The country's second-highest-ranked military commander was removed from his post over allegations that technical information related to Canada's multibillion-dollar shipbuilding program may have been leaked, sources say.
The Trudeau government is refusing to confirm any details of the RCMP investigation of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, but a source told The Globe and Mail the RCMP probe involves the alleged leak of classified information on the building of new warships for the Royal Canadian Navy.
A military source with contacts at the upper echelons of the Defence department said the information included technical evaluations of shipbuilding proposals and suggested the allegations involved the period of time when Vice-Adm. Norman was in charge of the navy – from 2013 until he was promoted to vice-chief of the defence staff in the summer of 2016.
The source could not say how or why information might have been leaked. Canada's naval shipbuilding program has been plagued by rising costs, and the defence industry has been concerned the Trudeau government would re-evaluate the initiative, which the Harper Conservatives launched, with an eye to reducing the expense.
General Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff, temporarily relieved Vice-Adm. Norman of his command on Monday without explanation.
Opposition parties called on Tuesday for further details, but Gen. Vance declined to offer more.
"I understand there is a a great deal of speculation surrounding the circumstances that led to my decision with regards to Vice-Admiral Mark Norman," Gen. Vance said in a statement. "For privacy considerations, I am unable to provide further information." His office said he is in Europe on business.
At a public appearance in Fredericton on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he backed the removal of Vice-Adm. Norman, but declined to elaborate on why it was necessary.
"The Chief of Defence Staff took a decision and this government supports General Vance in the decision that he took and I have nothing further to say on this at this time," Mr. Trudeau said. He also would not say if Ottawa had sought to assure Canada's defence and security allies the alleged leak did not involve secret information shared by an ally.
John Higginbotham, a former Canadian ambassador who teaches at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, said if a leak took place, Canada usually would seek to assure allies it still has control of its confidential information. "Certainly, it would be something we would normally do through confidential channels if that was the case," he said.
In 2012, Canadian navy officer Jeffrey Delisle pleaded guilty to passing military secrets to the Russian government over a period of nearly five years – a betrayal that forced Canada to review its security procedures.
Procurement data are different from military intelligence, but Canada would still be required to address the matter with allies who rely on the Canadian government to keep secrets.
Vice-chief of the defence staff is a powerful position, similar to that of a chief operating officer at a company. Among the VCDS's jobs is promoting security inside the military.
An officer of Vice-Adm. Norman's rank would be prohibited under the Security of Information Act and a number of laws, as well as the Queen's Regulations and Orders, the military's governing documents, from disclosing without permission classified documents, confidential reports, correspondence or deliberations to unauthorized people, including news agencies.
In late 2015, Vice-Adm. Norman went public with concerns that Canadians had not been given accurate information about the growing price of planned new warships. He told CBC-TV in December, 2015, that it could cost $30-billion – twice as much as budgeted. His warning left open the possibility that Canada could have to buy fewer or less-capable ships unless Ottawa allocated more money.
Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, the commander of the Navy, has been appointed interim vice-chief of the defence staff.