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Why Trudeau Should Commit To Passing This Victims' Rights Bill

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Justin Trudeau has officially been sworn in as Prime Minister of Canada. It is probably the coolest, but also the toughest job. As leader of a G7 country of over 35 million people, with a nearly two trillion-dollar economy, Prime Minister Trudeau has to absorb immense amounts of complex information, and make dozens of highly consequential decisions pretty much 24/7.

In the ensuing days, one of those decisions will be regarding the fate of Conservative bills from the previous parliamentary session -- whether keep or kill them. To assist this rookie Prime Minister, the public service will provide independent advice on the policy implications of keeping or killing each bill, while his advisers will provide advice on its political implications.

Unless a decision has already been made to wipe the legislative slate clean, and begin afresh, Prime Minister Trudeau is likely to adopt a cherry picking approach that may look something like this:

Where a bill is deemed good policy and good politics, he may listen to both the public service and his advisers to keep the bill, and take credit for it when it comes into force; where a bill is deemed good policy but bad politics, he may ignore the public service and listen to his advisers to kill the bill, and boast Real Change; where a bill is deemed bad policy but good politics, he may override the public service and listen to his advisers to keep the bill, and spin that it is good policy when it comes into force; and where a bill is deemed bad policy and bad politics, he will most certainly kill it.

In short, some bills will be kept, and others killed for a mix of policy and political reasons. As his advisers sort through all the left over bills, one bill entitled Victims Rights in the Military Justice System Act should jump out as one of the low hanging fruits that meets the requirement of good policy and good politics, and which should be recommended to Prime Minister Trudeau as a keeper.

When the Conservative government introduced the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (CVBR) in April, 2014, it was made very clear that the CVBR would apply only to victims of crime in the civilian justice system, and that another similar bill would be tabled later on for victims of service offences in the military justice system. Since then, the CVBR has passed and become law. The government also delivered on its promise, and introduced Victims Rights in the Military Justice System Act in June, 2015, with the intent of passing the bill right after the election.

What this means, in practical terms, is that civilian victims of crime now enjoy robust, statutory rights to information, protection, participation, and restitution, while our men and women in uniform who are victims of services offences do not. Until the new bill is passed and brought into force, our soldiers who put their lives on the line for us will have fewer rights than civilians, and be treated as second class citizens. This disparity is not just in violation of a principle of fundamental justice that everyone should be equal before the law. It is also against what Canadians expect political leaders of all parties to do. That is to support our troops.

On the bright side, Prime Minister Trudeau can fix this disparity. Just as the Conservative government committed, he should commit to passing Victims Rights in the Military Justice System Act as soon as Parliament resumes. There is no reason not to do so. Equality before the law is good, common-sense policy, and supporting our troops is always the right thing to do morally and politically.

Finally, the bill would most likely receive unanimous support from all parties and Senators for its expedited passage. Prime Minister Trudeau should use this opportunity to demonstrate that he really is inclusive and can work with everyone to pass important bills. He will also have much tougher decisions to make, he should get this out of the way.

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