Vice-Admiral Mark Norman divulged cabinet secrets to an executive with a Quebec-based shipyard and advised him how to use the media to pressure the Liberals into approving a $667-million naval supply-ship contract, the RCMP allege.
On Tuesday, an Ottawa judge lifted a sealing order on a heavily redacted RCMP affidavit that sheds light on the criminal investigation that led to the removal of the Canadian military’s second-highest-ranking officer.
The affidavit includes e-mails from Vice-Adm. Norman to Spencer Fraser, CEO of Federal Fleet Services, the company in charge of refitting a cargo ship to serve as a naval supply vessel at the Chantier Davie Canada Inc. shipyard in Lévis, Que. Chantier Davie and Federal Fleet are sister companies.
“I believe that Norman contrary to his obligation as an official of the government of Canada used his position as the Vice-Admiral of the Royal Canadian Navy to willfully provide, on an ongoing basis, information subject to cabinet confidence to Fraser in an effort to circumvent the established processes and procedures put in place by the government to ensure the secrecy and confidentiality of cabinet discussions,” RCMP Corporal Matthieu Boulanger wrote in the affidavit.
The RCMP also allege that Vice-Adm. Norman devised a plan to use the media to put pressure on Ottawa to go ahead with the Chantier Davie contract and to discredit critics of the project, such as Ken Hansen, a former naval officer and maritime security analyst at Dalhousie University.
“I believe Norman did this to influence decision-makers within government to adopt his preferred outcome,” Cpl. Boulanger said in the court document. “To this end, Norman not only provided Fraser with continuous updates of information, subject to cabinet confidence, developments in the [plan for the supply vessel, known as the auxiliary oil replacement project, or AOR] file, but also directed Fraser to publicly discredit an industry expert [Hansen] and advised Fraser on the amount of pressure to apply toward government through the media.”
The allegations, which were sworn in an affidavit used to obtain a warrant, have not been tested in court, and Vice-Adm. Norman has not been charged with a crime as a result of the probe, dubbed Project Anchor.
The Globe and Mail went to court to get the warrants unsealed and was later joined in its legal action by the CBC, CTV and National Post. Lawyers for the media argued successfully that the public had a right to know why a high-ranking military officer was suspended as a result of a police probe.
The RCMP affidavit, filed in the Ottawa courthouse, alleges Vice-Adm. Norman committed a criminal breach of trust by helping Chantier Davie shipyard to press the Trudeau cabinet to stick with the contract, which the Conservative government awarded in the final days of the campaign for the October, 2015, federal election.
Soon after taking power in November, 2015, the Trudeau Liberals put the supply-ship project on hold after receiving a letter of complaint from Irving Shipbuilding, which already had a multibillion-dollar contract to build a fleet of warships for the navy.
“Norman was opposed to the delay in the AOR [supply ship] process proposed by cabinet and leaked information, subject to cabinet confidence, in order to achieve the result he wanted personally … which goes against the public good and constitutes a breach of trust, contrary to section 122 of the Criminal Code,” Cpl. Boulanger alleges. The documents make no mention of any financial benefit or personal advantage to Vice-Adm. Norman.
Irving Shipbuilding CEO James Irving tried to persuade the Trudeau Liberals to tear up the sole-source contract with Chantier Davie, arguing that his firm had offered a lower-cost option. Another shipbuilder, Vancouver-based Seaspan, also wrote a letter, calling for an open competition and insisting it could convert a civilian cargo ship into a military supply vessel at a significantly lower cost.
E-mail correspondence with Mr. Fraser obtained by the RCMP suggests Vice-Adm. Norman was critical of the four top executives at Irving Shipbuilding. In one e-mail, the admiral referred to them as the “four horsemen of the apocalypse,” a derogatory reference to malignant forces in the bible.
The RCMP allege that, as part of the carefully crafted campaign to publicly pressure the Trudeau government in November, 2015, Mr. Fraser informed the Vice-Admiral in an e-mail that Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard would be heavily lobbied by Chantier Davie and the union that represents the shipyard workers, and the “message will be the yard will be closed – 12,000 layoffs before Christmas” if the contract is not approved.
The RCMP also allege former CBC reporter James Cudmore, who is a now a senior adviser to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, was a pawn in the manipulation plot. In a Nov. 20, 2015, news story, Mr. Cudmore revealed the cabinet decision to delay the supply-ship contract. The CBC also reported that Irving Shipbuilding and Seaspan were interested in bidding on the project.
“Cudmore’s article, in addition to containing information that was protected by cabinet confidence … appears calculated to apply pressure on the government. Due to Norman’s email to Fraser at 4:50 am on November 20, 2015, in which he advised Fraser of Cudmore’s possession of the Irving letter, and Cudmore’s news article published at 5:34 am the same day in which he refers to the Irving letter, I believe that Norman was either provided with an advanced copy of Cudmore’s article prior to publishing or advised of Cudmore’s intent,” Cpl. Boulanger alleges in his affidavit.
Vice-Adm. Norman expressed concern in another e-mail that the CBC story about the Irving letter could implicate him and complaining that the company just wanted more shipbuilding work. “Irving could trace the letter to me … they couldn’t just leave it alone. Greedy and self-serving,” he wrote to Mr. Fraser.
The RCMP did not interview Mr. Cudmore for its investigation.
Vice-Adm. Norman later told Mr. Fraser in an e-mail that was part of the affidavit that the Prime Minister’s Office was “having kittens over references to explicit cabinet discussions in Cudmore’s article … [and is] launching an investigation.” He noted the government will be consumed with the “witch-hunt for who quoted who.”
