Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise in the House to provide some of my thoughts and comments.
Over the last few years, I have witnessed a different approach to Canada's military, a positive approach. I want to take a more holistic approach in my address on this legislation. This is an important bill and opposition members have recognized that fact. They too feel this is good legislation.
The bill has gone through first and second reading, through committee stage and report stage. We are now into the third and final aspect of its passage, and that is a good thing.
Bill C-77 is long overdue. It proposes to make our military justice system a bit more in sync with our civil system. There is fairly universal support for the government in advancing the legislation in order to accomplish that.
I had the good fortune to serve in the Canadian Forces for a few years. Even though I never experienced it directly, indirectly I got a sense of military justice and the justice regime. I can recall first-hand during my boot camp days the supervisor, or the master corporal in this situation, telling us what our obligations were.
In the military justice world one has an obligation to show up when asked to show up. When members of the forces are scheduled to do something, they best be there unless they have some sort of medical condition or have a very good reason for not showing up. If a member is scheduled to be on duty, he or she is expected to be there. That does not necessarily apply with the same sort of weight in civilian life.
The previous speaker made reference to the idea of being absent without leave. An important part of the training that was instilled in me and thousands of others as we went through boot camp was that there was a difference between military life and civilian life. One of the issues highlighted with respect to that was the idea of the military's ability to provide discipline to ensure its members would be where they were supposed to be. When I reflect on that today, I understand the importance of that.
Serving in the military is very unique. It is an absolute honour and privilege. As a member of Parliament, as well as in my days as a member of a legislative assembly, I have always, without exception, acknowledged the fine work the women and men in our forces do, whether it is the air force, the special units, the navy or military. I appreciate and value their contributions to our society in both current and past military actions protecting Canadians. Whether in peace missions or fighting the mighty Red River when it has overflowed, our military plays a critical and vital role with respect to our country. We will always be there for our military.
Even though we have only been in government for a little over three years, we have not only talked about taking action, but has also delivered on a number of different fronts.
What we are debating today is just one aspect of that. It is about military justice.
Let me go back to the training I received. When we were told that we had to show up, that we had to be somewhere, the consequence of not being there could lead to a court-martial and a criminal record. Even though there might be a reason, a relatively weak reason at times, for an individual not being where he or she was supposed to be, it would potentially lead to a criminal record.
I believe, as I would have believed back then, that this is not necessarily a fair consequence in all situations. That is why it is a good that the legislation brings the consequences more into line with what happens in civilian life. For example, now much more discretion will be allowed if someone is found to have been AWOL or has not shown up where he or she needs to be at a specific time. This does not mean the individual will receive a court martial. The same threat level is no longer there.
Members of the forces are incredible individuals, with a very strong sense of commitment to duty and country. Ultimately this will have a minor impact with respect to service to country, yet can have a very positive impact on what happens when someone from the military retires.
As we have heard from other speakers, when members of the Canadian Forces decide to retire or have the opportunity to retire, whatever the circumstances might be, we want those members to have the opportunity to continue with successful employment into the future. Having a criminal record has a negative impact on the ability of service members or former service members to get employment for which they are eligible. It is not fair that members of the forces would receive a criminal record for a charge that someone in the civilian sector would not receive. In part, I believe that is why we see good support for the legislation from members of the opposition. We recognize that we can do more to reform our laws that would allow that kind of an issue to be resolved positively.
Insubordination is another example. In civilian life insubordination is treated quite differently than it is in the military. The legislation would also deal with that. This is an opportunity to look at good legislation that advances our Canadian Forces in a positive direction and to get behind it.
One encouraging issue in Bill C-77 is that we would ensure indigenous sentencing provisions would be taken into consideration. This has been taking place within our civilian population. This is different from what the previous government proposed. We need to understand and appreciate that the indigenous factor needs to be taken into consideration. We see that in our civil court system and it has proven to be successful. Therefore, I am glad to see that in this legislation.
There is something we often talk about in the House in regard to legislation on criminal matters. We often hear about the importance of victims and protecting or enhancing the rights of victims. It pleases me that we would establish something new with this legislation within the law on military justice, and that is a declaration of victims rights. That is long overdue. I am glad that we have a government that has incorporated into the legislation respect for victims rights.
What does that mean? It would allow, for example, the right to have information. It would also allow a right to protection. Equally important is participation in the process. Where it is possible, restitution would be of critical importance.
I had the opportunity to serve as chair of a youth justice committee. One of the more progressive changes we started to see at the tail end, before I actually had to leave the committee a number of years back, was the idea of restitution, or restorative justice. As much as possible, that is a wonderful tool that needs to at least be considered. When we think of victims and the idea of restorative justice, we need to incorporate victims whenever we can. It really makes a difference for victims.
I would like to give an example of what that sort of justice means to victims. A victim subjected to an offence is afforded the opportunity to participate by sitting down with the perpetrator and assisting in developing the consequence for that behaviour. At the level of a youth justice committee, dealing with young offenders under the age of 18, I had the opportunity to witness that on a couple of occasions. I was very encouraged by it. The victim was better able to get an appreciation of what had taken place and at the same time feel that the impact on the victim was taken into consideration.
With respect to other aspects of the legislation, it says the following:
It amends Part III of the National Defence Act to, among other things,
(a) specify the purpose of the Code of Service Discipline and the fundamental purpose of imposing sanctions at summary hearings.
This legislation would ensure that there is a quicker processing of justice. It would also “protect the privacy and security of victims and witnesses in proceedings involving certain sexual offences”.
Many Canadians who follow debates in the House might not be familiar with the fact that there is a civilian system of justice and a military justice system. Something I discovered in the discussions on this legislation was that in certain situations, a military person who commits an offence will go through the civilian justice system as opposed to the military justice system. An example is in regard to sexual assault. In certain situations, there is discretion in our system to enable civilian courts to deal with military personnel who are convicted of committing an offence.
I mentioned that I served in the military. I served in Edmonton, in air traffic control, as an assistant at the time, working out of Lancaster Park. Just south of Lancaster Park, in Griesbach, there was a military detention centre on the base. It was somewhat new to me, but people being held in custody for a sentence of more than two years would go to a federal facility for civilians. For any sentence under two years, offenders would be detained, in part, in military facilities.
The legislation would include the following:
(d) make testimonial aids more accessible to vulnerable witnesses;
(e) allow witnesses to testify using a pseudonym in appropriate cases;
(f) on application, make publication bans for victims under the age of 18 mandatory;
(g) In certain circumstances, require a military judge to inquire of the prosecutor if reasonable steps have been taken to inform the victims of any plea agreement entered into by the accused and the prosecutor.
The legislation again highlights the importance of victims rights:
(i) provide for different ways of presenting victim impact statements;
(j) allow for military impact statements and community impact statements to be considered in all service offences;
(k) provide...that particular attention should be given to the circumstances of Aboriginal offenders;
As I indicated earlier, that is completely new to the legislation, and I believe it has fairly good support on both sides of the House.
The legislation would also,
(m) provide for a scale of sanctions in respect of service infractions and for the principles applicable to those sanctions;
(n) provide for a six-month limitation period in respect of summary hearings;
As I said, this legislation has some new aspects that would further enhance what was introduced in the House a number of years ago. Members across the way appear to recognize the value of the legislation, and I hope they will allow it to go to the next step, which is the Senate.
The modernization of our military law is a positive thing, and it is part of a holistic approach this government is taking in being there for the Canadian men and women who serve in our forces. I am thankful for the opportunity to share some thoughts on the matter.