws are consistent with other laws in our broader justice system, at least when it comes to the fundamental principles of law. We need to understand that there are differences between military law and the rest of the legal system, and with good reason. The military justice system recognizes the relationship between the justice system and discipline within the armed forces.
Discipline is very important in the army. I will quote an expert in military law, retired colonel Michel Drapeau, who is a lawyer in private practice and has considerable experience in the military. He is also the author of the only significant military legal text in Canada, an annotated book on the military aspects of the National Defence Act. It is quite a useful source of information. This is what Mr. Drapeau says about the importance of discipline in military law:
|| Therefore, discipline is integral not only to the maintaining of an efficient armed forces, but also to ensuring that the rule of law predominates within the military, particularly when engaged in great peril and danger in combat.
The military justice system is important for two reasons. It serves not only to quickly and severely punish those who break the law or disobey the rules of discipline but also to allow recourse to different procedural rules in the military context. Furthermore, it is extremely important that everyone adhere to the rule of law when engaged in a combat situation.
Our country certainly wants its troops to be capable of using force in a lawful manner, regardless of the circumstances or great peril they might face. As a result, the military justice system does not just exist to punish wrongdoers; it is also key to command, discipline and morale.
The reform of the military justice system set out in this bill is problematic. First, there is the summary trial process or, rather, the possible consequences of a summary trial conviction. This makes a big difference. According to the Canadian Forces' own information, which is available on their website, the summary trial is by far the most important and most commonly used form of service tribunal. When a solider is accused of a service offence, a summary trial is the simplest way of dealing with it.
The other advantage of the summary trial process is that it allows problems to be resolved within the unit. The trial is usually presided over—and this is important—by a superior officer. Right now, a summary trial conviction can result in a criminal record. We are talking about a trial before a superior officer who, by National Defence's own admission, does not need any legal training, where no lawyers are present, and that can lead to a criminal record for soldiers.
What is more, there is no transcript of the trial. The consequence is too severe for disciplinary measures. A criminal record will make life difficult for our soldiers when they return to civilian life. A criminal record is a barrier to finding employment, renting a place to live and even taking a week's vacation in the United States.
The bill does contain a few good things. It defines offences that will be considered minor and therefore will not result in a criminal record. However, when the previous bill, Bill , was examined in committee, the NDP proposed that the list of minor offences be expanded from 5 to 27.
Let us be honest: offences such as insubordination, quarrels, misconduct, absence without leave, drunkenness and disobeying an order warrant disciplinary action but not a criminal record. The himself told the committee studying the former Bill that:
||...the summary trial system strikes the necessary balance between meeting the unique disciplinary needs of the Canadian Forces and the needs to respect the rights of individual members of our military.
I think he is right, but his bill does not achieve this balance. Colonel Michel Drapeau, a military expert, agrees that summary trials are problematic. He said:
|| 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.
A number of countries have already made changes to their military justice system to better regulate summary trials. These countries, which have a lot in common with Canada, include Ireland, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. We must also make changes, and the sooner the better.
Many Canadians would be surprised, and probably 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. They would be horrified to see the kind of problems this can cause in careers and lives post-military.
The government already does not give veterans the services they deserve, so we should at least be fair to the people who are serving the country right now.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill .
In 2012, and it will soon be 2013, modernizing the military justice system has become an urgent matter. While the military justice system should not be a carbon copy of the civilian justice system, the two systems must be harmonized more.
In that light one could say, reluctantly, that Bill is a step in the right direction. The NDP has long been in favour of updating the military justice system. Yes, Bill , in its present form, brings us a little closer to where we want to go. But the problem is that it sets its sights so low that we must oppose it at second reading.
It is like a marathon where someone just runs the first kilometre and then says they have run the entire marathon. But a marathon is 42 kilometres, not one kilometre. The Conservatives are doing something like this with Bill . They are telling everyone, “mission accomplished”, rather like a certain American president a while ago, although it is not the case.
