The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill , as reported (with amendments) from the committee.
moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
He said: Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be here today in support of Bill , an act to amend the National Defence Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other acts.
I want to first acknowledge the hard work that has gone into shaping this bill, including the study undertaken by members of the Standing Committee on National Defence.
I am pleased to say that due to the care and dedication to improving our military justice system by our Canadian Armed Forces members, the final bill enjoys support from all parties.
This bill was drafted with the same care for our people in mind, because as I have said before, our people are at the heart of everything we do. They make extraordinary sacrifices every single day in service to our country, and we hold them to a high standard of conduct in all they do, whether at home or abroad. They deserve a military justice system that promotes discipline, efficiency and morale within the Canadian Armed Forces.
Through Bill , we are bringing important changes to our current framework that will allow us to provide this type of support to anyone going through the military justice system.
Many members are already familiar with the proposed changes and the improvements they would make to enshrine victims rights in the system; reform the summary trial process to ensure that minor breaches of military discipline were dealt with in a non-penal, non-criminal process; seek harsher punishments for service offences and harsher sanctions for service infractions motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on gender identity or expression; and ensure that the specific circumstances of indigenous offenders were considered when imposing a sentence.
The changes we are proposing are long overdue and necessary. We recognize that we need to continually improve our military justice system. These changes align with the mandate given to me by our to make the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces workplaces free from harassment and discrimination, and they follow closely our government's action outside the Canadian Armed Forces to make sure that Canada is a safe and welcoming place for all Canadians and people living in Canada.
This legislation would build on our government's commitment to the values of fairness and equality. These values are also key tenets of Bill , which makes workplaces in the federal sphere and in Parliament free from harassment and discrimination. This received royal assent last October.
Bill would help Canadians prevent incidents of harassment, enable them to respond to events that do occur, and most importantly, support victims, survivors and employers.
Our government is also making strides to ensure fairness and equality for LGBTQ2 Canadians. Since our formal apology to the LGBTQ2 Canadians for decades of institutional discrimination and harassment, we have taken steps to compensate those affected. Administration of a settlement agreement between the Government of Canada and current and former members of our Canadian Armed Forces is under way.
This past fall we announced a new Canada pride citation that each member of the class will be eligible to receive. This citation is an acknowledgement of historical injustices experienced by LGBTQ2 federal public servants, RCMP and Canadian Armed Forces members to commemorate their resilience, bravery and sacrifice.
Finally, this legislation would continue our government's efforts to strengthen fairness and equality for indigenous peoples living in Canada as we work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to implement its calls to action to repair and renew this important relationship.
We should all be proud to be part of a government working to ensure fairness and equality for all Canadians. It is work that goes a long way toward making Canada a country where everyone is treated equally. It is the same dedication to fairness and equality that motivated the creation of this legislation and that continues to motivate us as we work to finalize and enshrine these amendments in law.
I would now like to talk about our proposed changes to the National Defence Act and our hopes for how they would improve our current military justice system.
One of the most important changes would be the addition of a declaration of victims rights in the National Defence Act, which would improve support for victims. This declaration would mirror the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights found in the civilian criminal justice system. It would strengthen how the Canadian Armed Forces supports victims across the military justice system. It would enshrine rights for victims of service offences and enhance the support provided to victims as they navigate the court martial process.
Through Bill , we would be legislating for victims rights, which include the right to information, the right to protection, the right to participation and the right to restitution. Through these expanded rights, victims would be able to access all information to which they were entitled. They would be entitled to security and privacy at all times in the military justice system. They would have the right to present a victim impact statement and to share their views about decisions that affect their rights. They would also be able to ask a court martial to consider ordering restitution for damages or losses when that value could be calculated. In addition, to ensure that victims were able to exercise these rights, they would be entitled to the support of the victims declaration of victims rights to enhance the kind of support we could offer victims through the military justice system.
These would be important changes, and I am proud to be bringing them to the House today.
