moved that Bill , be read the third time and passed.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in support of Bill , which aims to amend the National Defence Act to strengthen Canada’s military justice and grievance systems.
This legislation is a comprehensive package of amendments that will enhance the military justice system, clarify the roles and responsibilities of the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal and improve the military police complaints process and military grievance system.
As a former practitioner of the law, Mr. Speaker, you could vouch for the fact that the modernization of law, including the justice system for the Canadian Forces, is an extremely important undertaking and is a long time overdue.
As the House has heard throughout its considerable consideration of the bill, the military justice system is essential to maintaining the discipline, efficiency and morale of the Canadian Armed Forces.
The requirement for a separate, unique system of military justice has long been endorsed by Parliament and the Supreme Court, and is further recognized in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The framework of Canada's military justice system has also been validated in two independent reviews. The first was conducted by Chief Justice Lamer and was tabled in the House in 2003. A second review, by Chief Justice LeSage, was tabled last year following the introduction of the bill.
The amendments proposed in Bill were developed to address those recommendations that are still outstanding from the Lamer report.
Bill encapsulates the government's previous legislative efforts to address these recommendations, namely through Bill , Bill and Bill , so the bill is essentially in its fourth iteration.
The content of the bill has been thoroughly debated and reviewed. It has been before the House, where some 100 speakers from all parties participated in the debate. Most recently, the Standing Committee on National Defence met eight times in February in examining the bill. Three sessions were devoted to clause-by-clause review of the proposed legislation, and the committee heard from 16 expert witnesses from the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces and non-governmental organizations.
I want to take this opportunity to thank my House colleagues and the witnesses for their diligence and dedication in the study of the bill.
I would also be remiss if I did not note the leadership of the , the member for and members of the committee, as well as Colonel Mike Gibson, who has dedicated tremendous time and effort in bringing the bill forward to this point.
The bill before the House today will make several important changes to the National Defence Act and enhance the military justice system and grievance framework. These amendments include setting out a wider and more flexible range of sentencing options, enhancing the treatment of victims by introducing victim impact statements at courts martial, and clarifying the process and timelines for future independent reviews of the military justice system.
I am pleased to say that members from both sides of the House are generally in support of enhancing the military justice system and grievance process. However, during second reading and in committee, it became apparent that misconceptions regarding certain provisions have persisted, specifically, those provisions related to criminal record exemptions and the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff’s authority to provide instructions to the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal during investigations.
I would like to take this opportunity to make the government's position clear on these issues and to put to rest any misunderstandings that could further delay the implementation of this important legislation.
Let me begin by quickly addressing concerns related to the criminal records aspect in clause 75 of the bill, because it seemed to be the focal point of many of the comments here in the House and in committee.
While summary trials are necessary to maintain discipline within the Canadian Armed Forces, clause 75 specifically recognizes that most summary trial conviction offences are not sufficiently severe to justify a criminal record for the disciplined military members within the meaning of the Criminal Records Act.
Specifically, this clause ensures that service members would no longer be required to apply for a record suspension, also known as a pardon, for convictions that would not constitute an offence for the purposes of the Criminal Records Act. That is to say, it simply would not show on a person's record upon leaving the Canadian Forces if he or she has been convicted under one of the offences specified in the act.
In response to concerns under the scope of exempted convictions, the committee accepted the government's proposal to amend the bill to expand the list of exemptions. National Defence estimates that this provision would exempt approximately 95% of summary trial convictions from resulting in a record within the meaning of the Criminal Records Act and eliminate any undue hardship to members transitioning to civilian life. Therefore, most would leave the Canadian Forces with an unblemished record if convicted under one of the mentioned offences.
In committee, members also expressed concerns over a provision to give the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff the statutory authority to provide case-specific direction to the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal during investigations. The intent of this provision is to statutorily define the relationship between the Provost Marshal and the chain of command and to enhance the transparency and accountability of military police investigations.
Unlike civilian police forces, Canada's military police may be asked to operate and conduct investigations in operational theatres, as we have seen in places like Afghanistan, where active combat is taking place. Taking this into account, there may be the need in exceptional circumstances for the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff to issue special instructions to the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal. I say this because surely an operational combat zone would qualify as an exceptional circumstance. Special instructions would balance the investigative independence of the Provost Marshal with the safety and security of those involved in the investigation and the operational imperatives of the Canadian Armed Forces.
This bill would establish in statute a mechanism for issuing such instructions, thereby achieving three objectives. Firstly, maximizing accountability by identifying a single authority for such instructions, namely, the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff. Secondly, establishing a statutory requirement for such instructions to be issued in writing, therefore improving transparency. Finally, further increasing transparency by requiring such instructions to be made public, unless the Provost Marshal considers that it would not be in the best interests of the administration of justice to do so.
There are also provisions here where one can envision that information, particularly intelligence that was passed to the Canadian Forces by allies, would be protected in such circumstances.
In closing, our troops perform extraordinary tasks each day—often at great risk to themselves—in service of our country. They need—and deserve—to know that they can have confidence in the fairness and strength of the military justice system that governs and protects them.
This legislation before the House today has been years in the making. In fact, if we trace its history, it goes back to a period before this government came to office. The amendments have now had the benefit of a full second reading debate in the House of Commons and committee study. I strongly urge the House to support implementing these important provisions without delay.
It will benefit the men and women in uniform of the Canadian Forces and their families. It will benefit these extraordinary Canadians who do so much on behalf of our country at home and abroad.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his speech. It is not often that I find myself mostly in agreement with him. I guess the issue here is that it is more mostly than fully.
Regrettably, this was an opportunity to amend and clarify the military justice system in this country. Frankly, it does not come up all that often and so when it does come up it really is an opportunity to get things right. I congratulate the minister and the government on getting most things right, but there are two sticking points that he did mention in his speech. On those two sticking points there has been no movement from the government.
The first point has to do with the issue of a soldier's constitutional rights.
These summary conviction trials run the entire gamut from what we would consider to be trivial offences right through to the possibility of imprisonment, in other words, confinement to barracks. In the process of confining to barracks, or taking away the liberty of a citizen, in the case of a person in the military, who is also a citizen, we run into the concern about the issue of section 7 of the charter. Frankly, we in the opposition, particularly the Liberal Party, are not satisfied that this provision had been addressed. There were no provisions available to make sure that the accused had access to counsel, that there was a transcript, an appeal process, et cetera. Therefore, the first question is: why did the minister not take the opportunity to address that issue fully and make that provision in summary trials fully constitutionally compliant?
The second point, of course, is with respect to the ability of the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff to intervene in a police investigation.
It appears that we have learned nothing from Somalia, which was an accident in terms of its exposure to the light of the public. It was an egregious set of facts that never would have come to light unless, by accident, the media was there. However, after having a protocol, from Somalia to now, which basically precluded the chain of command from intervening, we have now, by legislation, created a right for the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff to intervene, and there are no restrictions on that.
Therefore, there are two questions. Why did the minister not take the opportunity to fix both of these issues?
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak on behalf of my constituents in Surrey North.
I want to start by talking about what the pointed out in his speech. He pointed out that this bill is long overdue and should have been addressed before the Conservatives became government. That is due to the slow pace of the government in addressing the criminal justice system and the military. It is the government that has been dragging its feet over a number of years.
Having said that, I know the minister has had a rough run over the last couple of years, whether it was the military procurement or the pay difference in Afghanistan recently. I point out that this bill is a small step in the right direction, and I have to give the minister kudos for the small step in the right direction, but more could have been done with regard to the criminal justice system.
As the minister pointed out, this bill was introduced in the House back in October of 2011 and was an act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, basically strengthening military justice in the defence of Canada act. Bill would amend the National Defence Act to strengthen military justice following the 2003 report of the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, and the May 2009 report of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Again, Justice Lamer made recommendations back in 2003, and it is only now that the government is getting around to addressing our broken military justice system.
Among other things, this bill would provide greater flexibility in the sentencing process. The bill would provide for additional sentencing options, including absolute discharges, intermittent sentences and restitution, and it would modify the composition of court martial panels according to the ranks of accused persons and would modify the limitations, among many other things.
