Following the Crown’s decision to stay its breach-of-trust case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman Wednesday, his lawyer Marie Henein again accused the government of political interference.
Heinen claimed that the Prime Minister’s Office and Privy Council were, “counselling witnesses as to what they could and could not say.”
“No person in this country should ever walk into a courtroom and feel like they’re fighting their elected government,” she told reporters assembled at HMCS Bytown Officers’ Mess, across the street from the courthouse where charges against Norman were stayed.
“What you don’t do, is you don’t is put your finger and try to weigh in on the scales of justice. That is not what should be happening and so, I think we have lots of lessons to learn from this and other cases,” Henein said of the politics that went all the way to the top. “And I know Canadians are paying close attention.”
Less than two hours earlier, lead federal Crown prosecutor Barbara Mercier told Ontario Superior Court her decision was based on “new information” presented to her office in March by Henein.
“(It) provided greater context in revealing a number of complexities that we were not aware of…(and) there is no reasonable prospect of a conviction in this case,” said Mercier.
In March of 2018, RCMP charged Norman with one count of breach of trust related to a leak of confidential documents about a Conservative-era sole-sourced contract for a $610 million naval procurement for National Defence awarded to Davie Shipbuilding in Québec.
The leak detailed a 2015 cabinet meeting decision shortly after Liberals won a majority election victory: to halt the Davie resupply project already underway. The reason: rival shipyard J.D. Irving had written to ask that the original sole-source contract be opened to competition.
The charges against Norman came more than a year after police raided his Ottawa home and General Jonathan Vance, chief of the defence staff, suspended Norman from his command in January 2017. Today Crown prosecutor Barbara Mercier told the court that based on the new information, there was no chance for a conviction.
Norman thanked Henein and his family in opening remarks in which he promised to reveal more about his legal odyssey in the coming days.
“I have an important story to tell, that Canadians will want and need to hear. And it is my intention in the coming days to tell that story,” said Norman. “Not to lay blame but to ensure that we all learn from this experience.”
“Ultimately, I look forward to immediate reinstatement and a return to serving Canada – something that I have done unfailingly for the last 38-years.”
A month after charges were laid, Norman retained the services of Henein, the hard-nosed litigator who successfully defended disgraced radio host Jian Ghomeshi from serious sex assault allegations.
Articulated in the public square and in court over the past year, Henein painted Norman as fall-guy for the Liberal government’s embarrassment after reports detailing Irving’s missive caused it to back off plans to scuttle the Davie project.
In October of 2018, Henein filed an application in federal court to obtain relevant records – on Wednesday, she said “thousands” remain withheld.
“We the defence had to bring this motion at great expense to get at those records … neither we nor the prosecution were given access to,” said Henein. “The people who were standing in the way of that whole disclosure is obviously the government who had access to them.”
“PMO, PCO, DND, you name it,” she said.
But disclosure and transparency have proven difficult for this government—nearly as difficult and cumbersome as the country’s military procurement system.
Problems with the Department of National Defence’s ability to access hardware came to light back in November of 2014. During testimony at a parliamentary defence committee, Norman’s assessment of the Navy’s capabilities was grim.
“The retirement of current refuellers and the delay in the construction of Joint Support Ships have led to capacity issues, which have a ripple effect… Canada is unable to support and maintain those ships at sea if it needs to deploy them elsewhere.”
At the Second World War’s close, Canada possessed the third largest navy in the world—70 years later the navy Norman then-commanded had been reduced to renting vessels from Chile to keep a significantly leaner force at sea for any meaningful venture.
And looming over cabinet deliberations, a year after Norman’s committee testimony, was a letter from Irving co-chief executive officer James (Jimmy) Irving requesting that Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Public Services and Procurement Minister Judy Foote delay approval of Davie deal to allow a proposal by Irving and U.S.-based Maersk Line Ltd. to be “competitively evaluated.”
Shortly after and allegedly in possession of said leaks, then-CBC journalist James Cudmore reports on the disclosure – by January 2016, Sajjan hired Cudmore to a ‘senior policy’ position. According to documents provided by the Crown in its prosecution brief, Norman is alleged to have written to Cudmore in a 2015 email about the procurement issue: “FFS keep me out of this.”
Adding to speculation that charges against Norman were politically motivated, during an Edmonton town hall in February 2018, two months before Norman was charged, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described Norman’s case as “very much underway in terms of investigation and inevitably court processes.”
And the pressure on the Trudeau government intensified late last week with word that Liberal MP Andrew Leslie, a retired lieutenant-general, was set to testify on behalf of Norman at a trial previously set for August.
At the Canadian navy officers’ mess on Wednesday, the man at the heart of the matter spoke of his attempt to do the best for the country inside an unwieldy military procurement system.
“It is a very complicated, obtuse and ultimately ugly process and what goes on inside that process is difficult to explain at the best of times,” Norman said. “I am confident that at all times, I acted with integrity, I acted ethically and I acted in the best interests of the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Forces and ultimately the Canadian people.”
Henein, who has not ruled out a civil suit on behalf of Norman, asked for an apology.
“There is a ship, a supply ship that is operational, on time and under budget, thanks in part to Admiral Norman. And I think it’s time to say sorry to Admiral Norman,” she said.