The second set of changes we are proposing concerns how the military justice system handles minor breaches of military discipline. We are proposing reforms to the current summary trial process, which would create a new process called “summary hearings”. These summary hearings would make the system more efficient and would treat minor breaches of military discipline in a fair and timely manner. The new process would be non-penal and non-criminal.
Through these proposed changes, a new category of minor breaches of military discipline, called “service infractions”, would be created. These service infractions would not trigger a criminal record. This change would allow the Canadian Armed Forces to handle minor breaches of military discipline in a fair, simpler and faster manner, which is extremely important. It would demonstrate trust and confidence in our military leaders, who could address minor breaches of discipline at the base, wing or unit level, and it would help maintain operational readiness and preserve morale across the Canadian Armed Forces.
Through Bill , we would also work to address the issue of gender-based prejudice and hatred in the Canadian Armed Forces. The bill would work similarly to the Criminal Code. It proposes harsher sentences for service offences and harsher sanctions for service infractions motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on gender expression or identity.
The Canadian Armed Forces has zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind, and we are committed to eliminating these types of biases in all our military ranks. We have a responsibility to make sure that all Canadian Armed Forces members feel welcome and accepted. We know that we have not always supported our LGBTQ2 members as well as they have deserved. This amendment reflects this commitment and would help the forces continue to make progress in promoting inclusivity.
We have made a significant amendment to mirror the Criminal Code provision relating to the sentencing of indigenous offenders. For indigenous people found guilty of service offences, the personal history and circumstances of indigenous offenders would be considered during sentencing. All available punishments deemed appropriate given the harm done would be considered, with particular attention to the circumstances of indigenous offenders. This sentencing principle also acknowledges historic wrongs that still negatively affect indigenous peoples living in Canada today.
As our has said on many occasions, no relationship is more important to our government and to Canada than the one we have with indigenous people.
Indigenous women and men play an important role in the Canadian Armed Forces. There are nearly 2,500 indigenous members in the regular and reserve forces, and it is our responsibility to ensure that they are well supported throughout their entire military careers.
These proposed changes to the National Defence Act are key to supporting our women and men in uniform. Canadian Armed Forces members need and deserve a military justice system that is transparent, fair and equitable, and a military justice system that helps keep the Canadian Armed Forces fair and inclusive for all Canadians and people living in Canada.
Our people are at the heart of everything we do. They are the reason we work hard to ensure that the Canadian Armed Forces is welcoming and inclusive for all of our members, including women. The reason we introduced Operation Honour was to eliminate sexual misconduct from the Canadian Armed Forces and to change military culture to ensure it is a respectful workplace of choice for all people living in Canada.
The support provided to Canadian Armed Forces members through initiatives like these cannot be overstated. Through Bill , we are making sure that military justice reflects Canadian values, eliminates discrimination and ensures victims have a voice throughout the legal process.
The members of the Standing Committee on National Defence heard from a variety of witnesses in order to get a full picture of how the passing of the bill would affect our members, including the judge advocate general of the Canadian Armed Forces, the Barreau du Québec and senior military leadership, as well as former members of the forces and their families.
Again, I want to thank all those who worked hard to move the bill forward. Their hard work has led to several amendments, some of which have been incorporated and will make the bill stronger.
I also want to specifically recognize the important conversations surrounding mental health and self-harm that came up during the recent study at the Standing Committee on National Defence. During its study of the bill, members of the committee raised concerns about a provision in the National Defence Act that makes it a service offence for military members to wilfully injure themselves with the intent to render themselves unfit for service.
We take the well-being of our women and men in uniform very seriously. That is why we are investing $17.5 million in a centre of excellence focused on the prevention, assessment and treatment of PTSD and related mental health conditions for military members and veterans. That is why we have over 400 full-time mental health workers and we intend to hire more. That is why we included the total health and wellness strategy in our defence policy. That is why we launched the joint suicide prevention strategy with Veterans Affairs last year.