Bill is a step in the right direction. However, the government should have done more. Bill C-15 suffers from the Conservatives' slow-footed response to the LeSage report, which was not incorporated in the bill, along with the lack of wall-to-wall review of the sections of the National Defence Act pertaining to military justice.
Bill falls far short of key issues when it comes to reforming the summary trial system and the grievance system and strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission. We are letting our soldiers down with this unnecessary slow pace of change. The NDP will continue to lay the groundwork for a larger review of the need for the modernization and civilization of the military legal system and the implementation of greater civilian oversight.
I am proud of my colleagues on the defence committee, who forced the government to make some amendments to the bill. As members may recall, I spoke on second reading of this bill about some of the shortcomings of the bill that New Democrats would like to strengthen. One thing was with regard to military personnel having criminal records. We were not comfortable with that particular clause in the bill. My NDP colleagues on the defence committee forced the Conservatives to accept an amendment, which would force changes so that over 90% of disciplinary offences would not result in criminal records. We will support Bill at this point. The NDP is proud to vote for the significant, tangible result that we have been vocally and legislatively in support of for the members of our Canadian military forces.
Our efforts have established one more important reform in building fairer military justice. It is important that the amendments that were offered by the New Democrats were accepted by the Conservatives. It is a small step, one aspect of the bill, not the entire bill. We would like to see more changes to the military justice system, so we can have a robust justice system in the military. This would be a small step in the right direction. One of the key elements was regarding the criminal records for military personnel, so 90% of those military personnel would not have a criminal record after going through this. That was an important first step.
Members of the Canadian Forces are held to an extremely high standard of discipline, and they in turn deserve a judicial system that is held to a comparable standard. The New Democrats will support Bill 's proposed improvements because it is a step in the right direction. However, the government should have done more. The Conservatives voted against several prudent NDP amendments at committee that asked to fully incorporate Justice Lamer's 2003 recommendations and some of Justice LeSage's 2011 amendments. They even voted against a clarification to the letter of the law in clause 35, as proposed by Justice LeSage. This has resulted in a failure to strengthen the proper safeguards for independence in the grievance system, military police or judicial elements of the military justice system.
The New Democrats are calling on the Conservatives to approach the military justice system in a holistic way. What the Conservatives have been doing is taking a piecemeal approach, a little bit at a time. The National Defence Act is a relic. We need to look at it in detail to reform it wall to wall and bring our criminal justice system in the military to the 21st century. The Conservatives had a chance to do this for the last six or seven years. However, they have not done it. They have taken a very piecemeal approach to the military justice system, and we are doing an injustice to the men and women who serve this country proudly. We can do much better. We can support our men and women by ensuring they receive justice when they need it.
Going back to Justice Lamer's recommendations, in 2003, the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, presented his report on the independent review of the National Defence Act. The Lamer report contained 88 recommendations pertaining to military justice, the Military Police Complaints Commission, the grievance process and the Provost Marshal. Bill would be the legislative response to these recommendations.
Former chief justice of the Superior Court the Hon. Patrick LeSage provided an additional review of certain sections of the National Defence Act, which was handed to the government in December 2011. The tabled the report in June 2012.
The Conservatives took over a year to table that report. They had it sitting on the minister's desk and he did not act at all. They have had a number of years to bring forward legislation so we can reform the military justice system, yet, as I have mentioned before, the Conservatives are foot-dragging on the issue of reforming our justice system. Even though we are supporting this particular bill, one of our major concerns is that, while it would be one little step in the right direction, there are numerous recommendations from the LeSage report and the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer recommendations that are not part of Bill .
That is what the government needs to work on. It needs to take on a wall-to-wall review of the National Defence Act. The Conservatives have voted against amendments attempting to incorporate several of LeSage's recommendations.
Bill has appeared in earlier forms. Just going back through the history of it, first Bill and Bill died on the order paper due to the prorogation in 2007 and an election in 2008. In July 2008, Bill came into force, simplifying the structure of the courts martial and establishing a method for choosing the type of court martial more closely aligned with the civilian system.
In 2009, the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs considered Bill and provided nine recommendations for amendments to the National Defence Act. In 2010, Bill was introduced to respond to the 2000 Lamer report and the LeSage report. It outlined provisions related to military justice, such as sentencing reform, military justice committees, summary trials, court martial panels, the Provost Marshal and limited provisions related to grievance and the military complaints process.
In essence, Bill is similar to the version of Bill that came out of committee in the previous Parliament. The amendments carried over included those on court martial and military judges and security of tenure, appointment and age. There are other important amendments to Bill C-41 proposed at the amendment stage and incorporated at the end of the last parliamentary session. However, those amendments that were introduced to the previous bill were not taken into consideration in Bill C-15.
That is unfortunate, because we had a bill that went through the process. We heard from witnesses in the committee. Experts, judges and many people associated with the military justice system testified. We had reached a compromise. We reached across different parties. The Conservatives, Liberals and NDP worked together to bring about amendments that would serve our military justice system in a way that is fair. In committees, input is heard from key witnesses and amendments are reached. When that process takes place, all sides can be heard from. The committee recommended a number of amendments that would have helped make the system better.
However, as we have seen in the past from the Conservatives, they have failed to incorporate those very amendments that were agreed upon in the last session of Parliament. That is very unfortunate. The amendments that came out of the last session were a consensus from all three parties.
However, the Conservatives are not listening, and they do not want to incorporate those very amendments that would have formed more consensus towards how we could take a larger leap forward in forming our military justice system. They have backtracked a little from that. This is a smaller step in the right direction.
There was one amendment, a compromise that the NDP fought for in Bill , clause 75. At the prompting from the NDP and in recognition of amendments absent, the Conservatives introduced this amendment into clause 75 of Bill .
While this compromise that the NDP fought hard for in Bill and Bill is an improvement on the current legislation, it does not go far enough to improve the summary trial process for our Canadian Forces. It does not guarantee that a person who is convicted of an offence during a summary trial is not unfairly subject to a criminal record.
Furthermore, the Conservatives voted against prudent NDP amendments that would have ensured that the proper legislative mechanisms were in place to apply clause 75 retroactively.
We brought forward a number of other improvements at committee. I believe that is what committees are for. That is where we improve bills to make the laws we make in this place better to serve Canadians in a better way, yet the Conservatives voted down every single one of those amendments.
This is a small step in the right direction. I think we could have taken a bigger step. In fact, I believe we need a wall-to-wall review of the National Defence Act to bring the act into the 21st century, yet the Conservatives did not want to take even a slightly bigger step.
Here are some of the amendments we proposed at committee. One of the amendments voted down by the Conservatives would have given the Chief of the Defence Staff the financial authority to compensate CAF members in the grievance process. It amended clause 6 in Bill , responding directly to Justice Lamer's recommendations. An amendment to clause 11 in Bill C-41 would have changed the composition of the grievance committee such that it would include 60% civilian membership and would exclude active-duty Canadian Forces members, thus enhancing the independence of the board.
These are common sense amendments that would improve the military justice system. These amendments in the previous Parliament were approved by the committee, yet the Conservatives failed to bring them into Bill .
Again, this is a small step in the right direction. They could have done more. They could have taken some of the testimony we heard at this committee for Bill C-15 and also at the committee in the previous Parliament. That committee had agreed to these amendments, yet the Conservatives took those amendments out. That is puzzling. One year they agreed to them, and the next year, in a new parliamentary session, they are going back on their word. That is failing the very people who serve this country.
Another amendment we introduced was a provision to ensure that a person convicted of an offence during a summary trial would not be unfairly subjected to a criminal record. It amended clause 75 in Bill .
These were very common sense amendments. I could go on about some of the changes we proposed and some of the things we would like to see in our approach to reforming the military justice system. The least this House could do is provide the Canadian Armed Forces with a modern National Defence Act so that they can carry on their jobs.
I want to go back to what I started with. The has had bad news over the last two years. He has bungled the F-35 procurement. It is a mess. It is a fiasco. I could use a number of other adjectives to describe it. We have seen a number of other scandals in the ministry of defence. We have seen recently a differential in pay in Afghanistan.
The Minister of National Defence could use a little bit of good news, and I would say that this is very little good news, which is going to reform the military justice system. We are calling for a wall-to-wall review of the National Defence Act so that we can reform the criminal justice system in the military and provide the support, encouragement and resources to our military personnel who serve us proudly.
