The Defence Policy Review currently being undertaken by the Minister of National Defence is focused on fundamental areas of inquiry including the challenges to Canada’s security, the roles of the Canadian Armed Forces as well as the resources and capabilities needed to carry out that mandate. To guide this discussion the Department of National Defence emphasized the need to examine the size, structure and composition of the Armed Forces, the security environment, the defence budget, as well as improvements to the health and wellness of military members.
Dealing with the health and wellness of military members must necessarily encompass Canada’s military justice system and, in particular, its legal and institutional frameworks which are now in large part incompatible with the Constitution, the Canadian common law and internationally recognized human rights standards.
In an academic conference on military law hosted by the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa on November 2015, several international speakers of renown and a high number of speakers and panellists illuminated the fact that military justice globally, particularly in allied countries with whom Canada shares a common legal heritage and similar values, are going through a period of evolution. These countries have enacted major reforms, shrunk military justice jurisdictions in favour of increased civilian capacity and strived towards a fairer military as well as an administrative justice system that affords rights to military personnel. This academic conference served to illustrate, however, just how far removed and alienated the Canadian military justice system is from the very Canadian society it is supposed to represent and defend.
It is now time for the Canadian Parliament to bring the military justice system more in line with contemporary Canadian as well as international legal doctrine and principles in order to not only prevent it from falling further behind global standards of justice, but also to ensure that all members of the CAF benefit from the very fundamental rights and freedoms they defend.