Saturday, March 25, 2017

Canadian military justice -- by the numbers

Reforms of national military law is part of a worldwide movement in democratic countries; meanwhile Canada stands still. The worldwide trend is to transfer jurisdiction over criminal offences to civilian courts. This has been done in Austria; Belgium; Czech Republic; Denmark; France; Germany; Finland; Honduras; Italy; Japan; The Netherlands; Sweden; Switzerland; Tunisia etc. The objective being to ensure a judicial process free from the chain of command's interference.  Service members deserve a system of justice worthy of the Canadian principles that they have dedicated their lives to protect.  They deserve to have a fair and impartial system of justice that is transparent and accountable. This is currently not the case.

For the time being Canada appears to be satisfied with the 'status quo' in the result that its relatively small professional force consisting of 65,000 regulars is subject to a Canadian military penal system that is clearly behind the times. We will examine this in more details in subsequent posts.

What follows is, in point form, the structural highlights of the Canada's current military justice system.
  • In 2014-2015, there were 47 courts-martial. The three offences tried most often were: a) Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order and Discipline; b) Absence without leave; c) Failure to comply with conditions. The conviction rate was 87.2 per cent. [Over the past years, there were on average 70 courts martial per year.]
  • In 2014-2015, there were 721 summary trials. The three offences tried most often tried were: a) Absence Without Leave; b) Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order and Discipline; c) Drunkenness. The conviction rate was 87.38 per cent. Two notices of appeal were filed by the convicted with the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada (CMAC).  One request for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was filed by the Minister who also filed an appeal as a matter of right to the Supreme Court of Canada. 
  • There are 4 full-time military judges and a Court Martial Administrator. The Chief Military Judge wears the rank of Colonel. The three other judges serve in the rank of lieutenant-colonel. 
  • One of the military judges’ position is currently vacant. Given the reduced trial workload this year, the three remaining military judges presided each over an average of 15 courts martial. 
  • This has to be considered as being an extraordinary low workload which cannot justify the significant expenditures to create and operate a separate judiciary. 
  • The importance of cost-saving measures and efficiency improvements alone suggests that the time has come to eliminate these specialized courts and to transfer their jurisdictions to civilian courts. 
  • The Judge Advocate General (JAG) wears the rank of Major-General. The JAG is not a judge. He does not perform any judicial functions. He is a legal advisor. The JAG reports directly to the Minister of National Defence.
  • There is a full-time Director of Military Prosecutions who serves under the general supervision of the JAG who is the head of the legal chain of command. The JAG is responsible for the promotions, postings and career developments of military lawyers acting as prosecutors.
  • There is a full-time Director Defence Services Counsel who also serves under the general supervision of the JAG who is the head of the legal chain of command.The JAG is responsible for the promotions, postings and career developments of military lawyers acting as defence counsel.
  • There are approximately 170 military lawyers in the Regular Force. All serving under the command of the JAG. 
  • There are approximately 1,235 Military Police in the Regular Force consisting of 154 officers and 1,081 non-commissioned members
  • In 2015, the MPs conducted approximately 11,500 (General Occurrences) investigations.
  • The Canadian Forces National Investigative Service (CFNIS) investigates serious and sensitive matters including criminal offences against property and persons including civilians deployed with the military.
  • The military operates a Service Prison and Detention Barracks (SPDB) located in Edmonton. It provides imprisonment and detention services. The SPDB is not subject to reviews conducted by the Correctional Investigator of Canada.

For a further discussion see "BEHIND THE TIMES" by the Hon. Gilles Létourneau and Prof. Michel Drapeau. 

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