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Vice-Admiral Mark Norman of the Royal Canadian Navy stops to talk during an inspection of the Guard of Honour in Duntze Head, B.C., in 2013. Vice-Adm. Norman has been under a year-long criminal investigation for allegedly leaking cabinet documents.

Corporal Michael Bastien

Two former Royal Canadian Navy commanders are calling on federal authorities to either charge or exonerate Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, who has been under a year-long criminal investigation for allegedly leaking cabinet documents.

Retired vice-admirals Gary Garnett and Ronald Buck say Vice-Adm. Norman has been subjected to a "travesty of justice" and they are urging the RCMP and Public Prosecution Service of Canada to wrap up the investigation.

They suggested in a letter to The Globe and Mail that the Liberal government is determined to charge their colleague, despite a lack of evidence.

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"The RCMP and prosecutors continue to investigate Admiral Norman, likely, because the Government does not like the answer – he did the right thing and broke no laws," the two retired vice-admirals wrote in a letter to The Globe on Thursday.

Vice-Adm. Norman was removed from his duties as vice-chief of the defence staff in mid-January, 2017, after his boss, General Jonathan Vance, learned his second-in-command was under RCMP investigation.

Mr. Garnett recalled that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last April that he supported this decision and that the Liberal leader also predicted the case would end up in the courts.

"Does that not indicate there is a bit of a commitment here," Mr. Garnett asked in an interview. "So why are they pursuing this case?"

The Prime Minister's Office said it does not get involved in police investigations.

RCMP alleged in court documents made public last year that Vice-Adm. Norman leaked cabinet secrets to an executive with a Quebec-based shipyard and advised the businessman how to use the media to press the Trudeau government to approve a $667-million naval supply-ship contract. The allegations against the naval officer in RCMP affidavits have not been tested in court.

Mr. Buck said he doesn't understand why the investigation has taken so long when "there are probably just a little more than a handful of players" for the RCMP to interview as part of its criminal investigation.

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"The investigation would seem to be taking an inordinate amount of time to come to a resolution," Mr. Buck said in an interview. "Meanwhile, the individual and his family are hanging out there in the breeze."

Defence analyst David Perry said foreign allies of Canada are "astounded that someone so senior in the military establishment could be left in limbo for so long."

"We're talking about the second-most senior serving military officer. I find it incredible it can go on this long without any kind of resolution," said Mr. Perry, with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

An RCMP spokeswoman said on Thursday night the investigation into Vice-Adm. Norman and the ship contract remains ongoing. The RCMP has a history of lengthy investigations that result in no charges. The Mounties ended a three-year probe of Senator Pamela Wallin's expenses in May, 2016, without laying charges.

In the case of Vice-Adm. Norman, court documents filed by the Mounties have included e-mails he sent to Spencer Fraser, chief executive 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.

Vice-Adm. Norman was the commander of the navy when the former Harper government awarded the leasing contract, without competition, to Davie in 2015 in a move that was criticized as vote pandering in Quebec.

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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.

Vice-Adm. Norman sought to press the Liberals to stick with the Davie contract.

Mr. Garnet and Mr. Buck said there is no evidence in court documents to show their friend leaked cabinet documents. All he did, they argue, was support the ship contract previously agreed to by the former Conservative government in what he believed was in the best interest of the navy.

"In reality, his only offence appears to be having been caught in the crossfire during the transition of one government to the next," they wrote.

The heavily redacted court affidavits provide little idea of what the RCMP allege are Vice-Adm. Norman's motives.

However, Vice-Adm. Norman said publicly in 2016 that delays in shipbuilding programs had hurt the navy. "It's important to keep in mind that [the delays were] completely avoidable," he said.

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In 2015, Irving Shipbuilding chief executive James Irving had tried to persuade the Liberals to kill the sole-source contract with Davie, saying his firm had offered a lower-cost option. Another shipbuilder, Vancouver-based Seaspan, also called for an open competition and said it could convert a civilian cargo ship into a military supply ship 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, a major player in Canada. 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: war, pestilence, famine and death. After the e-mail was made public, Irving said the characterization of its executives offended the company.

"Ethically, some of his e-mail wording raises eyebrows," Mr. Garnett acknowledged, but said it was not criminal.

Marie Heinen, lawyer for Vice-Adm. Norman, has previously said her client is a victim of internecine warfare within the Department of National Defence and was "caught in the bureaucratic crossfire." In August, Ms. Henein said in a statement to The Globe that the RCMP should close its investigation.

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