Mark Norman’s lawyer warns of interference in courts despite dropped charge
The decision came despite, "not because of", the Trudeau government's interference in the case, Marie Henein said
OTTAWA—Canadians must be on guard against government efforts to tip the scales of justice, said Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s lawyer on Wednesday, as she hailed the surprise stay of a breach-of-trust charge against her client.
That decision came despite—“not because of”—the Trudeau government’s interference in the case, Marie Henein said. She alleged that included withholding key documents and information that could have helped the Canadian military’s former second-in-command demonstrate his innocence on allegations he tried to undermine a federal cabinet deliberation on a large shipbuilding contract.
“No person in this country should ever walk into a courtroom and feel like they are fighting their elected government or any sort of political factors at all,” Henein told a packed news conference right after Norman’s final court appearance.
“There are times you agree with what happens in a court, there are times you don’t. And that’s fine. But what you don’t do is you don’t put your finger and try to weigh in on the scales of justice,” she said at a table in Ottawa’s navy officers’ mess, a block from the courthouse.
Wednesday’s court date had been scheduled as an update on the government’s progress in producing thousands of documents requested by Norman’s lawyers to prove there had been political interference in the case.
Instead, Crown prosecutor Barbara Mercier told Judge Heather Perkins-McVey that new information the defence had supplied her with in March had changed her mind about Norman’s charge.
“If at any time … a reasonable prospect of conviction does not exist, it is our duty to end the prosecution,” Mercier told Judge Heather Perkins-McVey during a 15-minute hearing. “This new information definitely provided greater context to the conduct of Vice-Admiral Norman and revealed a number of complexities we were not aware of.”
Neither Mercier nor Henein would reveal that information.
Both Henein and Perkins-McVey praised the hard work by all sides and then it was over: “Vice-Admiral Norman, you entered a plea of not guilty. You are presumed to be innocent and you remain so. You are free to leave,” the judge told him.
The stay effectively ends one of the most high-profile and politically charged criminal cases in Canadian history and means it will not run through the fall federal election campaign, as had been scheduled.
Yet it did not stop the Trudeau government from being accused of interfering in such court proceedings, which dominated Conservative attacks on the government in question period a few hours later.
Those allegations have centred not only on the Norman case, but also the government’s handling of the prosecution of engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, which Henein alluded to repeatedly.
Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould alleges the prime minister and other senior staff pressured her to get Kathleen Roussel, the federal director of public prosecutions, to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin on charges of alleged corrupt practices in Libya.
The government has denied inappropriate behaviour in either the Norman or SNC-Lavalin cases.
Henein nonetheless took an apparent shot at Trudeau’s decision to kick Wilson-Raybould and her ally and fellow MP Jane Philpott out of the Liberal caucus: she noted Norman’s lawyers are all women and quipped, “Fortunately, Vice-Admiral Norman didn’t fire the females he hired.”
And she praised Roussel, saying that the decision to stay the case against Norman “tells you that when she thinks you should prosecute, she goes ahead. And when she thinks you shouldn’t, she declines to do so. That’s the way it should be.”
Norman said he wants to return to duty right away.
“What I can say is that national institutions are bigger than any one person,” he said. “They have to be, and they should be. So we’ll watch that space and see where this goes in the days ahead.”
Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defence staff, said late Wednesday that the end of the court proceeding will allow him to clear Norman for duty.
“We have missed Vice-Admiral Norman a great deal and I look forward to welcoming him back to work as soon as possible,” Vance said in a statement.
The Crown’s decision to stay proceedings against Norman rocked Parliament Hill.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused the Liberals during that heated question period of “a dangerous pattern” of trying to use the judicial system to advance their political agenda, including by withholding documents from Norman’s team.
Justice Minister David Lametti insisted the government “met all of its obligations” in producing documents.
The charge against Norman related to allegations he leaked cabinet secrets to a Quebec shipyard and a journalist through 2014 and 2015 to undermine the government’s decision-making on a $700-million contract to provide the navy with a temporary supply ship.
That contract with Davie Shipbuilding was negotiated by the Harper government but not finalized before the 2015 election. The Trudeau government tried to delay the deal after taking power, then approved it after a matter of days.
But the Liberals also launched an internal investigation into who leaked news of the initial decision to delay the project. That investigation identified six leaks, after which the matter was turned over to the RCMP.
The RCMP would eventually charge Norman—who was suspended as vice-chief of the defence staff in January 2017—and another federal public servant, Matthew Matchett, with breach of trust.
Norman’s lawyers say the RCMP never interviewed or sought documents from anyone in the Harper government, and Henein revealed on Wednesday that her staff had conducted their own investigation.
That included interviewing people who had come forward of their own volition to provide information they felt might be relevant.
Norman thanked the Canadians who had supported him over the past two years, either through donations to help cover his legal fees or simply messages of encouragement.
“I am confident that at all times I acted with integrity, I acted ethically and I acted in the best interests of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Forces and ultimately the people of Canada,” he said.