Our government recognizes that military service places unique demands on our brave women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces. As such, I have invited the committee to undertake a study on mental health and self-harm in the Canadian Armed Forces, which will allow us to thoughtfully and thoroughly consider these issues. I look forward to working with committee members to develop a better understanding of these issues and to come up with solutions that will benefit all of our women and men in uniform.
It is a pleasure to see this proposed legislation progress to third reading and to stand in the House today in support of all members of our Canadian Armed Forces. They deserve a military justice system that maintains discipline, efficiency and morale in the Canadian Armed Forces while respecting our Canadian values. They deserve a military justice system that provides fair and equal treatment, regardless of race, orientation or gender.
A lot of discussion has occurred and hopefully we can quickly pass the bill. Once again, I want to thank all members for their input into the bill.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand to speak at third reading of Bill , the amendments to the National Defence Act to add some new guidelines and strengths within the military justice system. The Conservatives have been calling for this for some time.
The Conservatives are committed to standing up for the rights of victims and ensuring that victims have a more effective voice in the criminal justice system. It was our previous Conservative government that enacted the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. We support enshrining those rights for victims in our military justice system. That is why, in the last Parliament, we introduced Bill . That really is the foundation that Bill , which we are debating today, is based upon.
The Conservative Party will always stand up for the rights of victims, and that is why are supportive of seeing Bill passed and enacted.
We have to ensure we restore the rights of victims and ensure they are at the heart of our justice system. That is why the Victims Bill of Rights would now be mirrored in military law, once it is passed through Senate.
I hope that some of the questions I still have about the bill, as well some of the questions we just heard about self-harm, may be addressed when the bill goes for further study and debate over in the other place.
I am the vice-chair of the Standing Committee on National Defence. At committee we heard from numerous witnesses. Those who support victims were very loud in their support of the legislation. It would give the victims: enhanced access to information through the appointment of a victim liaison officer, which is welcomed by victims in the Canadian Armed Forces; enhanced protection for those victims through new safety, security and privacy provisions, so victims do not have to be concerned about their information being used inappropriately through a violation of their privacy; enhanced participation by allowing victims to read impact statements at the time of sentencing of those who committed a crime against them; and, when possible, enhanced restitution through the court martial process consideration to provide restitution for the order of the losses to those who were victimized.
Our previous Conservative government took significant steps to protect Canadians and to stand up for victims of crime. We understand that the highest priority for any government must be to ensure the safety of its citizens, including those who are serving in the Canadian Armed Forces. It is a responsibility of government. As a Conservative government, we took that seriously. I am glad to see the has taken it seriously with the amendments in Bill .
Putting the rights of victims back at the heart of the justice system is important and it is crucial to ensure fairness, to ensure that our justice system is compassionate and that it provides a balance, both to the rights of the victims and the rights of those convicted. It is about courtesy, compassion and respect, and that has to be included at every stage of the justice process, whether it is in civilian courts or military courts.
Our previous Conservative government was committed to reversing that trend and keeping our streets and communities safe for Canadians and their families. We had taken concrete steps to see that offenders accounted for their actions.
All of us on this side of the House were proud of our previous government's record, a record that includes the Safe Streets and Communities Act, the reform of not criminally responsible legislation, laws against sexual exploitation and, of course, cyber intimidation and bullying.
We, as Conservatives, believe that for far too long the criminal justice system was about the rights of criminals. We believe the victims have to be placed at the very heart of the justice system. They deserve, and should have, the right to information, the right to protection, the right to participation and, where possible, the right to restitution. That is encompassed in the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, which is landmark legislation that will be reflected now in the National Defence Act as it applies to our military.
Many people wonder why we have a dual system, one for civilians and one for our military members. I would like to use a quote that came from Maurice de Saxe, who used to be the marshal general of France in 1732. In writing about the science of warfare, he said:
...military discipline...is the soul of armies. If it is not established with wisdom and maintained with unshakeable resolution you will have no soldiers. Regiments and armies will only be contemptible, armed mobs, more dangerous to their own country than to the enemy...
