Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleagues for being so interested in this issue. I heard the Liberals say that they wanted this to leave the House immediately, but some of us do not have a lot of chance to speak to bills that are outside of our portfolio area. I am not on the defence committee, so that is not a place where I will be able to participate. Therefore, this is my sole chance to participate in this debate.
I hope my colleagues opposite understand that we are not ragging the puck here. We just want to give people an opportunity to speak to the issues.
These are important issues that come out of a number of different areas. I want to talk later about the Victims Bill of Rights, what it means and how much it has improved and changed the lives of Canadians. That has been the foundation of what we are doing. Bill C-77 tries to apply that bill of rights to the military as well.
My colleague who spoke previously basically had the same opening as I did. He talked about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. It is interesting that on the things the government has succeeded in, it has had to copy us. The things the Liberals have not copied us on have been pretty much a disaster. If we think about electoral reform and so on, their own initiatives have not gone anywhere. However, the ones we had done the work on and laid the foundation and the groundwork for, the Liberals have had some success.
Apart from this bill, I think of things like CETA, the trade agreement with Europe, which was pretty much handed to the Liberals, but they almost messed that up. They took it back and started messing with some of the text. The next thing was the Europeans wanted to open that whole agreement up again. The government had to fight and struggle to ensure it was implemented the way that we had negotiated it.
We are seeing the same thing with TPP. The agreement basically was finished and handed to the Liberals. We are sitting here two and a half years later and still do not have it through the House even though we were the ones who did the work on it. It is a good agreement and it should be implemented as soon as possible.
We saw the struggles the Liberals had around NAFTA, where they insisted on taking the agreement that worked very well and came so close to making a complete mess of it. Canadians need to understand that we were saved at the last minute by the fact that the U.S. auto sector stepped in and said that it needed to get the agreement done, that the negotiators could not be serious if they allowed the President to put tariffs on autos. Finally, our government realized it had better quit playing games, trying to make the President look bad, fooling around that way, and decided to get the agreement done.
Interestingly enough, the Liberals really did not gain anything with it. It barely held the ground that we had in the past. That seems to be the way the government operates.
That brings us back to Bill C-77, hopefully something that will be much easier for the Liberals to get through in the form it is in right now. We have heard debate about it. At this point, we will support the bill at second reading to go to committee as soon as the debate is done in the House. The point of it is to align the military justice system of Canada with the Criminal Code of Canada. It is a good and important objective. As I said before, it centres around the Victims Bill of Rights that was passed in 2015. It takes that and enshrines it in the National Defence Act.
Many people talked specifically about Bill C-77 and what is included in it. However, I would like to back up a step and talk about the Victims Bill of Rights, which lays the foundation for the discussion we are having today and for the bill that is being presented here today.
Obviously, the Victims Bill of Rights created a clear set of rights for victims of crime. It requires those rights to be considered during the trial processes and it provides four rights for victims in Canada. Those rights are the ideas of information, protection for their rights of participation in the system and then some aspect of restitution.
Some of it seems to be common sense, but perhaps is not in the courts. Canadians will understand that every victim should have the right to request information that he or she needs with respect to the system and the role the victims play in that, the services and programs that are available to them. Victims should be aware of the fact that they have the right to file complaints if their rights are being violated.
In investigations, victims have the right to ask about the status and outcome of the investigations. They have the right to know where the location of the proceedings are taking place. They have the right to ask for information about any kind of reviews that are being done under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
For the last week we have been talking about an issue in western Canada, actually in my riding. A young “lady”, and I use that word very loosely, participated in the kidnapping, rape, torture, murder and burial of an eight-year-old girl. She was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Then about a week ago we found out she had been moved from a maximum-security prison to medium-security prison a couple of years ago. In the last few weeks, she was moved to what was basically a minimum-security prison.
I am familiar with the Okimaw Ohci healing lodge. It is in my riding and I have been there several times. I have been there for its open days and have enjoyed going there. However, this is not the appropriate place for someone like that.
As I pointed out, the rights of victims require that those who have suffered have the opportunity to find out what is going on in the system. When Tori Stafford's father found out what had happened, he appealed to the Prime Minister. He said that it was crazy. The person had murdered his daughter and he had to live with that every day of his life. He said that the Prime Minister had sent her to a minimum-security prison. Not only was it not a prison, but it was in a treed area. It was like a park setting with small cabins arranged in small units. Not only did it not have a fence around, or have restrictions or whatever, but children were allowed to go and spend time with their mothers.
