In Debate: Bill C-15 Strengthening Military Justice

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I truly appreciate this opportunity to speak to Bill C-15. In October 2011, the Minister of National Defence introduced the bill, which amends the National Defence Act in order to strengthen military justice. This, of course, follows the 2003 report from former chief justice the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer and the report of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. As members will know, Bill C-15 had earlier incarnations. We have spoken briefly of Bill C-7, which died on the order paper due to prorogation. Members will remember the prorogation, when the government saw fit to escape the House because there were certain allegations in regard to the appropriate behaviour of the government. Again, we saw Bill C-45, another earlier incarnation, disappear during the election of 2008. In 2010, Bill C-41 was introduced, again in response to Justice Lamer's report. It outlined provisions related to military justice, such as sentencing reform, military judges and committees, summary trials, court martial panels, the provost marshal, and limited provisions related to the grievance and military police complaints process, which of course brings us to Bill C-15. I believe it is important for me to speak to the bill, because justice is more than just a system of laws and regulations. It is also a fundamental value for me, for my NDP colleagues and certainly for the military and Canadians across this land. The bill is a step in the right direction. We have heard that a number of times, but it does not address the key issues related to reforming the summary trial system, the grievance system and for strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission. These are key objectives that cannot be ignored. While the bill's primary objective is laudable, it does not satisfy our objectives. Much needs to be done to bring the military justice system more in line with the civilian justice system. We on this side of the House want a comprehensive bill that adequately addresses the problem. No justice system is perfect. We have seen that over the years. However, that should not stop us from trying to improve our system as much as possible. Key elements have been left out of Bill C-15: reforming the summary trial system, reforming the grievance system and strengthening the Military Police Complaints Commission. In fact, the NDP included these three elements in amendments to the previous version of Bill C-15, which of course was Bill C-41. Oddly, and I do say oddly, these amendments are now absent. It is a strange coincidence. As I said, the NDP is not opposed to the spirit of the bill. What we want is to work with the government to get it right, in order to ensure that the bill is relevant and that its scope is broad enough. I am at a loss to understand why the government did not include the three elements I referred to in Bill C-15. They are important for consistent military justice reform. Let us look specifically at the grievance system. We will start with that one. We must understand it in order to appreciate the importance of the improvements proposed by the NDP. I would like to quote the directive on military grievances, which can be found on the Department of National Defence's website. It indicates that: The DND and the [Canadian Forces] shall manage all grievances through the Canadian Forces Grievance System...and ensure that: all grievances are processed as efficiently and expeditiously as possible; a CF member is not penalized for submitting a grievance; and assistance is made available to a CF member in the preparation of a grievance. The last point is very important. The Canadian Forces has the responsibility to help its members because they do not have a union-type association to defend them. This lack of counterbalance is another reason why it is important to ensure that we have an effective and impartial system. The NDP proposed two improvements. First, we proposed that at least 60% of grievance board members be civilians who have never been officers or members of the Canadian Forces; and second, that the Chief of Defence Staff be given more authority to resolve the financial aspect of grievances. The first improvement, namely that the grievance board strike a balance between military and civilian membership, is important to ensure that this process be perceived as external and independent. When it comes to the military, it is critical that everyone in the country is able to see that the system as independent and fair. Members of the military have a great deal of experience in managing such situations, so it is rather important that they be truly involved in the process. However, the presence of civilians is also essential to dispel any idea that members of the military are subject to a different kind of justice than ordinary Canadians. It is also essential that Canadian Forces Grievance Board be effective and absolutely beyond reproach. The NDP believes that a significant civilian presence on the board would help maintain this perception. When we look at how to strengthen the Military Police Complaints Commission, the merit of this idea and our position is quite obvious. Police officers, as an example, are agents of social control and play a key role in our society based on the rule of law. They are effective not only because they have the equipment, the manpower and the authority, but also because they are perceived as legitimate by the public. The military police is no exception. For a police force to operate properly, whether it be military or civilian, it must have the approval of those under its authority. A police force gains legitimacy through its perceived integrity. This perception is built on the actions of the police force and the perception of fairness and justice in its operations. There is no better way to prove the integrity of a police force than by having a strong monitoring body. A Military Police Complaints Commission that is legitimate and reports to Parliament is the best way to ensure fairness in the actions of military police and, just as importantly, the perception of fairness and justice by Canadians. We on this side of the House also recommended that the Chief of Defence Staff have more authority to resolve financial aspects related to grievances. This is a simple requirement to ensure that the grievance system is consistent. If the Chief of Defence Staff does not have the ability to resolve financial aspects, it calls into question the relevance of the grievance process. I would point out that Canada is not the only country reviewing its military justice system. Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Ireland have recently done the same. We are in an excellent position to pass comprehensive and effective legislation while taking into account what has been done in other countries. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the bill as it stands. As I have already said, the NDP proposed amendments to the bill in its previous form, but those amendments are no longer part of the current bill. We would like to see these important and constructive changes incorporated. We think that our Canadian Forces personnel deserve that. They put themselves on the line each and every day. They have been a source of great pride to this country in their behaviour and conduct in arenas around the world. We owe them a sense of security regarding the justice that is meted out within the military. I would sincerely ask the government to reconsider the recommendations the NDP has made because we want to strengthen the bill. We want it to be fair and balanced. We want it to work. Mr. Chris Alexander (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I rise again to set the record straight in the House regarding our current military justice system and what it can and should be after the amendments proposed in the bill. There were several references made in the previous speech to what other countries have done with military justice. Let us be clear that Canada has been a model through many decades of its history with its military justice system. The amendment we are proposing and the ones we discussed in previous parliaments would keep us at the forefront of developments, for which other countries have looked to Canada for leadership. Is the hon. member aware that there are significant differences? For example, the United Kingdom and Ireland are bound by the European Convention on Human Rights. Australia is bound by its constitution. Would my colleague not agree that the reviews conducted by esteemed jurists, like former Chief Justices Dickson and Lamer and, more recently, Chief Justice LeSage of Ontario, all concluded that Canada's military justice system was fair and strikes the necessary balance? Would she not agree that theirs are more compelling arguments than any we have heard so far from her side by members who would rather see us pick and choose pieces from military justice systems in other parts of the world? There is a holistic approach to Canada's military justice system, which we are continuing with the bill and other countries should follow—

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): Order, please. The hon. member for London—Fanshawe.

Ms. Irene Mathyssen: Mr. Speaker, I understand the essence of my colleague's question, but I would suggest that there is a certain arrogance in insisting that we cannot learn from others. If there is a better way of approaching a bill or changing a law, then I think it behooves all of us to listen carefully. That is why the NDP proposed three amendments to Bill C-41, because we believe it is important to learn from each other and do the best we can. In regard to Justice Lamer, I would also point out that he made 80 recommendations, representing a very significant body of work by that former Chief Justice. Only 28 of those recommendations were taken up by the government. It seems to me that a great deal is missing, and that is the whole point behind this discussion and debate, that a great deal is missing.