Amid new approach to military justice, Sajjan pledges to 'aggressively' handle offenders
OTTAWA – As the federal defence minister prepares to reform the military justice system by putting a new focus on victims' rights, Harjit Sajjan is vowing to "aggressively" handle offenders.
Speaking to Evan Solomon, host of CTV's Question Period, about the military's latest efforts to tackle misconduct within its ranks, Sajjan said he wants to make sure victims are looked after throughout the process, bringing the way the Forces handle these cases more in line with the civilian justice system.
"We have a zero-tolerance policy on this and we will aggressively deal with anybody who actually has an infraction in this manner, whether it’s minor or serious," Sajjan said. "In this case here, for me, the only number is zero."
On Thursday, Sajjan introduced Bill C-77, An Act to amend the National Defence Act. The legislation introduces a victims' bill of rights for participants in the military justice system, operated by the Canadian Armed Forces.
The bill includes measures to ensure victims have a right to information about their case and get new protections from intimidation and retaliation. It also abolishes summary trials and provides for ways to present victim impact statements.
Bill C-77 would also make it so the circumstances of Indigenous offenders have to be considered in sentencing if jail time is on the table, and introduces a victim liaison officer.
Sajjan described the enhanced focus on victims' rights as the next "evolution" of the work the military has been doing, but agreed this specific piece of legislation was "long overdue."
"We are going to stamp this out," he said.
Though, it remains unclear how Sajjan will measure the success of Bill -77. When asked what his metric of success will be, the minister said: "For me the metric of success is making sure that when Canadians join the Canadian Armed Forces, they are going to be in an environment that they feel that they can reach their full potential."
An internal report obtained exclusively by CTV News’ Mercedes Stephenson in January revealed a lack of confidence that extended to the highest levels of the military justice system. In the report, senior commanders criticized the military justice system for being "intolerably slow," light on punishment, and failing to protect victims’ rights.
In February the federal government took the first steps towards settling three class action lawsuits with current and former members of the Canadian Forces who allege rampant sexual misconduct, racism, and gender discrimination within the military. This came after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was criticized by the opposition parties for his government’s attempts to quash a lawsuit which alleged systemic misconduct within the forces, as first reported by CTV News.
The previous Conservative government tabled a similar bill in the dying days of the last Parliament, which did not advance before the 2015 federal campaign kicked off.
"They tabled it literally days before the last election knowing that it wasn’t going to see the light of day," Sajjan said.
These reforms to the military justice system come just weeks before Auditor General Michael Ferguson is to issue his findings after examining the Forces' administration of military justice and the amount of time it takes for cases to work their way through the system.
Sajjan denied that this legislation was brought in when it was as an effort to get out ahead of what’s coming in Ferguson’s report.
"I can assure you that was not the case," Sajjan said.