Norman prosecution a supreme ‘shipshow’
For all that the prosecution of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman bears a resemblance to the prosecution of Senator Mike Duffy — in that the RCMP is the investigator, that breach of trust was a central charge against Duffy and is in Norman’s case the only one, and that the whole kit and caboodle appears polluted with politics — there is one key point of departure and it makes all the difference.
The Conservative senator, of course, was acquitted of a raft of criminal charges, but his voracious reputation for latching upon the public teat with alacrity and determination — the very quality that saw him fall from asset to embarrassment in the party’s view — was never dented.
Norman, on the other hand, is the former vicechief of the defence staff and thus second-in-command of the Canadian Forces whose sin was to serve Canada in uniform for more than three decades.
He practically drips with propriety (though the emails the police seized and which prosecutors have disclosed reveal he blessedly also has a sailor’s ability to swear, once referring to the mess at the heart of this case as a “f---ing gong show”) that I cannot help but think that the way I accidentally refer to him (Vice-Admirable) is highly fitting.
As for the shipshow itself, in 2014, when Canada lost both aging Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment (AOR) vessels — these are basically at-sea gas stations for ships that can’t get to a port of call — there was an urgent need for a replacement.
These had been ordered already by the then-government of Stephen Harper, but a fire on the second AOR left Canada with a larger gap than expected before replacements would be delivered (delivery of those ships, as seems the norm with many Canadian Forces equipment contracts, is delayed), and the government decided to go with a solesource contract for a single ship with Chantier Davie and formally entered into a preliminary contract with the Quebec company.
Norman is accused of a single count of breach of trust for allegedly leaking cabinet confidences and other confidential information to a CBC journalist and to a representative of Davie who was also a friend, Spencer Fraser.
Alas and alack, there was a change of government shortly after the contract was signed, and Justin Trudeau and the Liberals took power.
The new government quickly convened an ad hoc committee to review the contract, and despite the recommendation from key ministers and the civil service that it proceed, committee co-chair Scott Brison, the president of Treasury Board then and now, started raising the possibility of delaying it.
Brison is the MP for Kings-Hants, in Nova Scotia, coincidentally home to Irving Shipbuilding, a key Davie competitor, which bitched to a number of ministers, including Brison, about the Davie contract.
According to defence documents, it is Brison’s statement to the RCMP that is the “central basis” for the allegation against Norman.
On Nov. 19, 2015, two days after getting the Irving letter, the ad hoc committee met and decided to request a 60-day delay to reconsider the contract.
It was that decision — and the $89-million penalty that would be incurred if the final contract wasn’t signed — that was reported in the media, allegedly leaked by Norman.
Essentially, that reporting of the whopping penalty price sufficiently shamed the new government that it signed the contract; the ship was delivered on time.
But as it turns out, when the bureaucracy that supports the prime minister and cabinet, the powerful Privy Council Office (PCO), investigated, it found that guess what, at least 42 people knew about the committee discussion beforehand (six of the leaks related to the ad hoc committee itself ) and 73 knew about the result — the proposed delay — and at least one of the alleged leakers has been identified by name in defence material recently filed in court.
In other words, it was SNAFU (Situation Normal All F---ed Up) for gossipy, perpetually leaking Ottawa, where information is better than currency, and a simple hello, as a wise man once told me, has a greasy transactional feel.
But of huge concern to Norman’s lawyers — the formidable Marie Henein at the helm — is that it’s the same PCO which not only is the complainant in the case (the PCO referred the matter to the RCMP), but also the key witness and, as Ontario Court Judge Heather Perkins-McVey heard Wednesday, the controller and guardian of much of the information Norman needs to defend himself.
Imagine if a complainant in a sexual assault trial, naturally the key witness, also got to determine the course of the prosecution and vet the documents and decide which are relevant and which are not.
(For one thing, Jian Ghomeshi would have been convicted, had that happened in the last high-profile case Henein ran.)
Now give that complainant/witness the shield of being able to claim cabinet confidence or secrecy, and you get a hint of what team Henein is facing here.
It is always the prosecution that bears the burden of disclosing relevant documents, not the defence, yet here, Henein has laid out her defence in detail, for the world to see, while prosecutors have hemmed and hawed, dragged their collective feet, declined to meet the defence team, dilly-dallied, shucked and jived.
The parties are in court now on a defence application to get some of those records.
Yet even Wednesday, despite the judge’s suggestion the lawyers (three from the defence, three federal prosecutors, three from the Department of Justice) meet over lunch, when she returned to court and cheerfully asked “Were you able to use the time?”, Henein stood up and said, “Nope."
“After Your Honour directed us to meet… we didn’t…”
As Henein snapped furiously to prosecutor Barbara Mercier, just before the judge walked in, “The judge says go in and meet and you refuse to meet… This is intolerable.”
The shipshow continues Thursday.
Vice-Admiral Mark Norman arrives at the courthouse in Ottawa on Wednesday.