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OPINION: Mark Norman – Hero or Zero

 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

Bryson Guptill

Guest Opinion

On January 16, 2017, the Globe and Mail reported that an RCMP investigation into a leak of top-secret defence information had just led to the removal from duty of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, the Canadian military’s second highest-ranking officer. Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance ordered the move in a decision that was supported by the minister of national defence and the prime minister. Six months earlier, Vance had promoted Mark Norman to the vice-chief position, thanking him for his “loyal and tireless” work as commander of the navy. What happened?

The CBC reported in June 2016 that Norman was on a collision course with the recently elected Liberal government. The CBC stated, “In a speech that clearly serves as warning for the Trudeau government, the incoming deputy commander of the Canadian military delivered a harsh critique of political and bureaucratic indecision and its harm for the navy. (Norman’s) shot across the Liberal’s bow lamented the deterioration of the navy's size and combat power and the inability of the system to deliver replacement ships.” If a story like this had played out south of the border, Mr. Norman would have been called to the Oval Office for a discussion with “the Donald.” But not in Canada.

Instead, Canadians waited more than a year to hear what was behind the RCMP investigation. Finally, in June 2018, the Globe and Mail reported “the Canadian military has formally removed Vice-Admiral Mark Norman from his position as vice-chief of Defence Staff.” The move came three months after the RCMP laid a charge of breach of trust against Mr. Norman, alleging “that Vice-Admiral Norman had leaked Cabinet secrets to an executive of a Quebec-based shipyard and advised the businessman on how to use the media to press the federal government to approve a $667-million contract for naval-supply ships.”

According to Norman’s defence team, he was the victim of internecine (destructive) warfare within the Department of National Defence and was “caught in the bureaucratic crossfire.” Marie Henein, Norman’s lawyer, accused the RCMP of scapegoating her client, whose only goal, she said, was to serve the Canadian public and procure a needed ship.

That was the defence team’s position until the Trudeau government handed them the SNC-Lavalin mess. SNC-Lavalin gave Norman’s defence team, and the Conservative opposition, the opportunity to accuse the Liberal government of directing Crown prosecutors to pursue Norman for political reasons. The charge of political interference was, and continues to be, hotly denied by the Liberal government and by the director of Crown prosecutions.

The case has now taken an unexpected twist. Prosecutors stayed (postponed indefinitely) charges against Norman, saying they no longer had a reasonable prospect of conviction. This decision was taken after Norman’s defence team provided information about interviews they had with members of the former Conservative government, including newly elected Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Kenney was minister of defence under Stephen Harper.

Kenney told the National Post, “The navy desperately needed a supply ship and I wasn’t going to allow a bureaucratic demand (for a long procurement process) to get in the way.” In other words, the procurement was a priority for the Conservative government before the federal election. As senior bureaucrat responsible for the Navy, Norman would have been the person making sure the procurement happened. Of course, the Conservatives were subsequently defeated in the October 2015 election, and the Liberals were then given the opportunity to re-examine the Davie shipyard contract.

By staying the charges against Norman, we may never know what happened next. Did Norman release secret Cabinet information from the Liberal government that Davie had no entitlement to receive? The Toronto Star reported that federal prosecutor Barbara Mercier claimed some of Norman’s actions “were secretive and inappropriate.” However, inappropriate does not mean criminal.

We may get an indication of what the Liberal government thinks when we hear what happens next to Norman. Will he be reinstated into his old job as vice-chief of Defence Staff, or will he be shuffled off to a more junior role within the Military?

Stay tuned, this matter isn’t settled yet.

Bryson Guptill is a retired public servant who worked for many years as a senior policy advisor for federal and provincial governments in Ottawa and Charlottetown.

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