We have witnessed that in modern times in other countries around the world. That is why in 1950 the National Defence Act was enacted to established a military justice system.
We already have what I consider the best of the best who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces. Because they are the best of the best and because they are given the order to use lethal force when necessary in defending Canada and Canadians and those who cannot defend themselves around the world, they have to be held to a higher standard. We need to have a military justice system in place that reflects the law of the land in Canada, but still hold to that same standard, values and principles when they are deployed abroad.
As the minister already pointed out, some of the changes in Bill build upon the code of service conduct and Operation Honour in particular. We want to ensure we have effective ways to stomp out sexual misconduct, to eliminate harassment within the Canadian Armed Forces and to deal with intolerance.
The Gladue decision of the Supreme Court a number of years ago has been put into the decision-making process through the court martial system as well as through the summary hearings that have been put in place. We want to ensure that the ongoing defence of parallel military justice systems that has been supported by the Supreme Court of Canada continues.
In the Généreux case in 1992, the MacKay case and more recently in the Moriarity case of 2015, they have consistently held up that the National Defence Act and the criminal justice system is for the maintenance of discipline, efficiency and morale of the Canadian Armed Forces. It stands by section 11(f) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is that there is an exemption given to members of the Canadian Armed Forces and to the chain of command to carry out military justice on a parallel track.
I raised concerns at committee and when the bill was at second reading about the recent Court Martial Appeals Court decision in the Beaudry case, in which the judge advocate general requested to have that stand at this point in time so they could take that case to the Supreme Court and have it pass a decision on it. Again, we continue to see some people who do not believe the military should have its own justice system and that cases should be tried in civilian court except when they are deployed.
Overall, we need to continue to have that chain of command, the enforcement of the Queen's rules and orders and that those regulations are reflective of some of the concerns that were brought up at committee.
A number of very powerful witnesses appeared at committee. One person was Jean-Guy Perron, a retired colonel, He was a JAG officer and also sat as a justice on the court martial court. We also had compelling testimony given by the Barreau du Québec. It raised a number of concerns where there could be charter challenges down the road if we did not get this right.
One thing that was very evident was that the change of summary trial to summary hearing may reduce the burden of proof. Right now, the burden of proof is the same as it is in civil court, which is that it has to be beyond a reasonable doubt. That has been modified somewhat and the accused could fact even more difficulty going forward.
I will quote retired Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Guy Perron. He said:
Although a summary infraction is not an offence under the NDA and a summary hearing is not a court martial or a service tribunal; the failure “without lawful excuse, the proof of which lies on the person, to appear” as ordered, or to remain in attendance before an officer conducting a summary hearing, as a person charged with having committed a service infraction can lead to an accusation under s. 118.1 (Failure to appear or to attend), a trial by court martial and possibly a criminal conviction.
This is all in relationship to the summary hearings process. He went on to say:
Would “minor sanctions” be identical or quite similar to “minor punishments”? Most probably and, if so, the punishments of confinement to ship or barracks and extra work and drill raise concerns....COs can confine to ship or barracks for up to 21 days....This deprivation of liberty can be very strict and would be similar to conditional sentence of imprisonment (“house arrest”).
Since that would now be considered imprisonment through a summary hearing without actually having a court martial process, would the rights of that individual be violated by not having the right to a fair trial because it has been dealt with through the chain of command at a summary hearing?
Essentially, he is saying that house arrest or confinement to barracks is full incarceration as put by the Supreme Court of Canada.
I mentioned burden of proof earlier. Bill keeps the same sentencing objectives and principles as found in a criminal proceeding, most probably the same procedure for summary hearings as presently exists for summary trials in chapter 108 of the Queen's Regulations and Orders, and increases the punishment power, such as higher finds, of an officer conducting the hearing, while reducing the threshold of conviction from beyond a reasonable doubt to a balance of probabilities.
