Ottawa announces move to modernize the military justice system

Proposed legislation seeks to implement recommendations from former Supreme Court justices

Ottawa announces move to modernize the military justice system

The Minister of National Defence, Bill Blair, has recently announced efforts to modernize the military justice system.

Blair has tabled new legislation in Parliament designed to overhaul the National Defence Act (NDA). The Military Justice System Modernization Act seeks to address longstanding concerns and implement recommendations from former Supreme Court Justices Louise Arbour and Morris Fish.

The legislation aims to transform the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces (DND/CAF) by ensuring a more transparent, independent, and fair military justice system. This reform is part of the Government of Canada's broader effort to foster a culture change within the military institution, reinforcing the nation's trust and confidence in its armed forces.

Central to the proposed changes is the shifting jurisdiction for investigating and prosecuting Criminal Code sexual offences committed in Canada from military to civilian authorities. This pivot addresses Recommendation 5 from Justice Louise Arbour's independent external comprehensive review, which advocates for the exclusive handling of such offences by civilian criminal courts. For offences outside Canada, the military police are tasked with initial evidence collection and investigation but are encouraged to coordinate with civilian law enforcement promptly.

Furthermore, the legislation addresses eight specific recommendations from Justice Morris Fish's third independent review of the NDA. These amendments include modifying the appointment process for key military justice positions, expanding eligibility for military judge appointments, affirming the independence of military justice authorities, and renaming the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal to Provost Marshal General to better reflect the titles of other senior military officials.

Other aspects of the proposed legislation include excluding military judges from the summary hearing system and broadening access to Victim Liaison Officers. The proposed amendments to the National Defence Act also aim 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.” The government said these proposed amendments are necessary to ensure the parallel military justice system remains constitutional and aligned with the Criminal Code and the civilian criminal justice system.

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