No, Bill C-15 is not a finished product, far from it. It ignores too many of the recommendations in the 2003 report by former chief justice of the Supreme Court Antonio Lamer. In his report, Justice Lamer made 88 recommendations to improve military justice. Bill , which is one of the legislative responses to the Lamer report, only retains 28 of the 88 recommendations. That is certainly not enough for something as important as reforming the summary trial system and the grievance system, and strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission. This bill does not measure up.
In the previous Parliament, we worked in good faith with the party in power in order to improve the previous version of this bill, Bill , as much as possible. In committee we proposed a number of amendments that were mostly adopted. The government could live with the amendments we had proposed at that time. We arrived at a compromise on several elements of the bill, but Bill died on the order paper.
When the current session began, we got a surprise. The main amendments that the NDP had proposed and the government had accepted had disappeared from the new version of Bill C-41, now known as Bill C-15. The amendments we had worked on together, most of them based directly on the recommendations in the Lamer report, had disappeared, as if by magic.
Among them were the amendments concerning the authority of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process and that of the grievance board. At present, the Chief of Defence Staff lacks the authority to resolve the financial aspects arising from a grievance. That flaw was pointed out by Justice Lamer in his report.
As for the grievance board, we had suggested that at least 60% of the members should be civilians who had never served in the Canadian Forces, which would have helped a great deal. It was logical. If the objective was to have the Canadian Forces Grievance Board perceived as an external, independent body, then it would have to include a good proportion of civilians. As we know, one plus one makes two, or at least I think it still does.
However, the government decided not to include this suggestion in Bill . One other element of this bill, which we studied carefully before deciding whether or not to support it, is the whole issue of reforming the summary trial system.
In our opinion, Bill does not respond adequately to the injustice of summary trials. Canadians should be aware that, at present, a member of the military who is found guilty of a minor offence such as insubordination, drunkenness or misconduct will be given a criminal record. That criminal record, of course, follows the member into civilian life after the Canadian Forces. We understand the need for the army to enforce strict discipline but this kind of sanction for minor infractions is really too severe.
We must also remember that the way guilt is determined in the military is very special. In the summary trial system the judge is the accused person's commanding officer. The accused has no right to appeal and no access to a transcript of the trial. In short, the system is very harsh and particularly so for those accused of minor offences.
As I said in the beginning, Bill is not completely bad. Among other things, it offers some relief for the problem I have just outlined, the injustice of military members getting a criminal record for minor offences. But, once again, Bill C-15 does not go far enough.
During consideration of Bill in committee, we proposed extending the list of minor offences to 27. In Bill , the number of minor offences is just five, which is not nearly enough. Let us be clear: we realize that the military justice system has to be different than the civilian justice system. But that does not mean we should turn a blind eye to its flaws. A criminal record is a serious stain on a person's file. It is an impediment to getting a job, renting an apartment, travelling and so forth.
For people who proudly served their country to end up with a criminal record because of flaws in the military justice system is outrageous. I am sure that Canadians agree with us on that. Let us not forget that these people serve our country and are entitled to a fair justice system that will allow them to return to civilian life without completely destroying their future.
I am ready to take questions.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a great pleasure for me to try to put in my two cents' worth today in this debate on Bill .
I have studied labour relations. I have also worked as an employee representative in grievance procedures. In my field of studies, I also did human resources management. I have been on the employer side and the union side. So I have been on both sides.
I am going to try to show why it is extremely important that we have a fair and equitable system for our soldiers for handling grievances relating to all the various disputes that arise between them and their superior officers and their institution, the Canadian Forces.
We have a bill that amends eight acts: the Access to Information Act, the Criminal Code, the Financial Administration Act, the Privacy Act, and others.
This bill is in fact 60 pages long. That is almost modest, compared to what we have been used to getting from the government for some time now.
To begin, let us do a review of part of the history of this bill.