The PMO did order an internal investigation of the cabinet leaks, which led to the Prime Minister and the Clerk of the Privy Council asking the Mounties to investigate.
The affidavit says search warrants were also executed on Mr. Fraser’s Ottawa office and executives of Chantier Davie in Lévis, Que., on May 11, 2016, as well as the Ottawa offices of the shipyard’s lobbyists: Kevin MacIntosh, a senior vice-president at Fleishman Hillard Canada, and Brian Mersereau, chairman of the public-relations firm Hill and Knowlton Strategies Canada.
Mr. Fraser was interviewed at the time by the RCMP, according to the court filing, but he did not say he had received information from Vice-Adm. Norman and told the force he only received information from senior civil servants in charge of the project.
Two hours later, the RCMP allege, Mr. Fraser e-mailed the senior naval officer: “We have to chat. Witch hunt underway.”
Vice-Adm. Norman replied: “Call me at 20:00 hours.”
The RCMP later obtained an additional warrant to search Mr. Fraser’s cellphone and the Vice-Admiral’s mobile devices in October and November of 2016. No data were obtained from Vice-Adm. Norman’s devices, according to early warrants the RCMP filed in court. The affidavit says the Mounties tried to gain access to Vice-Adm. Norman’s mobile devices through a “protected police technique.”
The e-mails between Mr. Fraser and Vice-Adm. Norman refer to a source called “the Wolf.” Mr. Fraser said the source told him in November, 2016, that Irving executives had met privately with the Defence Minister in Halifax. Vice-Adm. Norman wrote back to assure Mr. Fraser that the meeting did not take place, saying he was with the minister at all times. The court documents do not indicate the identity of “the Wolf.”
The e-mails reveal constant back-and-forth conversations about the supply-ship contract dating as far back as October, 2015.
Vice-Adm. Norman was vice-chief of the defence staff, Canada’s second most senior military commander when he was suspended from his duties after the RCMP searched his Ottawa house on Jan. 9 and questioned him at length. The investigation continues, according to Crown lawyer Moray Welch.
A breach-of-trust conviction under Section 122 of the Criminal Code carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.
Toronto lawyer Marie Henein, who represents Vice-Adm. Norman, contends that her client “was caught in bureaucratic cross-fire” and said his “sole objective” was to advance the country’s national interest.
Ontario Superior Justice Kevin Phillips, who ordered the publication ban to be lifted, has stated that “nowhere is there any suggestion” that Vice-Adm. Norman “was even thinking of trying to line his own pockets, or get any personal advantage whatsoever.” Breach of trust involves intent to defraud or unauthorized use of information.
The information in the RCMP affidavit was used to persuade a judge to sign off on a search warrant for Mr. Norman’s home. It is not known what the police seized during the raid or what the suspended military commander told the Mounties.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE AFFIDAVIT
Section 47. On Oct 8 2015 at 913 pm Fraser … sent an email to Norman’s email address … with the subject Status. In this email Fraser related to Norman various frustrations and challenges he was having along with various costs associated to the AOR contract. The following morning, Norman replied to Fraser and wrote: “Ack, hang in there. Feedback at my end is near-consistently supportive. Lots of hurdles but nobody is throwing stones or ready to walk away … steady as she goes. Arrival of ship is a great visible step forward. Pickup in the media is positive … my sense is that we continue”
78: [Boulanger writing his theory:] “Cudmore’s article, in addition to containing information that was protected by cabinet confidence …appears calculated to apply pressure on the government. Due to norman’s email to Fraser at 450 am on November 20, 2015, in which he advised Fraser of Cudmore’s possession of the Irving letter, and Cudmore’s news article published at 5:34 am the same day in which he refers to the Irving letter, I believe that Norman was either provided with an advanced copy of Cudmore’s article prior to publishing or advised of Cudmore’s intent."
Section 82: On November 23, 2015 at 841 pm, Fraser sent an email to [Chantier Davie executives] Vicefield and Schmidt with the subject : Our friend has made an ask.’ The email stated: “He want us to discredit Hansen and he will go after the Knight of No re: TKMS.”
103: I believe that Norman contrary to his obligation as an official of the Government of Canada, used his position as the Vice-Admiral of the Royal Canadian Navy to willfully provide, on an ongoing basis, information subject to cabinet confidence to Fraser in an effort to circumvent the established processes and procedures put in place by the government to ensure the secrecy and confidentiality of cabinet discussions. I believe Norman did this to influence decision makers within government to adopt his preferred outcome. To this end, Norman not only provided Fraser with continuous updates of information subject to cabinet confidence regarding developments in the AOR file, but also directed Fraser to publicly discredit an industry expert and advised Fraser on the amount of pressure to apply toward government through the emdia.
120: The person to whom the information, subject to cabinet confidence, was disclosed, Spencer Fraser, the CEO of Project Resolve Inc., held a position with the capacity to publicly pressure the government to make a decision, utilizing lobbyists such as Mersereau and MacIntosh, and reporters such as Cudmore. Fraser did in fact use this information to attempt to pressure the government.
As demonstrated by multiple emails that he sent to his colleagues, Fraser was in possession of information, subject to cabinet confidence, along with other government information, such as the Seaspan letter addressed to ministers. Fraser received this information from Vice Admiral Mark Norman. The email updates that Fraser sent include information subject to cabinet confidence on the AOR’s Memorandum to Cabinet’s status, on the concerns voiced by Minister Brison about the Chantier Davie contract, and on the existence of the possibility of a delay followed by a confirmation of the sixty day delay resulting from the Committee meeting on November 19, 2015.
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