I have a free voice to speak up in the House, to speak on behalf of my constituents from Surrey North, because of the very sacrifices the men and women in the military have made. The least the House could do is provide them with a modern National Defence Act so that they can carry on their jobs.
Mr. Speaker, it would certainly help matters if in the debate on military justice the member opposite was not, again, misinforming Canadians about the status of an important procurement project, the replacement of the CF-18s, which is going ahead under a seven-point plan. The options analysis will come forward for everyone's consideration in due course.
However, we are talking here about military justice. I beg to differ with the member opposite, who claims that the system may be unconstitutional and that the National Defence Act is a relic. This reflects upon the lack of respect the New Democratic Party has for our military system. Our National Defence Act is one of the best such framework documents of any military in the world, and international experts recognize it as such. About two-thirds of it relates to the military justice system.
Does the member know what former Chief Justice Lamer said about that system? He said:
Canada has developed a very sound and fair military justice framework in which Canadians can have trust and confidence.
On the question of summary trials, former Chief Justice Brian Dickson said:
The requirement for military efficiency and discipline entails the need for summary procedures. This suggests that investigation of offences and their disposition should be done quickly and at the unit level.
The constitutionality of this system, the requirement for it to maintain morale and operational efficiency, is recognized by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We did not hear these doubts about the constitutionality of the military justice system from the NDP in committee. We certainly did not hear it at second reading. Why are we hearing it now?
Second, if I can add one more question on the amendments the NDP proposed, with regard to compensation being authorized by the Chief of the Defence Staff, that would have involved amendments to other pieces of legislation. We are dealing here with the National Defence Act.
Limiting the grievance board to having civilians in 60% of the positions is not something we, as a government, want to do, because it would excluded former military members. We want former military members to have access to jobs across the country, to apply their talents and to not to be excluded.
Why this late concern about the constitutionality of a system that has been recognized as absolutely legal, and indeed admired, around the world?
Second, why is the member, with this speech and with the continuation of debate, delaying the enactment of those important measures that we know would improve the military justice system for our men and women in uniform?
Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate about Bill . As other speakers have said before me, it is an improvement and there is no question about that.
It is probably less of a bill than the previous parliament had proposed and it appears that my colleagues in the NDP are prepared to go for less rather than more, which is quite regrettable. However, I do commend the work of my NDP colleagues on the committee. They made every procedural effort to amend the bill and improve it, all of which I supported. Regrettably, they failed at each and every turn, so it surprises me at this point that my colleagues in the NDP are prepared to accept what is arguably a much lesser bill than the previous parliament had proposed.
I will comment on three areas. They are areas that have been somewhat canvassed before, but are in effect the poison pills of the bill and make it much less than what it could have been. We could have, at this stage, come together and said we have reformed the military justice system and it would probably have been good to go for the rest of this decade, although this is a continuous review process.
When we study military justice, there are distinctions between what we would consider to be civilian justice and military justice. Let me say at the outset that I do understand and I do support the concept that the military is a unique culture and does need a justice system that is unique and designed for it. However, as one witness, Clayton Ruby, pointed out, “It has been said that when you enlist in the military, you waive your constitutional rights. This is nonsense.”
When a person puts on the uniform, as many thousands of our fellow citizens do, they do not waive their constitutional rights. We cannot have a blanket exemption from the Constitution for the military. That is one point where we get into trouble with the way in which this bill has been proposed.
There are roughly 2,500 service offences committed by members of the military over the course of a year. In our language, they would be known as summary conviction offences. The offences can range from trivial right through to pretty serious offences. For some of the serious offences, confinement to barracks or even to jail is the punishment. Of the 2,500, about 30 actually result in confinement to either barracks or an actual jail system on an annual basis.
Because of that, we cannot be trivial about the process. We are in effect offending one of the core provisions of our Constitution, section 7. We are taking away the liberty of a citizen. This is a citizen who is in a uniform, but he or she is still first and foremost a citizen. Therefore, this citizen is entitled to the basics of a trial.
There is a saying in the military that I cannot actually repeat without expanding the English language beyond the proper decorum of this place, but it says “march the guilty in”. That is kind of an understood language that the military uses with respect to these summary trials. These summary trials have a conviction rate in excess of 98%. They really put the “summary” in summary trials. However, in most instances, that is actually not a problem.
There does need to be a disciplinary process for the military.
However, in the instance where there is a potential sentence of confinement to barracks or even to a jail, that is a problem. Why? Because the individual does not have the right to access to counsel, there is no transcript and the “accused” is made to stand through the entire trial. We had an opportunity to address this, but the Conservative government did not do that.
For instance, a British soldier is guaranteed access to counsel and the right to appeal. A civilian judge sits with a military judgment and no detention can be imposed when the accused is not represented by counsel.
These are not trivial matters. When we members of the opposition pressed the government on this, the Conservatives said the bill is constitutionally compliant, that it is charter-proof. We beg to differ. One of Canada's foremost criminal trial lawyers who has gone all the way to the Supreme Court on quite a number of occasions took serious exception to this. He said, “This charter justification matter is not a small issue”, so when the liberty of a citizen is at issue—even a citizen who is a soldier—the charter procedures need to be followed; not only do they need to be followed in law, but they need to be followed in spirit as well.
When people put on the uniform and defend us and allow us to in effect carry on a debate in a chamber such as this, it is no small issue. If I as a civilian get more constitutional protections at the Ottawa summary conviction court than a soldier accused of exactly the same offence, then it is not balanced and not right. We in the Liberal Party think we could have done a better job, but we did not. That is unfortunate, and I dare say will open up this legislation to charter challenge at some point in the near future.
It is not good enough for the government to waltz into committee or waltz into this chamber and say the bill is charter-proof. We heard the and the talk about that a few weeks ago. Anybody who believes that the Conservative government is serious about the charter is, in my judgment, excessively naive. It is an inconvenience. It would have given us some comfort at committee had independent people outside of the military, outside of the government, told us that these provisions are actually charter-compliant. It is not good enough to have government lawyers say it is charter-compliant. That is like investigating oneself. That is point one.
The second point has to do with the ability of the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff to intervene in a police investigation. We have heard a lot of debate about this. The origin of this debate came out of Somalia, as the minister rightly said, a dark chapter in the history of the military, and I dare say a dark chapter that never would have seen the light except for the fact that the press was present at the time of the incident. The natural reaction of the chain of command is to minimize incidents such as this, and that was in full bloom. I do not think anybody covered themselves with a great deal of glory over this incident. A protocol was developed post-Somalia between the police service and the chain of command, and that protocol was no interference. There would be no interference from the chain of command in any police investigation. That, frankly, served us fairly well between Somalia and now.
However, now the government wishes to reassert itself by inserting the chain of command into a potential police investigation.
I have listened to several of the arguments with respect to the chain of command introducing itself. As we all know, “may” is a small word that has big implications. For those of us who have practised law for a number of years know that the word “may” can be expanded. Certainly when a dark incident occurs in military operations, the pressure on the chain of command to contain the incident will be powerful and, in some respects, the temptation to intervene with a police investigation is almost overwhelming. It has happened, and will happen. There is no doubt about that.
I will quote from Mr. Tinsley, the former ombudsman, who stated:
My very brief summary submission is that if Bill C-15 is passed into law in its present form, inclusive of the new subsection... authorizing the VCDS to interfere with police operations and investigations, it will be inconsistent with the principles of police independence as recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada [as[ late as 1999 as underpinning the rule of law, as well as run counter to the norms of police-government relations, certainly in Canada, and I can tell you internationally in developed countries, which recognize the importance of police independence and prohibit police service boards or similar executive bodies from giving directions regarding specific police operations.
Mr. Tinsley's testimony was reinforced by the current ombudsman, a former chief of police from Windsor, who said that in his experience as a civilian police officer he would have been horrified, shocked and probably hung up the phone on any police service board, and that is any mayor, who phoned him up to tell him what to investigate and what not to investigate.
If one wants to derail a civilian investigation, a good way to do it is to have political interference. Therefore, in some respects the government has retained the ability to insert itself legitimately and legislatively into a police investigation.