In 2003, the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, submitted a report on the independent review of the National Defence Act. He is not just anybody. He had much to say about judgments concerning grievances that had gone to the labour court, the Court of Appeal, and ultimately the Supreme Court. The Lamer report contained 88 recommendations concerning the military justice system, the Military Police Complaints Commission, the grievance procedure, which I will address at greater length today, and the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal.
Bill is the legislative response to those recommendations. However, only 28 recommendations have been incorporated into this new version.
Bill has appeared in several forms over the course of its history.
First, we had Bills and , which died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued in 2007—I think we know it is the practice of the Conservatives to cut off debate—and the 2008 election was called.
However, in July 2008, Bill made a comeback, simplifying the structure of courts martial and establishing a method for choosing the type of court martial that would be most consistent with the civilian justice system. That was precisely the objective that should have guided the sponsors of this reform and Bill . That should be our goal: harmonization with the civilian justice system.
In 2009, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs considered Bill and made nine more recommendations to amend the National Defence Act.
In 2010, Bill was introduced to respond to the 2003 Lamer report and the 2009 Senate committee report. Provisions relating to the military justice system were included, such as provisions relating to sentencing reform, judges and military boards and committees, summary trials, the court martial panel and the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal and certain provisions relating to the Military Police Complaints Commission.
Essentially, Bill is similar to the version that came out of the Senate committee in the last Parliament. The amendments carried forward include the composition of the court martial panel and the appointment of military judges during good behaviour until the age of retirement.
Since I was elected, in May 2011, I have spent time on many occasions with soldiers of all ages, whether at Remembrance Day ceremonies with our courageous Canadian Legion members or at various meetings with soldiers and cadets in my region. I have met courageous, dynamic people who are very proud of their military profession.
However, when the time comes for them to return to peacetime life, these soldiers’ lives can be full of surprises and sometimes twists. All of them, the generations who lived through the major wars—the world wars, the Korean War or the Vietnam War—and other generations who have worked hard on numerous peacekeeping missions in the Middle East, in Africa, in Europe, or more recently in Iraq, Darfur and Afghanistan, deserve not only our admiration, but also our respect, for doing their duty.
That is why they deserve justice, a justice system in which they will be able to see themselves as individuals who are part of today’s modern society.
All these brave men and women have proudly carried the colours of our Canadian flag and staunchly defended the democratic principles we hold dear. Sometimes, however, and it must be said, the aftermath has left its marks, and sometimes they are heavy marks. When they come home, their life in our industrialized society begins, where the economy is what matters above all else. In this modern civilization, social status, acceptance by others, often comes from a person’s job and of course the pay associated with it, but also, everything depends on an academic background or wide-ranging experience here and there in the real world. Soldiers do in fact have an extraordinary background when it comes to understanding giving and duty. They are capable of great effort and courage.
And then, soldiers return to work in civilian life. This is why I focus on this when I talk about grievances in the military system and the consequences of those grievances. Whether or not it is appropriate, a candidate for a position that is available in a business is judged, most of the time, against objective criteria, I hope, but sometimes the candidate is assessed in a way, and let us not be afraid of the words, that may be more subjective. And so a little notation here or there about a minor problem during the person’s military service or in the performance of their duties during missions can sometimes become a major wrongdoing in the eyes of an employer who decides to make use of this workforce, which is so important to manufacturing and industry, but also to the service sector. That is why the NDP is truly disappointed that some of the amendments it proposed to Bill have not been incorporated.
I would like to mention the amendments concerning the authority of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process. These amendments were a direct response to a recommendation by the Right Hon. Justice Antonio Lamer, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. There are also the changes to the composition of the grievance committee so that 60% of its members would be civilians to make it more objective and to ensure that the grievance process is not conducted strictly by the military. Finally, there is the provision to ensure that a person convicted of an offence during a summary trial is not unfairly subjected to a criminal record. All too often, this criminal record will scare employers who need this labour force. As I mentioned, this workforce is important not only to the future of that business, but also to Canada's future.
