Opposition call for committee study of Norman affair defeated
Vice-Admiral Mark Norman walks with his lawyers Marie Henein and Christine Mainville as they leave court in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Published Thursday, May 16, 2019 6:00PM EDT
OTTAWA – A call for the House National Defence Committee to study the government’s conduct in the investigation and stayed prosecution of Mark Norman has been defeated, though MPs have left the door open should the vice-admiral want to testify.
The opposition Conservatives and NDP had wanted to probe how the case against Norman was handled, after federal prosecutors stayed a breach of trust charge against the military’s former second-in-command last week, staving off a high-profile and potentially damaging pre-election trial. The Liberal majority on the committee struck down the request at an emergency meeting of the Commons committee on Thursday.
After MPs from all sides spent two hours taking turns speaking about why or why not they thought a committee study was warranted, the vote was called, and the proposal was defeated 5-4. Though, the discussion revealed an apparent openness to allow Norman to come speak on his own, should he indicate a desire to do so.
The opposition had wanted Norman, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and more than a dozen current and former government officials, including Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, to testify before the committee in televised hearings no later than May 24. In the letter requesting the special hearing, MPs accused Trudeau and the government of political interference and of smearing Norman.
Conservative MPs James Bezan and Cheryl Gallant told the committee that many questions have not been answered about the government’s involvement and alleged interference in the case, while the sole NDP MP on the committee, Randall Garrison, said he backed the motion to give Norman a chance to speak in a parliamentary forum about his experience.
Liberal MP Sven Spengemann, speaking against the proposed study, said that it would not be appropriate to bring Norman, a long-serving and high-ranking military officer, into a “politically-charged forum.” But the government side in the committee said it would be a different story if Norman wrote to the committee and asked to appear.
Norman served as the second-in-command of the military until he was 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, who was suspended from the military as a result of the charge, denied any wrongdoing.
Norman’s legal team, which was headed by defence lawyer Marie Henein, had argued that the charge was politically motivated and 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.
Speaking about the prospect of political interference after the case against Norman was dropped, Henein said that the outcome was “despite, not because of” the government. She also spoke at length about what she called “concerning” involvement of the government.
Not long after the charge was stayed, the federal government announced that it will be paying Norman's substantial legal fees. Norman says he is now looking forward to returning to work, though it remains unclear what position he’ll be returning to.
The House of Commons unanimously agreed, on the suggestion of the Conservatives, to apologize to Norman earlier this week over what he and his family had to go through during the years-long legal battle.
Norman has said that he has an “important story to tell,” and has not ruled out pursuing a civil suit against the government.