Madam Speaker, I am happy to rise in the House today to discuss Bill C-77 and the important changes to the National Defence Act that our government is proposing.
Bill C-77 proposes changes to the act that we feel modernize it and are long overdue. At the heart of these changes are our people and those in service to Canada.
This is the most important piece, as I see it. I come from a family of people who have had long-term service in the Canadian military. I am extremely proud not just of them and the work they have done but of all those who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces.
My sister is now a veteran of the military and continues to work with the Department of National Defence. I also have three other family members in service for this country. I have come to understand the tremendous sacrifices they and their families have made for our country each and every day.
We owe all the women and men in the Canadian Armed Forces a lot. We owe them our deep gratitude for their service to our country.
We also owe them fairness, openness and transparency within that service. This includes a military justice system that ensures that victims receive the support they need and deserve, a system that promotes a culture of leadership, respect and honour.
Canadian Armed Forces members are held to a higher standard of conduct, as we all know. Whether they are stationed in Canada or deployed around the world, we ask a lot of them each and every day. We have a responsibility to ensure that the rules that guide their conduct are transparent, equitable and fair.
Much of what is within Bill C-77 is an extension of the work our government is already doing to ensure a more victim-centred approach to justice; to build on Bill C-65, our government's legislation against workplace harassment; to strengthen truth and reconciliation with indigenous people; and to change military culture, through Operation Honour, in order to ensure that the Canadian Armed Forces provides a respectful workplace of choice for every Canadian.
I would like to take a moment to expand on the importance of Operation Honour. As many members in the room know, Operation Honour aims to eliminate sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. We have zero tolerance for sexual misconduct of any kind in our Canadian Armed Forces and in any entity within the country.
Through Operation Honour, we have introduced a new victim response centre that provides better training for the Canadian Armed Forces personnel and an easier reporting system.
I would also like to acknowledge the important work of the Sexual Misconduct Resource Centre, which recently released its annual report. We thank the centre for continuing to support Canadian Armed Forces members affected by sexual misconduct.
I am also pleased to note that the SMRC is looking at providing caseworkers to victims of inappropriate sexual behaviour to ensure they have continuous support from when they first report an incident to when their case concludes.
The work of the Sexual Misconduct Resource Centre has been exceptional. I know that victims are being well supported as a result of its efforts.
Its origins come from former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps, who recommended it in her 2015 report. As a government, we acted to put in place a sexual misconduct response centre to provide support to those affected by inappropriate sexual behaviour.
We have extended the hours so that staff at the centre are there to listen and provide support to members of the Canadian Armed Forces calling in 24 hours a day, seven days a week, no matter where they are in the world. Last October's annual report of the centre demonstrates the important work that they have done and continue to do to enhance victim support for members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
I would now like to turn to the legislation at hand and to highlight how Bill C-77 will give victims a voice and change our National Defence Act in four important ways.
First, like the civilian criminal justice system, it will enshrine important rights for victims. Second, it will seek harsher penalties for crimes motivated by bias, prejudice or hate toward gender identity or expression. Third, it will ensure that the specific circumstances of indigenous offenders are taken into account in the sentencing process. Fourth, it will reform the manner in which the chain of command administers summary trials.
Bill C-77 proposes the inclusion of a declaration of victims rights in the National Defence Act. The declaration mirrors the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, which strengthens and guides how we support victims in the civilian criminal justice system.
Specifically, the bill would legislate four new victim rights within the military justice system. They are the right to information, the right to protection, the right to participation and the right to restitution.
In order to ensure that victims would be able to exercise these rights, they would be entitled to the support of a victim liaison officer, should they require it. These liaison officers will be able to explain how service offences are charged, dealt with and tried under the code of service discipline. They will help victims access information to which they are entitled, and they will remain available to assist the victim throughout their interaction with the military justice system. This would ensure that victims understand each stage of the process and how they can engage meaningfully throughout the process. The support that the victim liaison officer would offer will be comprehensive. It will be fair and it will always be offered in the spirit of preserving victims' dignity.
Bill C-77 also specifically addresses issues of gender-based prejudice and hatred in military service offences and infractions. The bill proposes harsher sentences and sanctions for service offences and infractions that are motivated by bias, prejudice or hate toward gender expression or identity.
Our men and women in uniform, and those who work and live alongside them, must feel welcomed and respected at all times. The Canadian Armed Forces has zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind. This amendment will better align the military justice system with that principle.
On that note, through programs such as the positive space initiative, the defence team has been working hard to help create inclusive work environments for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. I commend them for their work on this initiative, which provides training to ambassadors in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirited community members who work with us every day.
The next change that I would like to focus on is how we propose to update the military justice system to better reflect the realities of historic injustices inflicted upon indigenous peoples.
In the civilian criminal justice system, the Criminal Code mandates that judges must carefully consider circumstances during sentencing. Specifically, for all offenders they must consider all available sanctions. This principle is to be applied with particular attention to the circumstances of indigenous offenders.
This particular bill is one that I am proud to support. As a member who represents a region with a military base and every day sees those who serve in uniform, I really believe that this legislation is helping to modernize and bring more transparency to the Canadian Armed Forces in Canada.