On this point, I would conclude with Mr. Tinsley's final observations. He stated:
It would also effectively contradict, even repudiate, the notion of improper interference by the chain of command as established in the oversight jurisdiction of the Military Police Complaints Commission and thereby effectively eliminate oversight by statutory authorization of such interference by the VCDS, a person not subject to the jurisdiction of the complaints commission.
He ends his comments by asking, why?
My final point has to do with the grievance process. Over many months, we in the House have raised the issue of grievances that soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen have with their employer, which is the military and therefore us. When an employer employs 100,000 people, it is quite logical that some of them will not be happy with their terms and conditions of employment, which can potentially result in a grievance process. The grievance process is well defined and is a good process. By and large, it resolves many of the grievance issues that they would have with their employer.
However, there are instances, and, unfortunately too many instances, where the grievance process works its way up through the process to the desk of the Chief of the Defence Staff. The Chief of the Defence Staff largely, and almost without exception, agrees with the findings of the people who are delegated to do this work, makes an authorization for compensation, and says, “This particular soldier is legitimately upset and should be entitled to x number of dollars”, whether it is a differential in pay, or the cost of a move or whatever. Out of that, the Chief of the Defence Staff makes the “order”, but cannot write a cheque out of the military budget or any other budget. All of these complaints, particularly the real estate complaints, land on the desk of the Treasury Board Secretariat and thus far none has been authorized.
It ends up as a unique anomaly in which the Chief of the Defence Staff has said that a soldier has a legitimate grievance and thinks it is worth $15,000, $20,000 or $25,000. It does not matter what the number is. He then sends a note to Treasury Board and Treasury Board, without exception, turns it down.
Pierre Daigle, the current ombudsman, wrote the following:
Moreover, when claims are rejected—which is often the case—Canadian Forces members are informed that they must initiate legal action against the Government of Canada—
In other words, he or she must sue the employer. He goes on to say:
—in order to obtain compensation. However, unbeknownst to most men and women in uniform, legal action will rarely be heard by a court because previous courts have ruled that there is no legally enforceable employment contract between the Crown and Canadian Forces members.
I imagine this goes back to the unique position of anyone in the military, which is unlimited liability. When people sign up, they sign up entirely, and, in effect, waive their right to sue their employer. It is not a good way to treat people. We tell them they have to put themselves in harm's way and they cannot sue if their pay or compensation for moving is not what they think it should be, even if the military agrees with them. It is not right. One would have thought that on an infrequent review of military justice, we would have taken this opportunity to do what the ombudsman said, which is to, in effect, give the CDS the authority to write a cheque.
Pierre Daigle further stated:
—I would reiterate what I said when I testified before this committee in 2011. The Canadian Forces redress of grievance process will remain flawed and unfair as long as the final decisionmaker in the Canadian Forces grievance process, the chief of the defence staff, lacks the authority to provide financial compensation to resolve unfairnesses.
That regrettably is the end of it. We had an opportunity to do the right thing by our men and women in uniform and, in the judgment of the Liberal Party, we failed. My colleagues have moved good amendments, but they failed. It is a stripped-down version of the previous bill. We now have at least these three instances such as the potential of a charter challenge, an interference in police process and men and women who cannot get satisfaction from their employer.
I have been described as a lot of things, Mr. Speaker, but an eccentric is not generally one of them.
First, with respect to the issue of unlimited liability, the hon. member is a touch confused. When individuals sign on as members of the military, it is an issue of unlimited liability. If they are killed, they cannot sue the government. If they are injured, they cannot sue the government. The quid pro quo, the expectation is that the government will take care of them, either by way of pension, or compensation or lump sum, but they cannot sue.
That, unfortunately, seems to be extended into the realm of complaints about pay, complaints about the cost of moves and things of that nature. In some respects, the unlimited liability has been stretched from just simply the injury and death point of view right through to other considerations as well.
I think that was the point the ombudsman made. Frankly, if it is the parliamentary secretary's interpretation of law versus the ombudsman's, I know who I prefer.
With respect to the secondary point as to the concern about its constitutionality, we have a number of eminent constitutional experts in our country. Why did the government not bring them before the committee to say they had looked at the constitutionality of this or that, and deal with it?
As to the right to counsel, that is the point. There is no guarantee of counsel. That is a problem, and it exposes the bill, which we all know will ultimately become law, to constitutional challenges, and that is what Mr. Ruby confirmed.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to say that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
I am honoured to rise in the House on behalf of my constituents in LaSalle—Émard to talk about Bill , at third reading.
I would first like to talk about my riding of LaSalle—Émard. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in an activity organized by the ladies auxiliary of the LaSalle Royal Canadian Legion. These volunteers hosted this activity at the legion for the veterans they visit at Ste. Anne's Hospital.
These women are volunteers. Some of them have been volunteering for over 40 years, while others have been volunteering for 25 or 15 years. They provide a very valuable service to the veterans who served Canada during the world wars and other conflicts in which Canada participated.
I always find it very worthwhile to attend events such as this. It gives me the opportunity to meet with these men and women and better understand what they did for us and what their lives were like when they were members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
In Canada, we are lucky to live in a country that is peaceful, safe and prosperous compared to other places in the world.
I will speak about veterans, but also about current members of the armed forces who do more than we know to serve our country, both here and abroad.
I would also like to say that, in my family, one of my great uncles served in the Second World War. One of my uncles was in the army, and I have a cousin who is currently a member of the armed forces. I do not often have the chance to talk to them about their experiences.
However, I know that members of the Canadian Forces are very disciplined, rigorous and dedicated. When they make a commitment, they follow through on it.
This bill, which amends the National Defence Act, meets a long-standing need. We have had discussions about this and we have talked about the report issued in 2003 by the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer. Other reports have been released since then, including the recent LeSage report, which was published in 2011.
Various bills have been introduced in response to the recommendations made in these reports, but they died on the order paper either because an election was called or for other reasons.
Bill went to committee. As was mentioned, the NDP worked very hard to correct certain shortcomings in this bill.
As my colleague mentioned, it is a small step in the right direction. We must take into account this bill's long history and the recommendations that have been made over the years. This bill addresses a need. The government has taken a step forward by acknowledging the NDP's proposed amendments. Nearly 95% of breaches of the Code of Service Discipline will no longer result in a criminal record. That is one of the reasons why we support Bill .
Earlier in my speech I mentioned that the NDP recognizes the importance of the hard work and dedication of the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces. We want the justice system to treat them fairly, and at the same time we acknowledge that the Canadian Armed Forces are very disciplined and rigorous. We want military justice to be fairer, and that is very important to us. That is why the committee members and the NDP worked very hard to make their case on this bill. As a result of their work, breaches of the Code of Service Discipline will no longer result in a criminal record. We worked very hard on this, and the government was open to working with us.
We think it is very important to have an exhaustive independent study of the military justice system and to introduce legislation in response to the LeSage report within a year. Bill does not really take the LeSage report recommendations into account. I think a study on this should be conducted.
As for the reform of the summary trial system, I think we can expand the list of military offences that do not result in a criminal record. We saw some openness from the government to that. We must also reform the grievance system.
I will conclude with a very important point, which is that we must strengthen the Military Police Complaints Commission. Around the world, countries like Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the United Kingdom are reforming their military justice system and increasingly making room for a civilian component.
We must look at these possibilities. Many of our allies thought it was good to change their summary trial system, which makes us wonder why Canada has waited to so long to modernize our own military justice system.
I think that involving civil society would be beneficial, not only for members of our military, but also for society in general. It would ensure that our system is in line with Canadian values.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate my hon. colleague from on her excellent speech and her handling of the members' questions. She explained quite nicely how important it is to the NDP to bring forward strong legislation, especially since the Conservative government tends to propose such flawed legislation, as they did with Bill .
Canadians can rest assured that the NDP will be here every step along the way to improve these bills and to ensure that we can live in a country with laws that properly reflect the values of Canadians. I would therefore like to reiterate what my hon. colleague already mentioned—that the NDP will be supporting this bill at third reading.
On March 21, 2013, I spoke on this issue and expressed my concerns in that regard. As the member for , I represent many members of the Royal Canadian Air Force, since the Bagotville military base, which I love, is located in my riding. I care deeply about the well-being of these military personnel, so I was outraged that such simple and minor breaches of the Code of Service Discipline could lead to a criminal record, which would in turn have truly negative repercussions on their lives, both through their years of active service and afterwards.
