Feds accused of Norman affair cover-up, though Harper-era evidence may have been tipping point
OTTAWA – The day after federal prosecutors stayed the charge of breach of trust against suspended Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, opposition MPs focused their attacks on the governing Liberals, accusing them of covering up or holding back key information over the course of the case that they say could have put an end to the matter much sooner. All this while one potential material witness in the matter, former defence minister Jason Kenney, is calling for an investigation.
On Wednesday, Norman was made a free man and the prospect of a potentially damaging pre-election trial was avoided when the Crown dropped the case.
Now, both Conservative and NDP MPs are accusing the governing Liberals of being the reason why the case carried on as long as it did, only to be abandoned citing no “reasonable prospect of conviction.”
Norman served as the second-in-command of the military until he was suspended and charged in March 2018 with breach of trust for allegedly leaking cabinet secrets in favour of Quebec-based Davie Shipbuilding in relation to a $700-million shipbuilding contract.
Norman’s legal team, which was headed by defence lawyer Marie Henein, had been engaged in various procedural fights with the federal government over accessing secret documents to bolster their argument for having the case tossed out before heading to trial.
On Wednesday she said that the federal Liberals were “at the table” throughout the process, being represented by Department of Justice lawyers in a “concerning” fight that she said was led by the Privy Council Office and Prime Minister’s Office to withhold records from both the defence and prosecution.
“This never should have been in court… and the late staying of the charges stems from the fact that there was political interference prior to even the investigation,” said Conservative MP Erin O’Toole. “And then of course delays… because the government was obfuscating the process, delaying, blacking out, and resisting disclosure that not only Mark Norman needed to defend himself, but that public prosecutors needed to assess their chances at trial,” he said.
The Conservatives allege that the government was deliberately suppressing this evidence to keep the prosecution going, while the NDP have repeated their calls for an independent investigation into the entire ordeal.
“Why did Liberals hide vital information from the prosecution, the defence, and from the rest of Canadians?” asked NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
Border Security and Organized Crime Minister Bill Blair was the one leading the defence of the government in question period on Thursday. He maintained that the government “met all of its applications with respect to third-party record applications,” and that all documents from priority players in the case that were identified by the defence, were provided.
“Over 8,000 documents on behalf of seven government organizations were submitted to the court over the course of this process,” Blair said.
Thursday, the opposition repeatedly cited aspects of Henein’s comments in an effort to argue their point of Liberal obstruction. Though, speaking about the prospect of political interference in the day’s proceedings, she said that the justice system in this case was not politically interfered with, and that the Director of Public Prosecutions acted independently.
Henein said that the outcome was “despite, not because of” the government.
Kenney 'never heard' from Crown, calls for probe
Though, CTV News has confirmed that the charge being stayed may in part have been “because of” members of the previous Conservative government.
Both new Alberta premier and former Harper-era defence minister Jason Kenney and former justice minister Peter MacKay assisted the defence in this case. The two former cabinet ministers spoke at length to Henein about their interactions with Norman and the view in the government at the time about the naval contract.
It is not known what role their participation played, but whatever this secret additional evidence was, called into question whether or not the Crown could prove their case, federal prosecutor Barbara Mercier said on Wednesday.
“This was a very complex case… I cannot get into the specifics of that information. The defence council gave it to us under certain conditions, for our purposes only, but I will say that absorbing it, comparing it to investigative materials, we came to that conclusion that there’s no reasonable prospect of conviction,” Mercier said, adding that the prosecution didn’t have the full information until very recently, prompting this outcome.
In an interview on CTV’s Power Play, Kenney said that while he doesn’t know if what he shared during an hours-long meeting with Norman’s legal team in Toronto “a few months ago” impacted the outcome of the matter, but he was prepared to testify on behalf of the defence.
Kenney said that he reached out to Norman in the spring of 2015 to get input from the navy on procuring a naval supply ship. Kenney said that military brass wanted a 30-month procurement process but that he had a hunch the navy wanted to get something in the water faster. During a conversation at a dinner, Kenney said that Norman told him that the Davie ship was what best suited their needs, and Kenney ultimately took that advice to cabinet.
“The fact that he was subsequently prosecuted for standing by the decision to get a supply ship immediately, to me is an absolute outrage, and I hope there will be an investigation into how all of this nonsense happened,” Kenney said.
Kenney is now raising questions about why the RCMP did “little or nothing” to talk to members of the previous Conservative government ahead of, or as part of the now stayed court process.
“Obviously I had material information about this whole transaction this whole issue and I never heard from the Crown, I would have quite happily cooperated with them as well,” he said.
Kenny also said that “if leaking out of DND was a criminal offence, half the building would be under charges right now.”
Speaking about the nature of defence procurement, Norman said Wednesday that “what goes on inside that process is difficult to explain at the best of times, and so I am confident that at all times I acted with integrity, I acted ethically, and I acted in the best interest of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Forces, and ultimately the people of Canada.”
He said that he is looking forward to a “seamless” and immediate reinstatement. He was moved into a temporary post in Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance’s office and it remains unclear what position he will be returning to, after Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said that current vice chief of defence staff will remain in his post.
There have been repeated calls for the federal government to apologize for Norman over how he was treated in this matter.
“Vice-Admiral Norman has been through a great deal, his family has been through a great deal. There is a supply ship that is operational, on time, and under budget thanks in part to Vice-Admiral Norman. I think it’s time to say sorry to him,” Henein said on Wednesday.
Norman has not ruled out pursuing a civil suit against the government.
With files from CTV News' Michel Boyer