We had a lot of debate on the difference between “beyond a reasonable doubt” and “a balance of probabilities”. I feel somewhat confident that the JAG officers who were present did a good job of explaining the difference and that through the regulations of Bill , when we get to enacting those, coming through the gazetting process, we should be able to mitigate the charter challenge risk and ensure that the rights of those who have been charged will be considered appropriately.
Perron goes on to say:
Under C-77, the accused is liable to be sentenced to a more severe punishment...based on a lower threshold of conviction. The summary hearing under C-77 offers less protections to the accused than what was present in C-71 and what is actually present in the summary trial process.
Therefore, I stress for the minister that now that we heard a very similar concern raised by the Barreau du Québec along with Mr. Perron, we need to incorporate those concerns in the regulation process. We had assurances at committee that this would be done. We brought forward amendments that were not accepted at that stage on how we dealt with it. However, I was glad to see at least one of our amendments that would to clarify the rank structure on who could do a summary hearing and who would review which officers, or NCOs or other enlisted members.
The one thing, which we have already discussed, is that we never did get to fully debate paragraph 98(c), which deals with self-harm. It was ruled out of order by the chair, but I want to thank the member for for bringing it forward. We had Sheila Fynes and her family at committee. They lost their son Corporal Stuart Langridge to suicide in 2008. He served in Bosnia and in Afghanistan. They feel very passionate that paragraph 98(c) of the National Defence Act, which deals with self-harm, adds to the stigmatization, such that those who want to hurt themselves will not come forward for help because they could be charged under the National Defence Act and at the very least be put in front of a summary hearing or could get a full court martial.
We were assured by all the witnesses that this section of the National Defence Act is rarely ever used.
For those who are concerned about those who malign themselves, those who literally go out and shoot themselves in the foot so they do not have to be deployed or who purposely sprain an ankle so they do not have to go on an exercise and carry an 80-pound rucksack and march for 40 miles over the next day, those who try to avoid service, avoid exercises, who do not want to go into theatre, there are plenty of other avenues under the National Defence Act to hold those people to account and bring them to justice for not following orders.
However, when it comes down to the mental health of our servicemen and women who are suffering with PTSD, who are dealing with anxiety and have been in theatre and have witnessed some horrific abuses and atrocities and violations against humanity, those individuals need help, and the last thing we want to do is stigmatize it and send the message that they will be charged under paragraph 98(c) of the National Defence Act for self-harm.
I hope the minister will take this forward and consider it and find a way to bring it quickly back to the House in a different bill, if that is possible. I am sure he would get unanimous consent at all three stages to delete that section of the act. Since it was found to be outside the scope of Bill , I would suggest that we find a different avenue to do it and that we do it as quickly as possible and as compassionately as possible and in a way that will more than help those who struggle with the thought of suicide to step forward.
We have an incredible Canadian Armed Forces. One thing that we recommended through the defence policy review a few years ago, which is reflected in the Liberal defence policy now, is that the number one source of pride within the Canadian Armed Forces is their personnel, and we want to ensure that we give them the tools to do their job. Whether they serve in the Canadian Army, the Royal Canadian Navy or the Royal Canadian Air Force, these brave men and women do incredible work to keep us safe here at home. They stand on guard 24/7. Written on the wall in NORAD, whether down in Colorado Springs or at its Canadian operations in Winnipeg, is a motto that says, “We Have The Watch”, and they are on the watch 24/7.
We often forget that there are all sorts of threats coming at us, whether airborne, seaborne or even potentially on the ground, and because we have troops deployed across this country and around the world, we are safer here at home because they are standing on the wall in places like Latvia, Mali and Ukraine, along with many other locations. They are ensuring that we can continue on with our business, oblivious to what is going on in the world and to potential threats such as cyber-hacking, knocking down our financial systems or our energy sector and blocking off our naval routes to ship our goods back and forth over the sea. Our economy, our safety and our prosperity are built upon us as Canadians, but more importantly, they are defended by those who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces.
On behalf of all Conservative members and all members of the House, I thank them for serving, because they keep us, the true north, strong and free.