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CONRAD BLACK: On Mark Norman case, heads should roll ... and not the junior ones

Vice Admiral Mark Norman arrives at court in Ottawa on April 16, 2019.
Vice Admiral Mark Norman arrives at court in Ottawa on April 16, 2019. - Matthew McGregor/DND/File

The spurious indictment of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman is a disgrace, embarrassment and offence to all Canadians

Before addressing the scandal of the Vice-Admiral Mark Norman persecution, I want to add a little to my comments here about Quebec’s Bill 21, banning religious clothing or personal accessories visibly identifying a religion for various categories of public officials. I misconstrued a somewhat ambiguous official explanation of the Bill and mistakenly wrote that a cardinal-archbishop or orthodox Jew could have some difficulties in accessing Quebec government services if they were wearing skull caps, as they often would. In fact, they would not have such difficulties. I apologize for my error. However, it remains a bad bill for essentially the reasons I stated, and the government is now considering adding these restrictions in the case of school students. This would be an outright regulation of dress for an immense number of people and would trespass on the liberties of the parents of the students of young children as well as the personal liberty of all the students affected.

What is acceptable and necessary is the requirement that all people be facially identifiable in public, not just when they are seeking to access services of the provincial government. What is nonsense is telling people how to dress, as long as they are identifiable and are wearing clothing that is not audaciously and embarrassingly revealing of customarily covered anatomical areas. And it is incongruous and annoying for Quebec to profess to be a jurisdiction, society, and culture that supports freedom of religion but prohibits any category of people from wearing clothing or insignia indicative of their religion. This is a spurious invocation of an important liberty in the repression of the right of all people to dress appropriately for whatever activity they are pursuing. It is, in effect, a transgression both of the freedom religion, and of the freedom of expression.

And, as I wrote last week, Bill 21 is another chapter in the dismal, unjust, and ahistorical onslaught of the government of Quebec against religion generally, and the Roman Catholic Church in particular. Some readers have suggested that I am embracing official multiculturalism; I am not. All Canadians should assimilate to one or both of the official cultures of this country and adhere to Canada’s laws. But that does not imply any curtailment of freedom of religious practice or normal expression, including a reasonable latitude in how they dress. Any person may function perfectly well in English or French and be a practising member of any religion or none.

Multiculturalism in this country was originally intended to be the welcome arrival in Canada of any meritorious applicant for entry as an immigrant, free to practise any religion and maintain any level of familiarity with the culture of their origin, so long as they accepted Canadian laws and norms and tried to be able to function in one of our founding languages. To the extent multiculturalism has become defined in practice as a dilution of the English and French cultures, it is a bad and unacceptable development and must be reversed. I thank my learned friend Wilbray Thiffault for his recondite comments on these subjects.

An embarrassment

The spurious indictment of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman is a disgrace, embarrassment and offence to all Canadians. Many readers will recall that I asked for support for Admiral Norman’s defence fund in this column in May and November of last year, and I am grateful for the generous response that resulted in a material contribution to his ability to fight this case to a victorious conclusion. Very briefly, the problem arose when Canada’s two fleet maintenance vessels, that are all that enables us to maintain any ships outside coastal waters, became unserviceable, in one case in 2014, because of corrosion, and in also in that year, because of a fire at sea that required that the ship be towed 600 kilometres across the Central Pacific to Pearl Harbor.

Irving Shipbuilding in the east and Seaspan in the west were engaged to replace these ships within six years. In the meantime, Canada was unable to operate more than a coastal force, as all ships require replenishment of stores and maintenance at sea. In a program that Vice Adm. Norman supported, a container ship was converted to being a supply vessel and entered into service in that capacity in January, 2018, three years ahead of what had been anticipated to be the earliest time for the commissioning of entirely new vessels. That date, in keeping with the Chrétien and Harper governments’ policy of starving our armed forces into a state of disarmament that would make them liable to military defeat in a showdown with the Montreal Police Force and the sea and air resources of the Ontario Provincial Police, stepped that date out for at least four more years.

The RCMP, the same Palooka force that brought us the ghastly fiasco of the trial and resounding acquittal of Senator Mike Duffy, alleged that Vice Adm. Norman was the source of press leaks, and searched his house with a warrant in January 2017, a fact that was also mysteriously leaked to the press. He was suspended with full pay, and finally, in March of 2018, he was charged with a criminal breach of trust. The government barred him from the benefit of the loan of money for legal fees to accused government employees pending judgment, a capricious attempt to starve him into surrender.

Neither the media, usually pretty quick to jump on the back of any defendant, nor any other serious observers, believed the defendant, who started in the navy as a diesel mechanic and rose for 33 years to commander of the fleet and then serve as vice-chief of the defence staff, would do such a thing, or that the RCMP had any real evidence. It didn’t, inciting the suspicion that the Mounties, if they can’t raise their game, should stick to musical rides and selling ginger ale, and reinforcing the view that the Armed Forces should be funded properly, and not just in phony announcements every few years of naval construction and army and air force procurement programs that don’t happen. And It is, in any case unacceptable that police corporals get warrants to search the home of the second highest military officer in the country on grounds that are eventually shown to be unfounded.

It appears to be clear that exculpatory evidence was withheld by the prosecutors, deliberately or otherwise. Outgoing Liberal MP and parliamentary secretary Lt. Gen. (Rt.) Andrew Leslie (a grandson of two former defence ministers, Gen. Andrew McNaughton and Brooke Claxton), had announced he would testify on behalf of Vice Adm. Norman. The prime minister ducked out of question period for two days as this contemptible abuse of prosecution collapsed. Instead, he should, if conscientiously possible, have blamed it on the former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould. That would have been believable, given some of her other antics in that office.

If he can’t do that, then this rotten egg falls on him and could be a politically mortal blow. The SNC-Lavalin affair was an attempt to save jobs in Canada and avoid over-penalization of a successful international company where there is a legal right for the justice department to choose between a fine and criminal prosecution. It was bungled, a ludicrous amateur hour that brought down senior civil servants and led to expulsions of ex-cabinet ministers as Liberal MPs, but it was not a show-stopper unless the prime minister lied to Parliament.

This appears to be a malicious and illegal prosecution of a blameless senior serving officer, who fought his corner as a brave man must. If that is what it is, heads should roll, not of scapegoats, token juniors, or fall-guys, but of those responsible for this outrage.


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