In committee, the NDP fought to defend those military personnel, 95% of whom would have paid the price for that imperfection in Bill . After the NDP proposed amendments, the government finally came to its senses and changes were made to Bill . That is why will be voting in favour of the bill.
On October 7, 2011, the introduced Bill . Bill would amend the National Defence Act to strengthen military justice following the 2003 report of the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, and the May 2009 report of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
The bill would provide for greater flexibility during the sentencing process and it would provide for additional sentencing options, including absolute discharges, intermittent sentences and restitution. It would modify the composition of a court martial panel according to the rank of the accused person. It would also modify the limitation period applicable to summary trials and allows an accused person to waive the limitation periods. It sets out the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal’s duties and functions and would make amendments to the delegation of the Chief of the Defence Staff’s powers as the final authority in the grievance process.
Generally speaking, Bill is a step in the right direction. However, the government should have done more. Bill also gives new powers to the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff regarding military police investigations, which we consider to be a step backward.
Bill C-15 suffers from the Conservatives' slow-footed response to the LeSage report, which was not incorporated in the bill, along with the lack of wall-to-wall review of the sections of the National Defence Act pertaining to military justice. We are letting our soldiers down with this unnecessarily slow pace of change. I encourage the Conservative government to adjust its attitude about amending laws that affect the military.
We want to reassure Canadians that the NDP will continue to lay the groundwork for a larger review of the need for the modernization and civilianization of the military legal system and the implementation of greater civilian oversight. We will make sure that that happens whether we form the official opposition or the government. I feel it is in the interest of all Canadians and particularly Canadian military personnel.
As I mentioned earlier, as a result of the NDP victory after a long and hard-fought battle for the amendment to clause 75 on criminal records—an issue on which our party has strongly and publicly expressed its view—my party is now ready to support the improvements to the military justice system set out in the bill, despite the fact that the bill has no teeth and the reform is not being implemented quickly enough.
Once in power, we are determined to continue to move forward with the reforms and to reverse the regressive measure providing new powers to the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff with respect to military police investigations.
Clearly, Canadians will understand that we have to wait until 2015 to do so. However, we are still going to hound the Conservative government for the next two years.
As I said, the NDP victory forced the government to make some amendments so that almost 95% of disciplinary offences would no longer result in criminal records. We will support Bill . The NDP is proud to vote for a significant, tangible result for the members of the Canadian Forces, a result that we fought hard for and successfully managed to have included in the legislation.
Our efforts have established one more important reform in building a fairer military justice system.
People may not be aware that, when the bill was studied in committee, the NDP did what a real party must do: it proposed amendments in order to improve the bill and eliminate its flaws. In committee, the NDP proposed 22 amendments and five subamendments, while the Liberals proposed none. That shows that the NDP is the party that cares about improving Conservative bills, especially those that affect our Canadian Forces.
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces must uphold standards of discipline that are among the most rigorous. In return, they deserve a justice system with comparable standards. The NDP will support the improvements proposed by Bill C-15, because it is a step in the right direction. However, the government should have done more, as has already been mentioned.
The NDP also regrets that the Conservative government is determined to adopt a piecemeal approach. Changing the military justice system requires an independent review of the entire National Defence Act, which governs the military justice system. The NDP is also asking the government to provide a legislative response to the LeSage report within one year because it has yet to do so. Members of our Canadian Armed Forces deserve no less.
I will now speak in more detail about Bill C-15. This bill is similar to Bill C-41, which came out of a committee in the previous Parliament. However, important amendments made at committee stage in the last Parliament are missing from Bill C-15.
One of the main omissions is the lack of any provision to expand the list of offences that do not result in a criminal record. The NDP, in the House and in committee, asked for changes and proposed amendments in order to reduce the impact of disciplinary sentences and ensure they do not give rise to a criminal record, and also to raise the issue of the lack of a full charter of rights. In committee, the NDP fought to improve the bill and to reform the military justice system in a more meaningful way.
As I already mentioned, through our efforts, the list of offences that will not result in a criminal record was expanded. We also presented a series of amendments to improve the bill, thereby showing our commitment to truly reforming the system. I will talk about five of those amendments.
We asked that the Chief of the Defence Staff be granted the financial authority to compensate members of the Canadian Armed Forces as part of a grievance resolution process, in direct response to Justice Lamer's recommendation. We also proposed changes to the composition of the grievance resolution committee to include 60% civilian membership and not to include active members of the Canadian Forces, which would make the committee more independent. We also proposed a provision that would guarantee that a person convicted of an offence during a summary trial is not unfairly subjected to a criminal record. We also wanted to guarantee the independence of the police by abolishing subsections 18.5(3) to 18.5(5), in clause 4 of the bill to prevent the Chief of the Defence Staff from issuing specific instructions on an investigation to the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal. Finally, I believe that it is important to make the House aware of the final recommendation we made, which involved precisions regarding the letter of the law, as recommended by Justice LeSage, to indicate that a charge must be laid within a year after the offence was committed.
Mr. Speaker, since my time is quickly running out, I am going to stop there. Canadians can take comfort in the fact that the NDP is there to ensure that the Conservatives' bills are improved in committee and in the House of Commons. We will continue to fight for the men and women who protect our country.
Mr. Speaker, my friend did not know I was coming. I am sure he would have withheld those comments had he known.
I will be splitting my time with the member for .
It is great to talk about Bill today. My colleagues and I support the bill at third reading.
Members may recall that I spoke in opposition to the bill at second reading. I applaud the great efforts of my colleagues on the defence committee, as have others in the House today, who put forward 22 amendments and five subamendments and made a great effort to change the bill. As has been pointed out today, none of this was successful, but the bill was amended at committee: the Conservatives saw fit to amend their own mistakes, which is always helpful.
That is not to say that we support this legislation wholeheartedly; it is somewhat reluctantly that we do so.
I want to comment on this issue for a moment, because it has been the subject of much debate.
It is a bit tricky, of course, to support a government bill at third reading. We heard the waxing philosophical earlier today about not letting perfection get in the way of progress; on the other hand, we heard the Liberal defence critic express his confusion and uncertainty about how and why the NDP could support this legislation. The challenge is more difficult than either of those extremes would suggest.
This is not so much a philosophical matter; it is really a very practical one. Justice systems, as informed as they are by theory and philosophy, have very real, profound and practical implications for those who are subjected to them, and this is obviously the case before us. For reasons that we all seem to agree with, this is about balancing the need for quick and expeditious military justice against the need to keep discipline in the forces, while yet providing fairness for forces members.
Today we are considering a unique military justice system and its need for discipline, but we also need to take into consideration the issue of time. That has to weigh heavily on our considerations about whether to support the bill or not.
For all the talk about their support for the military, the Liberals did nothing with their majority government to amend the act, in spite of having before them the report of a justice who made 88 recommendations. The Conservatives have been in government now for seven long years and have similarly opted to do nothing up to this point.
It is because this legislation has such a long history that we need to consider what we can agree to and what we must agree to in order to make progress and move this legislation forward.
I will not recite the full history. I have no time for that today, but I will give a short summary to illustrate the point.
The bill had its genesis in a 2003 report on the Canadian military justice system by a former chief justice of the Supreme Court, the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer. That report contained 88 recommendations for change and was suggestive of some significant deficiencies in Canada's military justice system.
The bill is also a legislative response to a 2009 report by the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs dealing with these very same matters.
In December 2011 yet another military justice report was presented to the government, this time by a former chief justice of the Ontario Superior Court, the Hon. Patrick LeSage. I would note that the Conservative government sat on that report for a year or so before finally tabling it in June 2012.
To date, only 28 of the recommendations from that original Lamer report of 2003 have actually been implemented, some in the form of legislation, some as regulations, and some as changes in practice.
We have even lost some ground, it needs to be noted. In the previous Parliament, Bill died on the order paper. That bill included important updates to the National Defence Act that are interestingly absent from the bill we are considering today. The change got moved back upfield, and that is disappointing.
However, I think the length of time that the current government and the previous Liberal government have taken to bring some sense of fairness to the members of our armed forces with respect to the justice system means that we need to consider very seriously what we need to do now, because we do not know when we will get our next opportunity to make change. It is important that we make tangible change to this system so that it is a military justice system worthy of this country and worthy of the commitment that members of the Canadian Armed Forces make to this country.