As I already said in my speeches here, do not ask what this country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. Those words are from John F. Kennedy, but they still apply. It is often said that Canada is a land that needs workers. The doors are open. We welcome them. However, we must not create problems for these applicants, for this workforce that is essential to our country's future. Believe me, Mr. Speaker, this kind of situation can seriously undermine a soldier's return to civilian life and his career after the military.
We need this workforce. Yet in this world, they will be subjected to a grievance system essential to justice and to fairness in the handling of disputes. Why not have harmonized the military and civilian justice systems in this respect? It would have been easy to do. This grievance adjudication system is even recognized by the Supreme Court in several decisions.
Bill on the reform of the military justice system should be based on the fundamental principles of law and justice on which our country was built. It is essential to put things back in place within National Defence and to give that department the means to adapt to the modern workplace, to the 21st century.
Still, the NDP believes this legislation is a step in the right direction—really—to bring the military justice system more in line with the civilian justice system. Other steps will have to be taken, and we hope the government will listen to our amendments.
May justice be done.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill .
At this stage, I am opposed to the bill but, as always, I will keep an open mind and watch how it progresses through the various stages. As we have waited a long time for these reforms, we need to ensure we get them right, which is what I will speak to today.
I thank the MP for for all his work on the bill, as well as for preparing us for these debates. He really does Newfoundland and Labrador credit.
I will take a moment to speak to the value of our armed forces personnel and to recognize their service and sacrifice. We are talking about a fairly detailed bill that would amend a lot of little clauses in other bills, including the National Defence Act, but we also need to recognize the service that the armed forces give in general. Many of my family members have served in the armed forces. I admire their professionalism and discipline. We are also addressing a very small portion of those who have served so proudly in the armed forces with this bill.
Every time I get a chance to speak to defence or military aspects of government policy, my mind drifts back to my great uncle, F.R.W.R. Gow, who was a commander in the Royal Canadian Navy working for military intelligence. Sadly, he died in service in November 1942 on the same day as my birthday, which always brings him to mind on Remembrance Day and during occasions such as this. Because of that, and when I think of my other relatives who have served in the armed forces, as well as all of the great veterans in my constituency, Remembrance Day is the most important day of the year for me as it marks the reason that we celebrate all of the other holidays. We should keep that in mind as we move through these bills to ensure we do the best we can for those who serve us so well.
Before I speak to the details of the bill, I will talk about a few other laws and policies surrounding the military, many of which are far from perfect. For example, with respect to recognition of those who have served in the past, I have been working in my office with a constituent who served in the Korean War who has not yet received official recognition for his sacrifice despite numerous appeals. This gentleman is t past 90 now and it is time to ensure that we recognize all of those who have served Canada in the past. We have taken some steps in Burnaby to recognize Korean War veterans. We have a beautiful Korean War memorial in Central Park in Burnaby. However, individual recognition is also crucial and I will continue to work on behalf of my constituent for that recognition.
This whole idea of lump sum payments for injured veterans is really abhorrent to me and goes against how we should treat those who have given so much.
I will now move to Bill . It was introduced in response to a 2003 report tabled by the right hon. Antonio Lamer, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, concerning his independent review of the National Defence Act. In my mind, this is a housekeeping bill but an important one as it would adjust current laws concerning military justice. As we can tell from the title of the bill, it is not just the National Defence Act that would be altered but it is also consequential acts. Therefore, the bill would make broad-sweeping changes to a number of different pieces of legislation.
The Lamer report contained 88 recommendations pertaining to military justice, the Military Police Complaints Commission, the grievance process and the provost marshal.
The bill has seen many iterations since the Lamer report was tabled. It is important to keep in mind that in response to the 2003 Lamer report, Bill was introduced in 2010 and has been the subject of much of the discussion today.
The bill outlined provisions to military justice, such as sentencing reform, military judges and committees, summary trials, court martial panels and a number of other institutions and procedures. More important, during the debate on Bill , we submitted a number of amendments during that committee stage, which have been talked about, but many of the amendments that were agreed to at that committee are not in the current version of the bill, which is why we are objecting.
