By Scott Taylor
Last Tuesday, a witness at the pre-trial hearing of Vice Admiral Mark Norman dropped a bombshell when he told the court that senior DND officials had deliberately omitted Norman’s name from key documents in order to avoid a paper trail. In other words, an alleged cover-up in this case was pre-meditated and intentional.
This testimony certainly supports the assertion of Norman’s legal team that the government is deliberately stonewalling them from accessing documents which would be vital to the Vice Admiral’s defence.
The identity of the witness is protected by a court ordered publication ban, as the still-serving servicemember fears possible retribution career-wise from his Chain-of-Command.
On the plus side of this equation is the fact that this individual had the moral integrity to bring the truth forward, regardless of the damage this might do to his superiors and the institution.
The flip side of this is the depressing realization that there are still those in senior offices within the Defence Department that mistakenly think they can deliberately circumvent the access to information law, and then rely upon the loyalty of their subordinates to keep their subterfuge a secret.
This high-profile saga began almost two years ago when it was announced in January 2017 that VAdm Norman, then Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, was suspended with pay and under investigation.
At that time, DND offered no details as to why the number two officer in the Canadian Forces was so suddenly dismissed.
Without access to the facts, the media turned to speculation and within hours Norman was being branded guilty of everything from sexual misconduct to international espionage.
To dampen the feeding frenzy on Norman’s reputation, information was eventually provided that Norman’s alleged wrongdoing involved an information leak regarding a shipbuilding contract.
In March 2018, a full fifteen months after he was publicly fired, one charge of breach of trust was laid against Norman. It is alleged by the Crown prosecutors that Norman leaked classified government information regarding a $700-million contract to lease a supply ship for the Royal Canadian Navy. Norman has steadfastly denied the allegations.
To help prove their case, Norman’s defence team, headed by top notch lawyer Marie Henein, requested access to all of the pertinent emails, reports, memos, etc, which would have been generated at those top level DND offices in the two week window bracketing the admiral’s suspension.
Anyone familiar with DND bureaucracy will realize that something as touchy as public dismissal of a top officer would generate a flurry of correspondence between all of these very senior personnel who had to undertake this very sensitive task.
Thus it came as a bit of a shock to the officer assigned to collect all of these documents when his supervisor smiled and stated there was none.
In his testimony at the pre-trial hearing, the witness recounted his Commanding Officer’s reaction to the request which was filed under the access to information law, “He gives me a smile and says… Don’t worry, this isn’t our first rodeo. We made sure we never used his name. Send back nil return.”
Stunned not only by this blunt admission of premeditated obstruction by his Commanding Officer, and the fact that, “he seemed proud to provide that response,” the witness told the court that he felt compelled to do the right thing and come forward to testify in support of Norman.
Essentially this amounts to the witness’s unnamed Commanding officer telling a detective on a criminal case not to bother dusting for fingerprints because the culprits were smart enough to wear gloves when they committed the crime.
If true, and it must be kept in mind that the Commanding officer in question has yet to have his version heard in court – this would reveal a very dangerous culture of cover-up existing within the upper echelons of the Defence Department.
While the five-day pre-trial hearings were to have been wrapped up last Tuesday, there remain a number of unresolved issues concerning the defence team’s claim of obstruction on the part of the prosecution. Three days of additional pretrial hearings have been added and will be held in January.
The actual trial will not begin until next June.
In the meantime, the shipbuilding contract that sparked all of this intrigue and controversy has been completed, on time and on budget. From all accounts, the MV Asterix, converted at the Davie Shipbuilding in Quebec, and now leased to the RCN, is already providing our Navy with yeoman service.
That being the case, the leak allegedly made by Norman to the media is credited with thwarting an alleged 2015 attempt by Irving shipyard of Halifax, NS, to have the newly elected Liberal government scrap the contract which Harper’s Conservative’s had signed with Davie Shipbuilding.
If leaking info about Irving Shipyard allegedly trying to scuttle a project serves to keep that project on the rails, and in turn the MV Asterix project is an unqualified success, in the big scheme of things what actual harm was done?