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Perhaps the most remarkable part of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s more than two year legal ordeal was the way he carried himself at the Wednesday afternoon press conference.
Fully composed. No anger. Little emotion. A deliberate attempt to avoid anything resembling partisan remarks. This is a man who appears to be the definition of dignity and integrity. And yet he is also the man who Ottawa messed with for two whole years, charging him with breach of trust – which, if convicted, could mean incarceration – and then suddenly staying the charge on Wednesday morning.
All over, just like that. It’s not right. While Norman may be dignified, the federal government disgraced itself by allowing all of this to go ahead in the first place.
Norman was suspended from his position as number two of the Canadian Forces in January of 2017, left in limbo until he was charged by the RCMP in March of 2018 with one count of breach of trust over allegations that he leaked cabinet confidences related to shipbuilding contracts.
He maintained his innocence throughout, in a case that’s believed to be the first ever time someone has been charged over a leak. Along the way he picked up thousands of supporters, who were upset at the way Norman was being treated, and they together contributed over $400,000 to his legal defence fund.
There were only two points during the press conference when there was ever emotion in the vice-admiral’s eyes. The first was Norman explaining how humbled he was that there were WWII veterans who sent him $5 as their contribution to his legal defence fund. It’s an image that’s almost Shakespearean – old warriors scouring their cupboards for money to hand over to the former head of the Navy so that a man’s honour can be restored and, through that, the honour of our nation.
The second was the brief surprise he displayed when the news was revealed to him there, live on air, that the federal government that had previously done everything to obstruct him and make this difficult, suddenly had a change of heart and decided to pay his legal costs in full.
“Ultimately, I look forward to my immediate reinstatement and to return to serving Canada,” Norman said when asked what happens next. The focus on service and loyalty was remarkable, especially given how little loyalty the feds have shown Norman for his service by choosing to commence legal proceedings against him for something as inconsequential as leaks, which happen all the time in Ottawa.
The Liberals have gone to great lengths to explain why there’s nothing they can do about the dozens of ISIS fighters now walking about freely on Canadian soil yet somehow they’re able to throw everything they’ve got at attempting to put the former head of the Navy behind bars on a case that, it’s now apparent, was always hanging by a thread.
Is this the end? It is not.
“I would like to thank all of the media for your dogged pursuit of the truth,” Norman said in his closing remarks. “I wish you the best in pursuing whatever truth it is you wish to find in result of this conversation today.”
What else might be pursued? On a personal level, Norman could file a lawsuit against the government for this prolonged abuse-by-process. When it comes to the broader issues, Marie Henein, Norman’s defence lawyer, reminded the press that these charges were initially referred to the RCMP by the Privy Council Office (PCO) – the top bureaucrats led by Michael Wernick who report to the Prime Minister.
“The PCO has been the holder of the records that we’ve now spent six months trying to get,” Henein added. They fought Norman tooth and nail over the release of records about this case.
Why did they refer the case in the first place? Why did they hold back the files? What was in them?
These matters won’t be addressed in the next few days. But there is something Henein brought up that can be immediately resolved.
“Vice-Admiral Norman has been through a great deal,” Henein said. “His family has been through a great deal. There is a supply ship that is operational, on time and under budget thanks – in part – to Vice-Admiral Norman. I think it’s time to say sorry to him.”
Yes it is. And that apology ought to come from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019