The amendments include the following: the authority of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process, responding directly to Justice Lamer's recommendation; changes to the composition of the grievance committee to include 60% civilian membership; and a provision ensuring that a person who is convicted for an offence during a summary trial is not unfairly subjected to a criminal record. I will return to these points through my speech, but as it stands, we can talk a little about the good parts of the bill.
Bill would provide greater flexibility in the sentencing process. It would provide for additional sentencing options, including absolute discharge, intermittent sentences and restitution. It also would modify the composition of a court martial panel according to the rank of the accused person. It would modify the limitation period applicable to summary trials and would allow an accused person to waive the limitation periods. It would clarify the responsibilities of the Canadian Forces provost marshal and it would make amendments to the delegation of the Chief of Defence Staff's powers as the final authority in the grieving process.
For those positive few points I have pointed out, I believe Bill is a step in the right direction. It would bring the military justice system more in line with the civilian justice system. However, it does fall short on key issues that we have pointed out over and over again and that we will take pains to do it again today and in the future. The issues it falls short on include reforming the summary trial system, reforming the grievance system and strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission.
I will speak to two of these shortfalls in more detail, beginning with the military grievances. At present, the grievance committee does not provide a means of external review. Currently, it is staffed entirely of retired CF officers, some only relatively recently retired. If the CF grievance board is to be perceived as external and an independent oversight civilian body, as it was designed to be, then the appointment process needs to be amended to reflect that reality.
We believe that some members of the board should be drawn from civil society. In fact, our 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. This civilian oversight process is something common in other government institutions, including, for example, CSIS, which has a civilian body appointed to oversee its procedures. Therefore, this seems to be an entirely reasonable request that we have put forward in the past and will continue to press for. The amendment was passed in March 2011 in Bill but was not retained in Bill . Therefore, it does seem that there are at least some on the other side of the House who agreed, at least at some point, that there should be some civilians present in this oversight process. We think it is important to see this amendment included in the bill.
I will now to strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission. Although what is included in the bill is seen as a step forward, we believe that more needs to be done to empower the commission. The complaints commission must be empowered by a legislative position that allows it to rightfully investigate and report to Parliament. Transparency is key here.
We oppose the bill at second reading because we do not think it is complete. There are key amendments missing that had been agreed to in the past and have not been included in this form of the bill. We ask that they be included. We ask that we do as well by our military personnel as they do by us.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill , which amends the National Defence Act and other Acts.
This bill responds to the 2003 report of the Honourable Antonio Lamer, former chief justice of the Supreme Court, and the May 2009 report of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. It is important that we have a good look at our whole military justice structure because there are a number of problems that need to be resolved.
Military justice needs to fit into our overall justice system. We need to ensure that our military justice laws are consistent with other laws in our general justice system, particularly when it comes to the fundamental principles of law. It is important to understand that there are differences between military law and our general legal system, and for good reason. The military justice system recognizes the relationship between the justice system and discipline within the armed forces.
Michel Drapeau, a retired Canadian Forces colonel and military law expert, had the following to say before the Standing Committee on National Defence:
|| 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.
Mr. Drapeau is a lawyer in private practice and has considerable military experience. His advice is worth its weight in gold and must be followed, which does not appear to have been the case here.
The bill provides for greater flexibility in sentencing, establishes new sentencing options—such as absolute discharge, intermittent sentences and restitution—makes changes to the composition of a court martial panel according to the rank of the accused person, makes changes to the limitation period applicable to summary trials and allows an accused person to waive the limitation periods. The bill also clarifies the responsibilities of the Canadian Forces provost marshal and makes amendments to the delegation of the Chief of the Defence Staff’s powers as the final authority in the grievance process.
When Bill was before the House, we referred it to the Standing Committee on National Defence where our party tried to do two things. First, we tried to ensure that the procedures in the military justice system were effective and consistent with the need for the timely resolution of disciplinary matters in some cases. Second, we also tried to ensure, to the extent possible, respect for the protections under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In other words, we did not want an efficient military justice system to trump the fundamental principles of justice just because the people in question are in the military.
