Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

1st Session, 39th Parliament,
Volume 143, Issue 20

Tuesday, June 6, 2006
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

National Defence Act
Criminal Code
Sex Offender Information Registration Act
Criminal Records Act

Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Debate Continued

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Nolin seconded by the Honourable Senator Andreychuk, for the second reading of Bill S-3, to amend the National Defence Act, the Criminal Code, the Sex Offender Information Registration Act and the Criminal Records Act.

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill S-3, to amend the National Defence Act to bring our military justice system into accord with the civilian courts with respect to the registration of sex offenders.

Currently, there is no system during a court martial to require an individual convicted of a sexual offence to register information as may be required by the civilian courts. Bill S-3 seeks to correct this difference, while taking into account the operational needs of our forces and the rights and obligations of our soldiers.

The bill will also make changes designed to enhance the current federal sex offender registry.

As Senator Nolin mentioned in his speech introducing this bill, Bill S-3 is substantially similar to a bill that was introduced by the previous government in the last session of Parliament.

Other honourable senators have noted that the previous bill, S-39, passed second reading and was the subject of six separate meetings in the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Some of the concerns raised in these meetings have been addressed in the bill before us.

One thing that is of the utmost importance to many honourable senators is to ensure that we never bring disrepute on our Canadian Forces. As we all know, our forces are currently representing Canada abroad in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and some have even made the supreme sacrifice on our behalf.

I feel it is important that every time we mention our Canadian forces over there, we pay tribute to their efforts, heroism and bravery.

In my previous role as Canada’s Special Envoy to Sudan, I had the opportunity to work with some of the hundred or so Canadian troops stationed in Darfur. I saw the bravery and commitment of our Canadian Forces first hand. They have left behind comfortable homes here in Canada and have been deployed to a harsh environment in an effort to help those who have nothing in this world.

The expertise and commitment to professionalism of our forces in the face of difficult and unpredictable circumstances was astounding. Our Canadian Forces represent us to the world, and Canadians are extremely well represented by those men and women. We should recognize them not only for their sacrifices, but also for the successes which all too often go unsung.

Even if we do not always agree with the policies that lead to a deployment of troops, there can be little doubt that our forces will always conduct themselves as shining examples of the values that have made our country so great.

It is therefore worth noting that the bill before us today deals with some exceptionally rare circumstances. While it is our duty to give these new measures careful consideration, weighing them on their individual merits, we must also recognize that they will likely not be used with great frequency.

According to the previous Minister of National Defence, only 17 individuals have been charged with offences that would be covered by the bill before us since the sex offender registry came into effect. The number of persons convicted by court martial each year of sexual offences is not large — about three per year, on average. It is important, nonetheless, that military courts be given the authority to order persons convicted of sexual offences to report and provide the required information to the Sex Offender Information Registry.

The idea of requiring sex offenders to register their information with authorities is not a new one in this chamber. Not only did we approve of the original Sex Offender Information Registration legislation in 2004, but also in principle during the last session of Parliament as Bill S-39. Honourable senators have accepted that the sex offender registry is a legitimate and useful tool to assist police in investigating certain crimes of a sexual nature.

Therefore, it is essential that we have a system to require those convicted to register the information, and to ensure that it is kept confidential and accessible only to those who use it for a legitimate purpose.

Senator Nolin has already told the chamber that this system was set up by the original Sex Offender Information Registry legislation, but that legislation did not apply to the military justice system. This has left Canada’s military justice system behind. This has left Canada’s military justice system out of step with Canada’s civilian court system.

Bill S-3 seeks to bring the two systems into line while taking into account the operational requirements of our Forces. It amends the National Defence Act and makes some changes to the Criminal Code and the Sex Offender Information Registry. Most aspects of this legislation have already been touched on in some detail; however, there are some sections that should be mentioned again.

One of the key differences between the amendments in Bill S-3 and the original Sex Offender Information Registry legislation are the authorities given to the Chief of Defence Staff to suspend the application of certain obligations for those who are subject to the Code of Service Discipline. In addition, the Chief of Defence Staff would be given the authority to exempt individuals from some reporting requirements if that information could jeopardize operational security. Under Bill S-3, the Chief of Defence Staff would be required to report the use of these powers to the Minister of National Defence.

These authorities given to the Chief of Defence Staff do not exempt Canadian Forces members from their obligations under the Sex Offender Information Registry Act. A member’s obligations will continue and these authorities are meant only to provide a measure of flexibility when conflicts between these two legal regimes arise.

The Chief of Defence Staff would also be able to designate registration centres inside or outside Canada to allow compliance with the Sex Offender Information Registry by those subject to the Code of Service Discipline.

The existence of these powers raises a number of legitimate questions. What sort of circumstances might require the use of these powers? How will it affect the rights and obligations of those required to register under the act? Are there adequate checks and balances placed on the Chief of Defence Staff when exercising these powers? Of course, these powers also raise the question of whether or not those convicted of sexual offences should be allowed to serve as part of our Canadian Forces at all.

It is extremely important to me that our Forces not be brought into disrepute. These men and women represent us to the world and, therefore, the question of whether to retain an individual convicted of an offence of a sexual nature is a serious one. We have to remember that this bill deals with the question of whether or not individuals who are convicted of such offences under the military justice system should be required to register and, if so, how they should do so. Whether or not they should be retained in the Forces is not directly covered in this bill and has traditionally been an internal decision made on a case-by-case basis.

These types of convictions have been relatively rare and in most cases, the convicted individual has been released from the Forces. In cases where they have been retained, they have been subject to probation and counselling.

I am confident that our Forces exercise the same professionalism and commitment to excellence that I have observed in the field, and I am convinced that they will continue to do so. Nonetheless, there are aspects of the section that we will want to look at in the committee.

Another issue is retroactivity. Under proposed section 203.7 of the National Defence Act, the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal can compel any person serving a sentence for an offence under this act, to register his or her information. This is similar to a provision of the original Sex Offender Information Registry Act which was debated at length at the time of its passage.

The Sex Offender Information Registry is intended as a tool for law enforcement. The obligations it places on those convicted are intended to enhance public safety; they are not intended as an additional form of punishment.

Despite the stated intention of the government to introduce full retroactivity into the Sex Offender Information Registry, the requirement to register in Bill S-3 only extends to those who are still within the justice system at the time of the bill’s passage. This is the same as in the original legislation. This way it strikes an appropriate balance between the legal rights of offenders and the public right to the greatest possible safety.

Overall, the policy directives of Bill S-3 are similar to those introduced in Bill S-39 of the previous Parliament. Although the current government has made some changes to that bill, to which our colleague Senator Nolin and others have alluded, many are motivated by the fine work of our committee in the last Parliament.

Last week I attended a conference in the United Kingdom dealing with the effects of conflict on women and girls. One of the major preoccupations of the participants was that military justice be every bit as aggressive as civilian justice in cases of sexual abuse.

I know our soldiers act appropriately but it is nonetheless important that we send a strong message. It is equally, if not more important, that authorities have all the information they need to investigate and punish sexual offences when they occur in our Canadian Forces.

Therefore, I am happy to support this bill in principle at second reading and look forward to an opportunity to examine it in greater detail in the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

On motion of Senator Joyal, debate adjourned.