My constituents have made their opinions clear to me. They agree with our position over the last week that this needs to be reversed.
The reason we know about it is because there is a Victims Bill of Rights and that is the foundation for the changes being suggested in Bill C-77.
Victims are allowed to attend hearings that are open. With respect to protection and security, people have the right to have their security considered. In the criminal justice system, they have the right to protection from intimidation and retaliation. We have talked about that today in regard to Bill C-77. They have the right to have their privacy considered and having their identity protected as well. They also have the right to request any kind of help they might need when appearing as witnesses in proceedings.
There are other things around participation. Victims have the right to give their views about decisions to be made by the appropriate authorities in the criminal justice system that affect their rights. They have the right to speak up. We think that is an important right.
We are all familiar with victim impact statements and the role they play. In some court cases, victims are allowed to give victim impact statements, how the criminal impacted their lives, how this activity has destroyed, for example, the lives of their families.
The Victims Bill of Rights also talks about restitution orders and the fact that victims have the right to have the court consider making restitution to them by the offender.
There are a number of other things in the Victims Bill of Rights, but that lays the foundation for us for Bill C-77. The bill is about enshrining that Victims Bill of Rights in the National Defence Act. It also puts a statute of limitations of six months on summary hearing cases.
We heard this morning about the various levels of discipline and how the defence minister , if we trust him, was trying to make some changes that would speed up some of the discipline cases on lesser offences. We are hoping that what the Liberals are saying is actually true.
This is virtually a copy of something that was presented three years ago by the former Conservative government just before the last election. I guess the good thing is, as I mentioned, the Liberals have taken this on and have decided that they are going to bring the bill forward in much the same fashion and structure that it was before and introduce those changes.
There are some differences. We have talked a bit about them as well. One of the main differences in this bill, and probably will be one of the main things that will be discussed at committee, is the addition of the Gladue decision in the National Defence Act. For those people who are not familiar with that, it instructs the courts to take into consideration an aboriginal person's background when he or she is sentenced. On occasion, when that is applied, it may mean that the sentencing itself or the sentencing process will be different for that individual than it would be for a non-aboriginal person.
People have questioned whether this should be considered in the military. Is it appropriate that in the military, where everyone is subject to the same structures of discipline, where we try to bring about equality and equal participation, someone would have a different sentencing structured or a different level of punishment than other people would based on these kinds of considerations? I am sure we will be bringing forward those issues and asking those questions at committee.
Our government made it a priority to stand up for victims. That is why we brought forward the Victims Bill of Rights. That is also why we saw our Bill C-71 come forward prior to the election, in pretty much the form being presented by the current government. We know that the priority of government, on this side of the House anyway, should be to protect the safety of its citizens. We take that responsibility very seriously.
Putting the rights of victims back into the centre of the criminal justice system was important to us. It was something we spoke about many times and made it the centre of a number of different pieces of legislation, the guarantee that victims would have the right to have a more effective voice in the system and that they would be treated with courtesy and compassion. I think we are all familiar with situations in the past years where often victims seemed to be harassed more than they were treated with compassion and respect when they came forward with charges. We were determined to try to reverse that trend and ensure people were treated with respect, while keeping our streets, our cities and communities safe for Canadians and their families. That was why we took so many concrete steps to hold people accountable for their actions. We are glad to see this being extended to the military as well.
The question I need to ask is this. Are the Liberals really serious about this bill? They say that they want it to go to committee as soon as possible, and we hope that is true. However, what we have seen in the past is that they are far more interested in PR when it comes to issues of criminal activity than they are in the content. We see that in this Parliament.
I think of Bill C-71, the firearms legislation. The bill has come forward. The government has made a declaration that it wants to deal with the crimes with respect to gangs and the illegal use of firearms. The bill does not mention either of those things but creates massive problems for legitimate firearms owners. It is almost as if the Liberals looked at what the PR side of it was, decided they could make it an attack on legitimate firearms owners, convince the media country that it was a good thing and they did not have to do the hard work of trying to solve the gang situation and getting illegal guns off the street.