As frustrating as all of that is, we focus on the progress that is being made. We see some progress, although I would shy away from calling it significant. It comes in the form of greater flexibility, for example, for the sentencing process to more closely parallel the civil criminal justice system. It would provide for additional sentencing options, including absolute discharges, et cetera; it would modify the composition of a court martial panel; it would modify the limitation period applicable to summary trials and would allow an accused person to waive limitation periods; and it would clarify the responsibilities of the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal.
It would also make amendments to the delegation of the powers of the Chief of the Defence Staff as the final authority in the grievance process.
Above all, as tangible as these changes are, one stands out as critically important and most certainly worthy of support. It is an issue that we in the NDP have pushed for many years, including in the previous Parliament, and we actually had made some progress with it in Bill . It is this issue more than any other that tips the balance in favour of supporting this bill, and it has to do with the number of offences that could result in a criminal record.
The NDP, through the long history of the bill, has consistently pushed for a reduction in the number of these offences. With this amendment from Bill emerging out of committee, it would be the case that about 95% of cases would not attract a criminal record. In addition, those who have been previously convicted of these offences would have their records expunged.
This is an important issue because many of the offences that we have been focusing on do not generally have a civilian equivalent. They are, for example, offences described in section 85 of the act that involve threatening or insulting language or contemptuous behaviour toward a superior officer. Section 86 involves failing to stop someone from deserting, and section 97 deals with drunkenness.
We have long considered it unjust, as have many other experts who have weighed in on this matter, that convictions for those kinds of offences through this kind of summary trial process could result in criminal records that could follow members of the Canadian Armed Forces into their civilian lives.
It is important to note that the summary trial is used to try about 95% of disciplinary cases in the forces. It is this process that is used to effect a balance between the competing interests of discipline and returning a soldier to service. As such, fairness and justice are compromised.
For example, a commanding officer or a designated superior officer could act as the judge, and there would be no legal counsel, no appeal, not even a transcript of the file. We consider it unfair for criminal records to flow from that and follow a soldier into civilian life, so we are pleased to see that amendment and we will be supporting the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that advice and will stick to that when I get to my questions and comments period. I appreciate the opportunity to rise and talk about this important issue.
Bill , an act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts is very underwhelming. It has been around since 2003 in several different forms. It has re-emerged with some improvements, but it has been kicked around this place for some time.
We are seeing it come to a conclusion. The mere fact that it does not have one of these targeted names that the government often gives bills is indicative of its mediocrity. It is named “an act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts”. My experience in this place in the last number of years is that the government has introduced bills with very tempting names to try to promote them. In this situation, we do not have that. I think that is an indicator of where we are right now.
As New Democrats, we will support this bill. We will move it forward. The member for has done a good job on this file, the best he can. The committee has as well, making amendments to the bill.
It is important, because it is about judicial systems and about judgment to our military families. I come from an area where military families are a tradition and an honour. The Windsor and Essex County area has been, since the birth of this nation, participating in the military on a regular basis. The first time was in 1749, a French militia, and subsequently in the War of 1812, the South African War, the First World War, the Second World War, Korea, peacekeepers, Afghanistan. We have been a regular recruitment zone for military service.
We have some of the strongest veterans' organizations out there. It is important. I have seen what happens to some of our officers and some of our regiment, and those who are supporting them, and their families when they have come home. I have had a chance to sit in on some sessions at the Legion, involving everyone from Afghan vets to World War II vets still talking about how difficult it is to get to the next day. It is very difficult, but at the same time they are very proud of those traditions.
I have a little personal experience with this as well. My grandfather, John Clifford Addison, was an ordinary code man who went down on the HMS Scorpion in the fall of Burma. I did not know my grandfather. I never met him. I do not know much about him. I have his medals. I have his soccer medals, as well.
I was very fortunate. Like so many others, my grandmother, Irene Attwood, was in England at the time. She married Fred Attwood. When he came to Canada, he treated me as his own grandson. I was at the house all the time, listening to my grandfather telling his stories, talking about experiences and his mates at the kitchen table. I can still smell the flavourful scones my grandmother would cook and the tea, with big band music in the background, as we sat and discussed what took place.
The reservation I have for this bill is that if justice is not served properly to those in the military, then we are going to have consequences outside when they finish their service. I have seen that. What worries me about this bill is that we have not done enough with regard to the amendments that needed to take place in order for this bill to be improved, whether it be giving the Chief of the Defence Staff the financial authority or whether it be making sure that the processing is done properly so that they can actually have justice at the end of the day.
There have been a number of witnesses who have come forward suggesting that this is not complete. We had a number of amendments made at committee that were not done. That concerns me, because this bill has been around this place for so long.
I am going to go through some of the changes we wanted to take place and that perhaps can get done at another date. I do not know if the current government is interested in doing that. It is a risk we have to take. The bill is going forward anyway, with some modest improvements, but I hope there is some sincere attempt to go further on the recommendations that came through a lot of work, thought, discussion and debate. As I noted, this bill has been kicked around this place for a number of years, and it is time to finally get something done, but it is disappointing that we have not had some of the other elements we wanted.
One of those was to conduct an independent wall-to-wall review of the military justice system and provide a legislative response to the LeSage report within a year. Neither the report in 2003 by the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, nor the report from the former chief justice of the Superior Court, the Hon. Patrick LeSage, provided a complete independent review of the entire military justice system. We think it is time to do that. We think it is time to move that point forward, and I think there is enough support to do that.
Another thing we wanted to have is reform of the summary trial system. The Hon. Patrick LeSage said:
Suffice it to say I have very real concerns about obtaining a criminal record from a summary trial conviction. The issue of criminal records flowing from convictions at summary trial must be reviewed. The very damage that flows from a criminal record and the potential effect on a person's life is far too severe a consequence for most offences tried by summary trial.
This is where I get into my background of working with youth at risk and other persons who have disabilities, where stigmas are evolved or are created on a person and there are consequential effects. For example, if individuals have that on their record, it affects them in going for a job, in education, in their neighbourhood, with applications for credit or for any type of assistance, if it has to be disclosed. Those individuals are living with this cloud over top of them.
I see it on a regular basis, even in my home riding, where I have a good example with regard to a stigma staying left over. I have a Ford truck driver who smoked marijuana, got caught and has a federal conviction, so every time he goes into the United States, he is rightly pulled over because he has a record, but sometimes he is made to sit there for four or five hours. We have to intervene and say the authorities should pull him over and go through the vehicle and do all the inspections and enforcement they want to do, but the just-in-time delivery that the person is doing right there is important for both of our economies. He has to live with that type of stigma and that type of potential every single time he crosses the border. It is his own fault and he has to pay for it, but the reality is that there is a consequence.
Therefore, as an employment specialist on behalf of persons with disabilities and youth at risk, what I worry about is that even some of the minor convictions can make a difference in terms of a person being able to get a job or employment. It is critical that this issue is addressed in here, because if our military personnel have that, even if it is not something that is openly known in the community, they are still living with that bubble above them.
I have one last point. We want to expand on the service offences exempt from criminal records as well and, last, to reform the grievance system so that there are more appropriate opportunities for someone to grieve a situation.
With that, I appreciate the opportunity to speak in this chamber to this issue, and I welcome comments and questions and will be prompt in terms of my response.
Mr. Speaker, I will start by saying that I am pleased to be sharing my time with the member for , who will undoubtedly echo my remarks today.
First of all, as some of my colleagues have mentioned, it is important to say that the NDP will support the bill at third reading stage. We remember the process that the bill went through in the House at second reading and then in committee. It has now come back to the House, and it will have the NDP's support for a number of reasons that I will discuss.
I will provide a bit of background on what happened with this bill and where it came from. I will be brief because my comments are not necessarily related to third reading stage. On October 7, 2011, the introduced Bill , or the .
Bill amends the National Defence Act in order to strengthen military justice. It was introduced in response to the 2003 report by the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer, for whom I have a great deal of respect, and the May 2009 report of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Those are the origins of the bill.
