Mr. Speaker, before I begin my speech, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin.
I am very pleased to rise today, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, to support Bill C-77, 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 and getting to this point. Obviously that includes the work of members of the Standing Committee on National Defence and their clause-by-clause consideration of the bill earlier this fall.
I would also like to recognize the work and the outstanding dedication of the members of our Canadian Armed Forces. I think we all greatly appreciate the work they do every day. We are very grateful to them and we thank them.
The study in committee made it possible to tweak the language used in the bill for clarity and to debate important ideas raised by the public, particularly with regard to mental health issues. The result is a better bill and parliamentarians who are more aware of these issues. I therefore thank the committee.
The premise of the bill is simple. Our men and women in uniform deserve a military justice system that supports them in all they do, a military justice system that reflects Canadian values, works to eliminate discrimination of any kind, and ensures that victims are given a voice throughout the legal process.
Through Bill C-77, we are proposing important changes to our current military justice framework, specifically by enshrining victims’ rights before, during and after court martial proceedings. We are also strengthening the summary trial process to ensure that minor cases are disposed of in a non-penal, non-criminal process called summary hearings. In addition, we are seeking harsher punishments and sanctions for services offences and infractions motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on gender identity or expression. Finally, we are ensuring that the specific circumstances of indigenous offenders are taken into account at the time of sentencing.
For example, the proposed summary hearings will help improve the flexibility and effectiveness of the military justice system by allowing the chain of command to address minor service infractions quickly and fairly at the unit level. Naturally, the most serious cases will be referred to the courts martial. There will be no summary process anymore, and military commanders who preside over summary hearings will only be able to impose non-criminal penalties for service infractions.
The changes we are proposing are long overdue. We recognize that we need to continually improve our military justice system so that it mirrors the civilian criminal justice system where appropriate, while acknowledging the important distinctions that exist between the two systems in order to account for the unique requirements of military life.
Our government is committed to making the Canadian Armed Forces a safe and welcoming place for all Canadians, both civilian and military. It is this same commitment that continues to motivate us as we work to finalize these amendments and enshrine them in law.
One of the most important sets of changes we are proposing is the introduction of the declaration of victims rights into the National Defence Act. This declaration mirrors the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, applicable in the civilian criminal justice system. It enshrines rights for victims of service offences and enhances the support provided to them as they navigate the court martial process.
These changes include the right to information, which ensures that victims understand the process and the options at their disposal; the right to protection, which guarantees the victims' security and privacy; the right to participation, which allows victims to convey their views about decisions to be made by authorities in the military justice system; and the right to restitution, which entitles victims to seek restitution.
In order to ensure that victims are able to exercise these rights, they will be entitled to the support of a victim liaison officer. The victim liaison officer will help them navigate the military justice system and inform them about how this system operates. They will explain to victims how service offences are charged, dealt with and tried under the Code of Service Discipline. These are important changes that help put victims first, and I am proud to support them in the House.
The second set of changes we are proposing have to do with how the military justice system handles minor breaches of military discipline. Through these proposed changes, a new category of minor breaches of military discipline, called service infractions, will be created. These service infractions will not trigger a criminal record.
This change will allow the Canadian Armed Forces to handle minor breaches of military discipline in a fairer, simpler and faster manner. They demonstrate trust and confidence in our military leaders, who can address minor breaches of discipline at the base, wing or unit level.
Through Bill C-77, we are also working to address issues of gender-based prejudice and hatred in the Canadian Armed Forces. The bill parallels provisions in the Criminal Code that propose harsher sentences and sanctions for service offences and infractions that are motivated by bias, prejudice or hate, based on gender expression or identity.
The Canadian Armed Forces has zero-tolerance for discrimination of any kind. We are committed to eradicating these types of biases in our military ranks. That is why, through this bill and other initiatives, we are working to discourage behaviour motivated by prejudice or hate. This amendment will reflect this commitment and help the Canadian Armed forces continue to make progress in promoting inclusivity. We are ensuring that the military justice system is consistent with the civilian system when it comes to the human rights of the LGBTQ2 community. This bill represents another step in that direction.
Finally, we have made a significant amendment to align with the Criminal Code provision relating to the sentencing of indigenous offenders. For Indigenous offenders convicted of military service offences, historic injustices will be considered during sentencing. This sentencing principle acknowledges the historic wrongs that still negatively affect indigenous Canadians across the country.
These changes will also reflect the government's promise to advance reconciliation and renew our relations with indigenous people. We believe that these considerations are vital to the Canadian Armed Forces’ role in repairing our relationship with Canada’s indigenous peoples. Concrete measures like this will help us strengthen our nation-to-nation relationship and continue on the path to healing.
I am extremely proud of the important role that indigenous Canadians play in the Canadian Armed Forces. There are nearly 2,500 indigenous CAF members serving in the regular and reserve forces.
These proposed changes to the National Defence Act are key to supporting our women and men in uniform. Our military personnel are at the heart of everything we do. They are at the heart of the new defence policy, “Strong, Secure, Engaged”, because the women and men of the CAF make extraordinary sacrifices every day in service to their country. They deserve a return to a military justice system that ensures their voices are heard. They deserve a military justice system that maintains discipline and efficiency in the CAF while respecting our Canadian values. They deserve a military justice system that provides fair and equal treatment, regardless of race, orientation, or gender.
Bill C-77 proposes the changes required to reform the military justice system so that it continues to meet the expectations of the people of Canada and the needs of the Canadian Armed Forces. It presents an approach that is more focused on the victims and protects their rights.
This bill deserves our support because it seeks to establish a better military justice system for Canadians.