Norman’s lawyers offer first glimpse of defence strategy
OTTAWA • Lawyers for Vice-Admiral Mark Norman have for the first time outlined the arguments they will use in his defence as they seek access to a massive trove of classified government documents ahead of his criminal trial on a charge of breach of trust.
The application for thirdparty records, filed Friday at the Ottawa courthouse, argues that far from interfering in a shipbuilding contract for personal gain or preference, as the Crown has alleged, Norman was working to ensure that the orders of elected officials were being followed in the face of resistance from “several senior civil servants.” It also argues there is no evidence Norman ever leaked cabinet documents, and alleges the leak came instead from a government employee. And it points out that leaks are endemic in Ottawa, only occasionally investigated and almost never prosecuted.
“Norman appears to be the first person in Canadian history to be criminally prosecuted for a purported violation of Cabinet confidences,” the court document says. “This, in circumstances where he was not generally a participant in any Cabinet meetings and did not leak any Cabinet documents.”
The application also names for the first time a government employee whom Norman’s lawyers allege to be the true source of leaked cabinet documents. That employee, Matthew Matchett, has not been charged with any offence and the allegation has not been proven in court. The National Post was unable to reach Matchett for comment before deadline.
Norman, who as vicechief of the defence staff was second-in-command of the Canadian Forces, was suspended from his position by Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance in January 2017, nearly two months after then-CBC journalist James Cudmore reported that the new federal Liberal government planned to delay a contract awarded to Davie Shipbuilding to provide the navy with a supply ship. In the face of the resulting publicity the government backed down on the delay, but asked the RCMP to investigate the leak. Norman was suspended after the RCMP raided his house, believing he leaked secret information about cabinet discussions on the Davie contract. He was ultimately charged with one count of breach of trust in March of this year.
But the court document alleges it was Matchett, then a civil servant with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, who first disclosed the cabinet documents to a lobbyist. The lobbyist then passed them on to Davie.
The application argues that both Davie Shipbuilding and Cudmore had thus “already obtained information regarding the Cabinet meeting from other sources” before they communicated with Norman about the delay.
It also claims that an internal investigation by the Privy Council Office found that at least 42 people knew about the planned cabinet committee discussion on the ship contract beforehand, and at least 73 people knew the result afterward.
“The PCO investigation found that there were six separate leaks related to the Ad Hoc Committee alone, including to two separate CBC reporters, Radio-Canada, and the lobbying firm Fleishman & Hillard,” the document says. “The sources of most of the leaks identified in the PCO investigation remain unknown.”
Only Norman has been charged over the leaks. The document says Matchett’s current status within the government is “unknown.” Cudmore, meanwhile, was hired by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s office as a policy adviser in January 2016, though was later moved to the office of the minister of democratic institutions.
The application filed by Norman’s lawyers makes 52 requests for government disclosure. It argues that the documents disclosed so far have been “selective evidence cherry-picked by the prosecution,” and says it needs “the full narrative of government activity as it pertained to the (ship contract).”
Among the records requested are minutes of cabinet meetings; records of communication to and from the Prime Minister’s Office; records of any government investigations related to other leaks that have recently appeared in the media; and wide-ranging records of communication between government ministers and shipbuilding firms, including Davie’s east-coast rival, Irving Shipbuilding.
The records cover time periods of both prime minster Stephen Harper’s government and Justin Trudeau’s. The next scheduled court date for Norman’s case is Nov. 2.
HE WAS NOT GENERALLY A PARTICIPANT IN ANY CABINET MEETINGS.
Vice-Admiral Mark Norman leaves court with his lawyer Marie Henein following a hearing in Ottawa on Sept. 4. His next court date is scheduled for Nov. 2.