Ottawa to let judge decide whether cabinet secrets should be given to suspended vice-admiral’s lawyers
The federal government says it will let a judge decide whether to release thousands of pages of cabinet secrets to Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s lawyers, who have argued the records are needed to ensure their client gets a fair trial.
The Crown’s plan is contained in new filings in an Ontario court in Ottawa and appears to put to rest questions over whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his predecessor, Stephen Harper, would agree to release the secrets.
Most of the documents relate to a $700-million contract to refit a civilian vessel into a temporary support ship for the navy.
Vice-Adm. Norman, the former commander of the Canadian navy and vice-chief of the defence staff, is charged with breach of trust over allegations he leaked documents to the shipbuilding company when it wasn’t clear that the Liberals would follow through with the Conservatives’ plans.
Whilethedisclosureofevidenceisakeytenet of Canada’s legal system, and courts can normally compel the release of evidence that could help an accused person’s defence, Section 39 of the Canada Evidence Act lets the government refuse requests for cabinet confidences.
Usually prepared for ministers to aid governmentdeliberationsanddecision-making, documents marked as cabinet confidences hold closely guarded political secrets and are legally protected from unauthorized release.
Vice-Adm. Norman’s lawyers were seeking a “blanket waiver” to see all the records, and government officials had previously asserted that only the prime minister under whom the documents were created could authorize their release. But new court documents filed Thursday by the Crown say the government has decided to take a different approach – an approach that oneexpertsaysisthenormattheprovinciallevel and in other Commonwealth countries.
The Crown wrote in its submission that the Privy Council Office, the top federal department, would not agree to a blanket waiver “on the basis that such a waiver had the potential to capture information completely irrelevant to this matter.”
However, Justice Canada lawyer Robert McKinnon said the Privy Council Office, which is responsible for safeguarding cabinet confidences, “is content that this court determine the matter,” according to the Crown’s submission. The court is scheduled to hold five days of hearings starting Wednesday, in which the two sides will argue over the relevance of the documents requested by Vice-Adm. Norman’s lawyers and whether they should be released.
Vice-Adm. Norman was suspended as the military’s second-in-command and charged thispastMarchwithonecountofbreachoftrust for allegedly leaking cabinet secrets.