Although Bill is similar to Bill , important amendments adopted at committee stage at the end of the last Parliament have not been included in Bill C-15.
To no one's great surprise, these rejected amendments include the NDP amendments concerning, first of all, the authority of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process—clause 6 as amended in Bill C-41. By the way, this was a direct response to a recommendation in the Lamer Report. They also concern changes in the membership of the grievance board so that 60% of the members would be civilians—clause 11 as amended of Bill C-41—and of course the provision ensuring that a person convicted of an offence at a summary trial would not be unfairly given a criminal record—clause 75 as amended of Bill C-41. This is very important.
When Bill was debated in the spring of 2011, the long hours of debate between the parties appeared to be leading toward a positive breakthrough. It makes me wonder why the Conservatives did not keep the amendments the NDP proposed in Bill .
By excluding these amendments from Bill , the Conservatives are undermining the important work done by all the members of the Standing Committee on National Defence, including their own colleagues, as well as the recommendations made by the representatives of the Canadian Forces during the last Parliament.
Many significant reforms were proposed in this bill. The NDP has long supported a necessary update of the military justice system. Canadian Forces members are subject to extremely high standards of discipline and they deserve, of course, a justice system of equally high standards.
That is why the NDP and I will oppose Bill at second reading. There are a number of shortcomings in the bill and we hope they will be discussed in committee if Bill C-15 is passed at second reading. This is probably what will happen, given that the government has a majority.
In terms of changes to the summary trial process, we believe that the amendments to Bill do not adequately address the unfairness of summary trials. At present, a summary trial conviction at the Canadian Forces results in a criminal record. Summary trials are held without the accused being allowed to consult counsel. There is no appeal and no transcript of the trial. Furthermore, the judge is the accused person's commanding officer. This is too severe for certain members of the Canadian Forces who are convicted of minor offences.
These minor offences include insubordination, quarrels, misconduct, absence without leave, drunkenness and disobedience. I agree that this is probably very important for military discipline, but it does not warrant a criminal record. I think everybody is in agreement on this point.
However, 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. In our view, this is a positive element in the bill. However, we believe the bill does not go far enough, unfortunately.
At committee stage, last March, the NDP proposed amendments to Bill . These amendments included extending the list of offences, from five to 27, that could be considered minor and that would not result in a criminal record if the offence in question received a minor sentence.
The amendment also extended the list of sentences that could be imposed by a tribunal without being included in a criminal record. Such sentences include a severe reprimand, a reprimand, a fine equivalent to one month's salary and other minor penalties. This was an important breakthrough in terms of summary trials. However, as this amendment was not retained in Bill , we are not prepared to give our support to the bill. We want this amendment to be included again.
A criminal record is not a small thing, as they say. Having a criminal record can make life after a military career very difficult. It can make it very difficult to obtain a job, to rent an apartment or to travel. Many Canadians would be shocked to learn that the members of the military who so bravely served our country may have a criminal record because of flaws in the military justice system.
I would now like to talk about reforms to the grievance system. At present, the grievance board does not allow for any outside review. In theory, the Canadian Forces Grievance Board should be viewed as an external, independent civilian body. Right now, the board members are retired members of the Canadian Forces, some of whom are very recently retired members of the military. In terms of a guarantee of objectivity, to my mind, this is hardly ideal. In fact, the NDP amendment suggested that at least 60% of the members of the grievance board must not be former officers or former members of the Canadian Forces, in order to guarantee a little more objectivity in cases of this kind.
With regard to the authority of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process, contrary to a recommendation in the Lamer Report, the NDP believes that the lack of authority of the Chief of Defence Staff to resolve financial issues arising from grievances is a major weakness in the military grievance system.
Since the Lamer Report came out, no concrete action has been taken to implement the recommendation, even though the recommendation was approved by the . In my view, we must all ask questions and we must study the bill in a little more detail, become aware of the opinions of those concerned and work with the official opposition.