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June 15, 2015

The Government of Canada is continuing to build upon its commitment to give victims of offences a more effective voice within Canada’s justice systems. On June 15, 2015, the Government introduced new legislation, the Victims Rights in the Military Justice System Act to create clear statutory rights for victims of service offences within the military justice system. This bill would also make changes to the Canadian Armed Forces’ summary trial process, to make the system more efficient and effective.

Code of Service Discipline Declaration of Victims Rights

Limited victims-related provisions currently exist within the National Defence Act. The proposed legislation would enact a Code of Service Discipline Declaration of Victims Rights that would give victims of service offences rights to information, protection, participation, and restitution. These rights would mirror those that exist within the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights that received Royal Assent on April 23, 2015.

The legislation would create the following statutory rights for victims of service offences:

  • Right to information: Victims would have the right to general information about the military justice system, as well as to specific information about the status and outcome of any investigation or proceedings in relation to their case.
  • Right to protection: Victims would have the right to have their security and privacy considered at all stages of military justice processes involving service offences, to have reasonable and necessary measures to protect them from intimidation and retaliation, and to request their identity be protected from public disclosure.
  • Right to participation: Victims would have a right to convey their views about decisions to be made by authorities within the military justice system, to have them considered at various stages of the proceedings, and to present a victim impact statement.
  • Right to restitution: Victims would have the right to have the court martial consider making a restitution order against the offender.

These victims’ rights exist in the criminal justice system. The Victims Rights in the Military Justice System Act will balance the scales of justice by extending them into the military justice system as well.

Victim Liaison Officer

Because of the unique nature of the military justice system, some aspects of the proposed legislation, such as the Victim Liaison Officer provisions, go beyond what is contained in the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. Service offences can have diverse types of victims, including military members and their families, and members of the broader civilian community. To many of these individuals, the military justice system can be unfamiliar and potentially intimidating. Therefore, to help ensure that victims are properly informed and positioned to access their rights, the proposed legislation provides for the appointment of a Victim Liaison Officer when a victim requests this appointment.  The Victim Liaison Officer would assist the victim to understand how service offences are charged, tried, and dealt with under the Code of Service Discipline.  The Victim Liaison Officer would also assist the victim to obtain information that the victim requests and to which the victim has a right.

Complaints Process

In any case where a victim of a service offence believes that his or her rights under the Code of Service Discipline Declaration of Victims Rights have been breached, he or she would also have a right to file a complaint in accordance with regulations, in much the same way as is provided for victims in the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.

Victims Rights at Courts Martial

To ensure that victims of service offences within the military justice system are able to exercise their rights as detailed in the proposed legislation, such as the rights to protection and participation, the legislation also proposes complementary changes to many court martial processes.

Specifically, to protect vulnerable participants within the military justice system, the proposed legislation would authorize military judges to make certain judicial orders such as non-disclosure orders, publication bans, and orders preventing an accused member from personally cross-examining a victim.

The proposed legislation would also enhance a victim’s ability to participate in court martial proceedings by broadening the ways in which a victim impact statement could be presented to a court martial. Finally, the proposed legislation would allow for the submission of community impact statements describing the harm done to, or the loss suffered by, the community as a result of an offence, and the submission of military impact statements, describing the harm done to discipline, efficiency, or morale within the Canadian Armed Forces as a result of an offence.

Summary

The Code of Service Discipline Declaration of Victims Rights would strengthen victims’ rights within the military justice system, just as the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights strengthened these rights within the civilian criminal justice system, and reinforce the disciplinary nature of the summary trial process for dealing with minor service misconduct. The proposed changes continue to demonstrate Canada’s commitment to supporting victims of service offences, and to being a global leader in the development of a fair and effective military justice system — one that evolves in harmony with contemporary Canadian law.

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