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New legislation to modernize the military justice system and advance culture change in the DND and CAF

The Minister of National Defence, the Honourable Bill Blair, introduced legislation to amend the National Defence Act that proposes a suite of targeted changes to modernize the military justice system. The proposed amendments address key recommendations made in independent and external reviews conducted by former Supreme Court Justices Louise Arbour and Morris J. Fish.

To address the recommendation 5 from the Honourable Louise Arbour’s Independent External Comprehensive Review, the proposed legislation would definitively remove the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute Criminal Code sexual offences committed in Canada. The proposed legislation would provide exclusive jurisdiction to civilian authorities to investigate and prosecute such offences committed in Canada.

To address recommendations made by the Honourable Morris J. Fish in his Independent Review, this legislation also seeks to modify the process for the appointment of three key military justice authorities: the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal, the Director of Military Prosecutions, and the Director of Defence Counsel Services. By making these positions Governor-in-Council appointments, they would be insulated from real or perceived influence from the chain of command. As the military justice system continues to serve the CAF, efforts to enhance and modernize it are key to advancing meaningful and lasting institutional reform.

This legislation also seeks to expand the eligibility criteria for military judges to include non-commissioned members, which would help diversify the pool of potential candidates. These amendments are aimed at bolstering the trust and confidence of Canadians in the military justice system.

“Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are always there to keep Canada safe – and it is also our obligation to keep them safe from harassment and misconduct. This landmark legislation would transform military justice in Canada and address external recommendations received by former Supreme Court of Canada Justices Arbour and Fish. Through these measures and our ongoing efforts, we will build a diverse, inclusive, and supportive institution that can attract and retain talented people across our country.”

The Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of National Defence    

“We are taking a systematic, coordinated, and sustained approach to culture change. The modernization of the military justice system is a critical component of our culture change efforts. By applying consistency and rigour to the way we are managing modernization, we aim to increase the level of trust and confidence in our ability to instill change for the betterment of our Defence Team members.”   

Bill Matthews, Deputy Minister of National Defence   

“The introduction of this legislation reflects our commitment to maintaining the highest standards of accountability and fairness, crucial for the integrity of the military justice system. By modernizing our processes, we’re strengthening the fundamental foundation of trust and confidence, which is indispensable for fostering discipline, efficiency, and morale within the CAF.”

General Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff   

 “The CAF are committed to the ongoing evolution of the military justice system as an integral part of Canada’s legal mosaic.  The introduction of legislation to amend the National Defence Act is an important step – with many more to come – in ensuring that Canadians and those who serve in the CAF can continue to have faith in a military justice system that promotes the professional culture and operational effectiveness of the CAF by contributing to discipline, efficiency and morale.”

   Brigadier-General Rob Holman, Judge Advocate General

 ADDITIONAL INFO

  • The proposed legislation seeks to amend the National Defence Act by, among other things:
    • Removing the CAF’s investigative and prosecutorial jurisdiction over Criminal Code sexual offences committed in Canada, thereby addressing Recommendation 5 from former Supreme Court Justice Arbour’s Independent External Comprehensive Review of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. This legislation follows consultations with stakeholders, including provincial and territorial partners.
    • Addressing eight recommendations (2, 7, 8, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16) from the Third Independent Review of the National Defence Act report, by former Supreme Court Justice Fish.
    • Excluding military judges from the summary hearing system and expanding access to Victim Liaison Officers, under the Declaration of Victims Rights, to individuals acting on behalf of a victim.
    • Amending the National Defence Act to align sex offender information and publication ban provisions with the amendments made to the Criminal Code in An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Sex Offender Information Registration Act and the International Transfer of Offenders Act. These amendments are necessary to ensure the military justice system remains constitutional and aligned with the Criminal Code and the civilian criminal justice system.

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