To give everyone some context, I will go through the objectives of this bill. It provides for more flexibility in the sentencing process. It also provides for additional sentencing options, including absolute discharges, intermittent sentences and restitution. It would modify the composition of a court martial panel in accordance with the rank of the accused person. It would also modify the limitation period applicable to summary trials and would allow an accused person to waive the limitation periods. The bill sets out the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal's duties and functions. It makes amendments to the delegation of the Chief of the Defence Staff's powers as the final authority in the grievance process.
That is a summary of the bill, which is rather long and impressive. It includes many things that deserve to be debated and discussed at length in the House.
As members know, the NDP feels that Bill is a step in the right direction. However, it is very important to note that the government could have perhaps done more, including listening to the opposition, which expressed a number of concerns and continues to do so, even as we are at third reading and approaching the final vote. However, perhaps the other place will consider the concerns we have raised.
Today I will discuss four issues that I think are the most important. I will first talk about the summary trials process and about police investigations conducted by military police. We know that there is the possibility of interference in these investigations. I will also talk about criminal records, and more specifically about our victory with certain crimes, which we are very happy about. I will talk more about this. Lastly, I will talk about the grievance process.
We thought that the summary trials issue was very important. We felt that sometimes, members of the Canadian Forces did not necessarily have the same rights as other Canadians who are protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We did not think that was right. Unfortunately, the government did not address this in the bill and the summary trials process remains unchanged.
I have a great deal of respect for members of the Canadian Armed Forces. I often cross paths with them because there are two reserve units stationed in my riding. I therefore often have the opportunity to interact with them, to talk to them, and to learn more about them. I did not have the opportunity to serve myself, even though I wanted and intended to. In the end, it did not happen. I took another path that led me here today. However, this job still allows me to talk about the armed forces, to get involved and to have fairly frequent contact with members.
I could not believe that all members of the Canadian Forces did not necessarily have the same protection.
As Canadians, we are protected by the charter. We have the right to a fair and equitable trial and we have access to a lawyer and legal advice. That is not necessarily the case in a summary trial. Members of the Canadian Forces do not always have access to this type of counsel, and the NDP believes that they do not have the same rights as Canadians who are not members of the Canadian Forces. We must do everything we can so that those who decide to serve our country and give their time, energy and sometimes their lives get more respect from our government, are well protected and have the same rights as everyone else.
We have another concern about this bill. It pertains to military police investigations. The bill makes a few changes to a provision that would allow the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff to intervene in military police investigations through the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal. I am using some terms that I am not really familiar with, but I know enough about them after examining the bill, especially since I had the opportunity to speak about this bill at second reading. I familiarized myself with this process. I found it unbelievable that this potential interference could not be avoided since the provision gave the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff the authority to intervene with regard to how the military police investigation should or should not be conducted. In my opinion, this provision caused the military police to become somewhat less independent.
To draw an analogy with the current civilian police, it would be inconceivable for the mayor of a city to call the chief of police in that city to say that there is no need to continue an investigation or to tell the chief how to carry out the investigations under way. The same goes for provincial police and a premier. We can draw a parallel. In the case of military police, we must make sure that no interference is possible and that the police maintain their independence. When the police carry out an investigation, they have to do so as independently as possible so that the results are as reliable as possible.
In terms of criminal records, we have some good news. As my colleagues mentioned today, we were particularly concerned about the issue of criminal records. From the very beginning of the process, when various bills were introduced in the House, we have expressed reservations on a number of occasions. It was inconceivable that, after a summary trial, which I mentioned earlier, members of the Canadian Armed Forces would often end up with a criminal record. I will not list everything, but the NDP worked very hard to include exemptions for minor offences and to ensure that the people who decide to serve us will not have criminal records for those minor offences—which a regular Canadian would not have—especially after going through a process that is not necessarily fair and equitable.
I would have liked to talk about the grievance system. Perhaps I will have an opportunity to do so during questions and comments.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill . This is the second time I have spoken about this bill, because I made another speech during second reading.
It is a privilege to speak to this bill even though, as we have seen today, the other parties seem to think we should be cutting debate short. They are saying that we should not take the time to discuss it since everyone is in favour.
I believe it is important to talk about it, however, so that my constituents will understand what we are voting for and so that I can explain why the NDP voted against the bill at second reading and why we are voting for it now.
Many of my colleagues have said that they have reserve units in their riding. Unfortunately, there are none in my riding; however, many of my friends, acquaintances and family members serve in the Canadian Armed Forces, and I would like to say hello to them today. I would also like to acknowledge the three Legions in my region because I think that the work they do is very important, even though they fall under a different department. I am talking about the Legions in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Lachine and Dorval.
I would like to give some background on this bill. In 2003, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, Mr. Lamer, issued his report, which contained 88 recommendations and resulted in the current bill. In May 2009, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs also tabled a report, and on October 7, 2011, the first version of this bill was introduced.
What does this bill do? Basically, it provides for greater flexibility in sentencing. This means additional sentencing options including absolute discharges, intermittent sentences and restitution orders. It modifies the limitation period applicable to summary trials. It sets out the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal's duties and functions. Finally, it amends the delegation of the Chief of the Defence Staff's powers as the final authority in the grievance process.
Today, I will focus on two points, but first, as my colleagues pointed out, I want to say that we will support this bill even though it was a long process. Things happened bit by bit. The minister should have been working on this for the past 10 years. Still, none of this should come as any surprise considering what the minister has done so far. The minister made mistakes with respect to helicopters. He made mistakes in the fiasco involving soldiers in Afghanistan, where some soldiers were paid more than others because of danger pay. Who could forget the F-35 fiasco and the millions of dollars spent on advertising? Clearly, the minister is incompetent, but at least we have a bill that is good enough for us to support.
The reform did not happen fast enough, but we will work with what we have.
We have agreed to vote in favour of this bill because the committee passed an amendment concerning criminal records that was very important to us. That was the focus of my speech at second reading. Under some circumstances, soldiers who committed certain minor offences could end up with a criminal record. A criminal record can close a lot of doors in a person's life. Consider travel. It can be harder to travel to certain countries if one has a criminal record. Some employers want to know whether a potential employee has a criminal record.
I know that soldiers, members of the Canadian Armed Forces, represent rectitude, that they should be role models for everyone and that they should always do the right thing. However, when I see the minor offences that could result in a criminal record, that seems pretty heavy to me.
I am glad that provision was withdrawn. I would like to talk briefly about how that happened. In committee, we proposed 22 amendments and five subamendments. The Liberals did not propose any, and the Conservatives proposed two. The amendments often overlapped, but at second reading, most of my colleagues emphasized their concerns about the issue of criminal records. By the end of the committee stage, we managed to resolve the problem. This is also an excellent example of co-operation, of a bill that can make its way through the legislative process, referred from the House of Commons to a committee and then sent back to the House, while being amended to ensure that all parties can support it.
Unfortunately, we do not see this very often in this Parliament. When I was first elected, I was extremely disappointed to see how hard it is—especially in the current political context of a majority government—to have our voices heard, to share our point of view and move bills forward in the right direction. We want to represent all Canadians. If the government constantly shuts down all debate and ignores others' comments, we are not going to get very far. I would therefore like to thank the government for listening to us—this time—and for supporting our amendment. That is what happened at committee in March.
The second thing I wanted to talk about, which some of my colleagues have already mentioned, is how summary trials work. I would like to read what the Department of National Defence website says about summary trials:
The purpose of summary proceedings is to provide prompt but fair justice in respect of minor service offences and to contribute to the maintenance of military discipline and efficiency, in Canada and abroad, in time of peace or armed conflict.
Summary trials are a very important part of military justice. They were put in place because they work well in the military justice system. One aspect of the bill that I find interesting concerns changes to the duration of summary trials. That is very important. As we mentioned, if we want members of the Canadian Armed Forces to have fair trials for minor offences, the trials cannot be rushed, as my colleague said. If we speed through trials, and people do not have the time to defend themselves properly or to fully present their arguments, the trials will not be as meaningful and may not get to the bottom of things. Therefore, it is very important that we improve this system in order to ensure that it works better and is more fair and just, one of the first things mentioned on our website.
Several elements of the LeSage report were included in the bill. We would have liked a more direct legislative response. The report was submitted to the government in December 2011. It was tabled and presented to the House on June 8, 2012. There was a six-month interval. I really mean it when I say that the reforms are piecemeal. We would have appreciated a more direct legislative response. I understand that the bill refers to the report, but we could have done more.