Bill C-71 is an example of where the Liberals do not seem to take this issue of crime seriously. I hope they are with respect to Bill C-77. I asked a question of the minister this morning and I trust he answered it honestly.
With respect to Bill C-71, another issue we had was the misuse of statistics. The Liberals take an extreme statistic, apply it, then say that is the average and that they will operate using that as a starting point. However, anyone who knows the statistics knows that the year they were using, 2013, was such an exceptional year and it did not really fit into the normal trend. There is a lot of attack on regular citizens it seems, particularly in Bill C-71, and not much that would actually protect victims of crime.
We brought forward a number of other bills when we were in government: the Safe Streets and Communities Act; the reform of the not criminally responsible legislation, which was needed for many years, and we were happy to bring that forward; and the laws against sexual exploitation and cyber intimidation.
It is good to see these changes are coming forward. I know there have been some changes made since 2016, even within the military. The government talks about the fact that the director of military prosecutions has changed the way that it does things, the way it approaches these issues. There are a number of things in the government's document. It talks about how it has already introduced changes, such as providing information proactively to victims on the choice of jurisdictions in a sexual misconduct matter. Therefore, if there is a charge of sexual misconduct, the victim now has more say in what jurisdiction he or she wants it looked at. It has some information that it can provide that will help. Victims are kept informed throughout the investigation and throughout the trial process. That did not happen before in the military. The DMP, in its overhaul of the way it has done things, has included this as one of the things it thinks is important.
Now the DMP has started to consider the views of victims in determining the public interest in these cases. Is there public interest in moving forward with the prosecution of the cases? It is allowing victims to participate. I know that witness preparation has been improved. It is spending more time with witnesses, finding out what they will be testifying to and if they are prepared to be competent witnesses. It is assuring victims' comfort and security. I am told it is one of the key considerations. In the past, as I mentioned, people have been intimidated, even by the way the system is set up, so this is set up to be much more fair to them.
It is making efforts to make sure that in sexual misconduct cases, victim impact statements are relevant and considered. It is trying to get consistency with the prosecution and prosecutors so that each of them approaches the issues in the same way. That is probably an important consideration in that there needs to be consistency within the military itself and the way it deals with and addresses these issues. That is part of what Bill C-77 is trying to do: to bring the consistency provided in the Victims Bill of Rights into the military part of the justice system. Another thing is that sexual misconduct cases are being expedited in the military courts to try to get them out of the way.
There are a lot of things going on. As I mentioned, there are the indigenous sentencing considerations. We heard earlier today that there are changes to the summary trial process and the way summary charges are handled. There are a number of other areas around the victims rights at courts martial as well that have changed. They have a different perspective and a different opportunity. A victim's liaison officer would be put in place to give victims an opportunity to get this information and go to somebody who can work with and help them.
I come back to the concern that Liberals are honest about dealing with victims. We have heard over the last three or four weeks in the House of Commons about a gentleman who murdered a female police officer, desecrated the body and was sentenced to jail. Then he applied for Veterans Affairs benefits and the government has been providing those benefits to him. Those benefits, I am told, can be provided by Correctional Service Canada, but the government has made the decision that he deserves veterans benefits. Conservatives have argued that he does not. There are people who have served who receive them, but he has not served or spent a moment of time in military service and yet he is getting these benefits.
The government said it would cut them off for now, but we need a better response than that from the government. That was a bad response in that case. Now with Tori Stafford, we have heard the comments made by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness this afternoon. It is another slow response, a bad response to people who have been victimized in the worst ways by crimes and the best the ministers of the government can say is they have given it to somebody who will review it for a long time and when that person gets back to them, they will let us know how it turns out. In the case of Tori Stafford, by the time that happens, how long will that woman have been in the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge, being able to do whatever she wants to do, having access to children and wandering off the property if she wants? She is not eligible for parole for another 13 years. What does she have to lose should she decide to do something inappropriate in Okimaw Ohci?
That is an example of the government not being willing to react to these issues. We hope that when this bill goes to committee, Liberals will deal seriously with it, and when it is implemented, they actually treat it seriously, because they do not have a history anywhere else of dealing fairly and honestly with victims. Hopefully, in this situation, they will and we look forward to when this bill is passed.
It is a good bill, Conservatives wrote most of it, and we are looking forward to the government applying it and hopefully, it will take care of many of these issues that people have faced at military trials and those kinds of situations.