The RCMP allege Vice-Admiral Mark Norman violated the Criminal Code by leaking government secrets, an accusation that arises from a 16-month probe into the release of information about cabinet deliberations to a Quebec-based shipbuilder that wanted Ottawa to stop delaying approval of a $667-million contract for an interim naval supply ship.
A breach of trust conviction under Section 122 of the Criminal Code carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.
The RCMP investigation into the leaks – called Project Anchor – has not yet resulted in charges against Vice-Adm. Norman, who has served in the navy for 36 years.
Read also: Vice-Admiral Norman's removal from post shocks friends, colleagues
On Wednesday, an Ottawa court released an affidavit and supporting documents, including e-mails, that police used to obtain a warrant to search Vice-Adm. Norman's home earlier this year.
The documents show that the criminal probe has expanded to include interviews of prominent Ottawa lobbyists and executives of the Chantier-Davie Canada Inc. shipyard in Levis, Que. The Mounties also interviewed senior cabinet ministers, including Treasury Board President Scott Brison and top mandarins.
"Norman is suspected of having committed a Criminal Code section 122 breach of trust offence," RCMP Corporal Matthieu Boulanger wrote in an affidavit to obtain a search warrant to raid the Vice-Admiral's Ottawa home on Jan. 9. The Mounties also allege Vice-Adm. Norman violated the Security of Information Act.
The RCMP affidavit filed in the Ottawa courthouse alleges that Chantier-Davie shipyard and a sister company were attempting to press the Trudeau cabinet to stick with a contract the former Conservative government ordered in the final day of the October, 2015, federal election campaign.
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 Inc., which already had a multibillion-dollar contract to build the navy's new fleet of warships. This delay meant that cabinet might look at other, lower bids, threatening Chantier-Davie's contract.
The heavily redacted affidavit provides little idea of what the RCMP allege are Vice-Adm. Norman's motives. The senior naval officer, however, last year said delays in shipbuilding programs had hurt the navy. "It's important to keep in mind that [the delays were] completely avoidable," he said in 2016.
Irving Shipbuilding CEO James Irving tried to persuade the Trudeau Liberals to kill the sole-source contract with Chantier-Davie, arguing that his firm had offered a lower-cost option. Another shipbuilding firm, Vancouver-based Seaspan, called for an open competition and said it could convert a civilian cargo ship into a military supply ship at a significantly lower cost.
Court documents show that the RCMP obtained search warrants in the last two months of 2016 to seize the contents of Vice-Adm. Norman's mobile devices as well as e-mails from Spencer Fraser, CEO of Federal Fleet Services, the Chantier-Davie company in charge of the interim supply ship project.
The Mounties also raided the offices of Mr. Fraser and three Chantier-Davie executives and their Ottawa lobbyists: Brian Mersereau, chairman of Hill and Knowlton, and Kevin MacIntosh, a partner and senior vice-president at FleishmanHillard.
"As a result of the data seized at Chantier Davie, it was discovered that Spencer Fraser was supplying information subject to cabinet confidence to [Chantier-Davie vice-president John] Schmidt, to Alex Vicefield, CEO of Inocea, parent company of Chantier Davie, and to various lobbyists working on behalf of Chantier Davie," Cpl. Boulanger wrote.
Attempts to reach Mr. Fraser, Vice-Adm. Norman, FleishmannHillard and executives of Chantier-Davie on Wednesday were unsuccessful. Mr. Mersereau did not comment. There is no indication in the court documents that anyone other than Vice-Adm. Norman is under police investigation.
The Globe and Mail has gone to court to seek the release of an unredacted version of the warrant and production order used by the RCMP to search Vice-Adm. Norman's home.
Lawyers for The Globe will argue in court that the material should be released except for parts dealing with cabinet confidentiality.
Toronto lawyer, Marie Henein, who is representing Vice-Adm. Norman, has publicly asserted her client "was caught in bureaucratic cross-fire" and said his "sole objective" is to advance the country's national interest.
There was no indication of any bureaucratic infighting in the documents released by court on Wednesday.
The e-mails attached to the RCMP affidavit also suggest that lobbyists were planning to use the media to press Ottawa to rule in favour of the Chantier-Davie contract, and that Mr. Fraser developed a lobbying effort to get Quebec government to rally on behalf of Chantier-Davie.
Vice-Adm. Norman was Canada's second-most-senior military commander when he was suspended from his duties three months ago after RCMP raided his home and questioned him extensively. It is not known what the police seized during the raid or what the suspended military commander told the Mounties.
A curious feature of the Norman investigation is that it was set in motion by a story from then CBC radio reporter James Cudmore on Nov. 20, 2015. The story, citing secret deliberations, revealed cabinet had delayed approval of the Chantier-Davie contract for 60 days, the affidavit says. Two months after this story – and after an RCMP investigation had commenced – Mr. Sajjan hired Mr. Cudmore as a senior adviser.
Mr. Cudmore's story reported in detail on a cabinet decision to delay approval of the sole-source contract to Chantier-Davie.
In one e-mail discussion among Ottawa lobbyists that was part of the RCMP affidavit, one of them writes "the only thing we can do is sic the media and the union" on Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, who represents the Quebec City region. Mr. Mersereau at Hill and Knowlton writes: "Want me to try some of the media here?" Two days later, on Nov. 20, 2016, Mr. Cudmore reported on CBC that the Davie supply ship deal had been "halted by Liberals" and was "leading to concerns the plan will soon be scuttled and the navy will be left unable to properly defend Canada or deploy its forces abroad."
Mr. Cudmore also reported Mr. Irving had allegedly "meddled in the decision by sending letters to several cabinet ministers about the deal."
This CBC report went on to say "there was little risk" that Mr. Irving's concerns about the sole-source contract "could be successfully challenged."
The story took the Liberal cabinet by surprise. After the CBC report, Mr. Brison told the RCMP that "rendering of this [classified information] into the public domain did an awful lot to limit our ability to what we'd [the committee] intended to do, and that is more due diligence on this."
The government approved the Chantier-Davie deal on Nov. 30.
Mr. Cudmore also revealed in a Nov. 25 story that Seaspan CEO Jonathan Whitworth wrote to Mr. Sajjan expressing his interest in bidding on the supply ship contract.
Mr. Cudmore said on Wednesday that he has not seen the affidavit and has no comment.
The PMO ordered an internal investigation of the cabinet leaks, which led to the Mounties being summoned.