Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"The Need For a Vigilant Parliament"

From the Report of the Somalia Inquiry, Executive Summary (1997)

Canada has begun a new relationship with its armed forces, one that arguably requires greater involvement by members of Parliament and Canadians generally in the direction, supervision, and control of the Canadian Forces. Civil control of the military may be a defining characteristic of liberal democracies, but it does not invariably occur. Civil control of the military, whether it is operating in Canada or abroad, should come from attentive citizens acting through an informed, concerned, and vigilant Parliament.

There is a perceived need to strengthen the role of Parliament in the scrutiny and development of defence policy. Moreover, it is possible that this goal can be achieved by establishing an effective mechanism in Parliament to oversee the defence establishment and by making a few, but significant, amendments to the National Defence Act.

The quintessential condition for control of the military and all aspects of national defence is a vigilant Parliament. During the period between 1949 and 1989, the missions, tasks, organization, and functioning of the armed forces were largely fixed by the circumstances of the Cold War. The oversight of the armed services by members of Parliament during this period was largely of a pro forma nature. Since 1989, however, the Canadian Forces have increasingly been called on to serve Canada in complex situations involving uncertain alliances, where the missions or the applicable doctrine are not always clear, and resources, too often, are inadequate.

Given this reality, Parliament must exercise greater diligence in critically monitoring the terms agreed to, or set by, the government for the employment of the Canadian Forces overseas, and safeguarding members of the armed forces from unreasonable risks; it must also monitor the operations of commanders and troops in the field. In 1994, a Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons reported that "whatever our individual views on particular issues of defence policy or operations, there was one matter on which we agreed almost from the beginning - that there is a need to strengthen the role of Parliament in the scrutiny and development of defence policy."

Proponents of a greater role for Parliament also see a need to strengthen Parliament's involvement in other important areas of national defence. Their argument proceeds on the basis that Canada requires a modern and more effective mechanism for the greater control of national defence, one that is better suited to a sovereign liberal democracy and to the circumstances that the CF will most likely encounter at home and abroad.

Conducting inquiries of this nature arguably should be Parliament's responsibility, although it does not as yet do this. To achieve this goal of more effective oversight, Parliament's mechanisms for inquiry must be improved. A starting point in this regard, as discussed in Chapter 44, might be to have the powers and responsibilities of the Minister of National Defence, the Chief of the Defence Staff and, in particular, the Deputy Minister of National Defence, clarified in law. We also recommend that there be a parliamentary review of the adequacy of the National Defence Act every five years. This would also strengthen the role of Parliament and ensure that it increases, while also providing the military with increased access to Parliament.