Nor­man pros­e­cu­tion a supreme ‘ship­show’

Calgary Herald - - CANADA - CHRISTIE BLATCH­FORD Na­tional Post cblatch­[email protected]­media.com

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.

SEAN KIL­PATRICK / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Vice-Ad­mi­ral Mark Nor­man ar­rives at the court­house in Ot­tawa on Wednes­day.

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