Ot­tawa to let judge de­cide whether cab­i­net se­crets should be given to sus­pended vice-ad­mi­ral’s lawyers

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - NEWS - LEE BERTHI­AUME

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.

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