Opposition calls for emergency debate on prosecution of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman
Opposition MPs are calling for the House of Common’s Standing Committee on National Defence to hold an emergency meeting on the government’s conduct in the investigation and prosecution of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, CTV News has learned.
Federal prosecutors stayed a breach of trust charge against the military’s former second-in-command last week, staving off a potential political headache for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals ahead of this fall’s election.
In a letter dated May 12 and addressed to Jean-Marie David, the clerk of the committee, MPs accused Trudeau of prejudicing this investigation by “inappropriately anticipating that the RCMP’s investigation would result in a prosecution.”
“This suggests that he and his cabinet had inappropriate access to information regarding an independent criminal proceeding,” it added.
The letter also accuses the government of political interference in a shipbuilding contract and of smearing Norman, which it claims has had “a deleterious effect on the morale of the Canadian Armed Forces.”
If the committee agrees to study the matter, it will move a motion calling on Norman, 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.
The motion requests that the witnesses appear no later than May 24, 2019, and that their appearances before the committee last for at least one hour.
The letter is signed by three Conservative MPs and one NDP MP. They request that the committee meet within five days.
The Liberals have a majority on the committee, which will have to decide whether to green light the study.
In a statement to CTV News, Todd Lane, the press secretary for the Minister of National Defence, said, “Committees operate independently of government, and we will wait for the outcome of their deliberations.”
He continued, “As for the process regarding Vice-Admiral Norman, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada noted when staying the charges that ‘no other factors were considered in this decision, nor was there any conduct or influence from outside the PPSC, including political influence in either the initial decision to prosecute Mr. Norman or in the decision to stay the charge.’ Any accusations to the contrary are baseless and absurd.”
Norman’s breach of trust charge stemmed from the alleged leak of a secret cabinet decision to delay the signing of a nearly $700-million sole-sourced contract to retrofit a Navy ship with the Quebec-based Chantier Davie Shipyard. Norman, who was suspended from the military because of the charge, has denied any wrongdoing.
Ahead of the trial, which was slated to begin in August, Norman’s defence lawyer, Marie Henein, had accused the Liberal government of withholding thousands of documents that she had requested to bolster Norman’s defence.
“What you don’t do is you don’t put your finger and try to weigh in on the scales of justice, that is not what should be happening,” Henein said at a news conference earlier this week.
Last week, federal prosecutors stayed the charge because they said it had no “reasonable prospect of conviction.”
But the staying of the charge has not quieted the controversy around the case, with Norman saying that he has an “important story to tell Canadians.”
“This has not been a good week for the Liberals,” said Lydia Miljan, a political science professor at the University of Windsor, adding that there “are still a lot of unanswered questions.”
Opposition MPs have seized on Henein’s statements, accusing the Liberals of covering up or suppressing information that they claim could have put an end to the matter much earlier.
“This, I believe, has been a massive miscarriage of justice in our justice system, for (the Department of National Defence) and for Canada broadly,” former defence minister and Conservative MP Peter Mackay told CTV’s Question Period. “This was a very dark chapter in the way Mark Norman was treated.”
Royal Canadian Mounted Police said it respected the Crown’s decision and defended its investigation as “thorough, independent and highly professional.”
Sajjan told CTV’s Question Period on Sunday that he regrets “the fact Vice-Admiral Norman had to go through this,” but he did not apologize.
Trudeau has denied accusations of political interference in an independent criminal matter, and the government has said it will cover the cost of Norman’s legal fees.
“The processes in this case have unfolded in a proper manner, completely independent of government, as they should have,” he said at a press conference in Edmonton last week.