In closing, I want to quote at least two people who support our position. I will only quote one as I have little time left. At least two people supported our position.
I am referring to Glenn Stannard, chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission, a key player. In February, he said:
As far as the commission is aware, there have been no problems with the accountability framework that justify its revocation at this time, and proposed subsection 18.5(3) runs counter to...
Mr. Speaker, I can assure you that I did not use any unparliamentary language. I was reminiscing about something that took place here.
It was nice to see this morning that there was affection, once again, between the New Democrats and the Conservatives on this bill, Bill . In fact, as has been pointed out, there was a time when the NDP opposed Bill C-15, to the degree that it voted against it going to second reading. Liberals were actually quite open-minded about it. We had suggested that we should wait to see what took place at the committee stage, recognizing the value that could potentially be gained on the government side.
Then the bill went to committee. I understand that the New Democrats made in excess of 20 amendments. I believe that is what members have said time and time again. What they do not say is that they were blanked out. Not one amendment passed from the New Democratic caucus. Then—
Mr. Jamie Nicholls: That is not true.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux: That is not true? Did any NDP amendments pass in committee?
Hon. John McKay: Not that I recollect.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux: They might want to check the committee records, Mr. Speaker. If there is one, they have 10 or 15 minutes to maybe explain exactly which amendment of theirs passed.
I know that a couple of Conservative amendments passed. There has been a different style of government ever since this Reform-Conservative government came into power. Unless they are Conservative amendments, they do not typically pass. We have seen that. Liberals have introduced well over 1,000 amendments. The Conservatives do not like to pass opposition amendments. They have their own agenda. It is very difficult. At times, there may be a bit of a bend here and there, but not beyond that.
The New Democratic Party members ultimately voted no in committee on the legislation itself. Something happened in between. I suspect it may have been the opposition House leader working with the , because they have a good working relationship, as I pointed out at the beginning of my comments. Now they are happy and are supporting it and are taking turns taking shots at the Liberal Party in the House, because it is actually taking a principled stand on the legislation and is saying that there are serious issues. We are not prepared to do what the NDP has done and abandon them. We believe that we should seriously look at voting against it.
I would like, and I say it somewhat tongue in cheek, the NDP to revisit the issue. As best I can tell, it is voting in favour of the government's bill today because of the issue of minor offences. Whereas an individual who committed a minor offence could have ended up with a criminal record, the government has minimized it by way of an amendment it brought to the House of Commons. As a result, it has garnered the support of the New Democratic Party. That is an important issue.
When we look at the legislation as a whole, there are some positive things being done in Bill . Liberals do not question them. However, there is a very serious issue, which the government has refused to look at. I made reference to it when I posed my question a few minutes ago. I said that I was a member of the Canadian Forces. I always considered myself a Canadian first and foremost, as all members of the Canadian Forces see themselves. At the end of the day, we would all like to think that they have a fair system. We recognize that there are discrepancies between military justice and the civil justice system, and we know that in some situations, that has to be the case.
I have cited in the past examples of being at work on time. There is a much stiffer penalty in military discipline with respect to showing up late or missing a day or two. If they miss a day, they could be accused of going AWOL, and there is a huge consequence for doing that. In the civil service, it is quite different. Within the private sector, it is quite different.
We recognize the need to allow that difference, but we should be trying to narrow the gap wherever we can so that we have a system that is fair. I believe that the NDP has missed the boat, or has maybe jumped out of the boat, on the issue of fairness in dealing with individuals who are members of the Canadian Forces.
At committee, Justice Létourneau spoke eloquently, I thought. He said that soldiers are citizens and should enjoy the same constitutional charter rights as all Canadians. He stated:
We as a society have forgotten, with harsh consequences for the members of the armed forces, that a soldier is before all a Canadian citizen, a Canadian citizen in uniform. So is a police officer...but he's not deprived of his right to a jury trial. Is that what we mean by “equality of all before the law”? Is not the soldier who risks his life for us entitled to at least the same rights and equality before the law as his fellow citizens when he is facing criminal prosecutions?
He then answers the question by saying that yes, it is.
Another presentation was made by Michel Drapeau, a distinguished Canadian. He served in the Canadian Forces brilliantly, I must say. He is actually a retired colonel. I think it is important to take note of some of the things he said in committee.
Again, I will quote directly what the retired colonel said:
...someone accused before summary trial has no right to appeal either the verdict or the sentence. This is despite the fact that the verdict and the sentence are imposed without any regard to the minimum standards of procedural rights in criminal proceedings, such as the right to counsel, the presence of rules of evidence, and the right to appeal.
In Canada, these rights do not exist in summary trials, not even for the decorated veteran, yet a Canadian charged with a summary conviction offence in civilian court, such as Senator Patrick Brazeau, enjoys all of these rights. So does someone appearing in a small claims court or in a traffic court.
I find it very odd that those who put their lives at risk to protect the rights of Canadians are themselves deprived of some of these charter rights when facing a quasi-criminal process with a possibility of loss of liberty through detention in a military barracks.
To me, this is one of the underlying principles of the legislation. It is something to which we should all be giving special attention. Do we want the fairness provided to the civilians to be provided to individuals who put on our military attire?
As someone who has been a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, I would have liked to have seen that sort of system in place.
I cannot say how many times I have sat here and listened to New Democratic members of Parliament talk about how legislation is not perfect, so they are voting against it. They say that if it goes to committee, it needs to be made good. If it has to be amended, they will make amendments. If the government does not pass the amendments and it is not perfect legislation, they will not support it.
I have asked questions about that. I have challenged the opposition members and asked if they would support legislation if, on balance, it was good but there were some issues they had problems with. The wonderful thing about Hansard is that we can look at it. Time and time again, they say no, they want perfect legislation.
That is not what we are seeing here today. This is not perfect legislation by any stretch of the imagination. There is a need for us to make some changes to the legislation. In many pieces of legislation, one would find that there is a need to make amendments. We already know what the government is going to do with amendments. If it is not one of its amendments, it will not pass.
In many cases, we attempt to bring forward amendments. In other cases, we hope and have faith that the government will do the right thing. In this situation, the government has not chosen to do the right thing. That is unfortunate.
This is legislation that has been before the House before. The government talks about having 100 members of Parliament who have spoken to it. It has spent time in committee. Through the years, the government has failed to bring in the legislation. They have to take responsibility for it not always passing. An example is that the government chose to prorogue a session, something that had a huge, negative reaction from the Canadian population. That killed the bill.
Whether it is elections or the proroguing of sessions, the government has not been successful in bringing forward this legislation in a timely fashion.
It has also demonstrated that it does not recognize the importance of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, our Constitution and fairness in our justice system when it comes to our military personnel.
A number of changes are being proposed in Bill . It would provide security of tenure for military judges. It would allow for the appointment of part-time military judges. It would outline sentencing objectives and principles. It would amend the composition of the court martial panel according to rank. It would change the name from the Canadian Forces Grievance Board to the military grievances external review committee.
In fact, there were even some amendments brought forward from the government that ultimately passed. They dealt with an issue I made reference to yesterday.
The idea of giving someone a criminal record for something that took place while they were serving in the military in relatively minor situations is just unfair. We needed to see some changes on that front.
We are glad that the government has seen the light, at least in part, on that issue. It is exceptionally difficult, when individuals go for an interview, after serving x number of years, whether it is three years, eight years or whatever it might be, in the forces, during which time one day they were a little upset and used some profanity toward their superior officer, and a profound disciplinary action was taken.
Let us compare that to civilian life. In the military life, that could actually lead to a criminal conviction. They would not even have had the opportunity to see a transcript or to appeal the decision in a summary trial. We have to think of the consequences of that. Those individuals now go out into civilian life, and because of that moment of stress, anxiety, pressure or whatever it might be, when a question is posed on the application about whether they have a criminal record...we have to think about that outcome.
That is the reason there was a need for change. Having said that, I really believe that when we talk about summary trials, what is really at the crux of it is the idea that someone does not have a right to counsel, does not have a right an appeal and there is no transcript.
We are not saying we have to go it alone; other countries in the world have moved in that direction. One could ask the question, why not Canada?