In a promotional video for the Canadian Armed Forces, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman laughs as he picks a random question out of a bowl of folded-up pieces of paper.
“What are your hobbies?” he reads, in the rapid-fire May, 2016, video called “60 Seconds with Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.”
The newly named Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff quickly answered: “Skiing, working on cars and staying out of trouble.”
For those who know him, it is classic Vice-Adm. Norman: personable, jovial and up for a bit of fun.
The second-highest-ranking officer, who was appointed last January from his previous post as commander of the Royal Canadian Navy and officially promoted to the job in August, was known to colleagues as a funny, intelligent and open-minded leader – the perfect complement to the more-business oriented General Jonathan Vance, the Chief of the Defence Staff.
Later in the video, Vice-Adm. Norman picks up another piece of paper.
“Do I have any work-related regrets?” he laughs, before tossing it aside.
“We don’t have enough time. Next!”
Lighthearted then, it can now perhaps be viewed as an ominous comment from the man who would later be brusquely removed from his post without public explanation.
A source said Gen. Vance ordered Vice-Adm. Norman’s removal after an investigation into allegations that “pretty high-level secret documents” had been leaked.
The news shocked those who know Vice-Adm. Norman, a 53-year-old married father of one daughter, who worked his way from naval reserve diesel mechanic to the top of the Canadian Forces in a career spanning four decades.
“News of this kind was completely inconsistent with the great leader and great person and great friend that I have gotten to know over the last several years,” said Serge Bertrand, a retired naval captain who worked with Vice-Adm. Norman as a special adviser.
Mr. Bertrand described Vice-Adm. Norman as “consultative, collaborative, very open, very transparent.”
“He addressed his many, many responsibilities with a twinkle in his eye,” he said. “He never lost his sense of humour. I saw him carry a tremendous amount of pressure and stress with grace.”
Retired major-general David Fraser, who has known Vice-Adm. Norman for a decade, said he was “completely taken aback” by the news.
“Like everyone else, I want to see what transpires,” he said.
David Perry, a defence analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said he believes Vice-Adm. Norman could one day return to work.
“I’m utterly shocked,” he said. “Until I’ve actually seen something concrete, I have no reason to think that he wouldn’t still be an excellent Vice-Chief of Defence Staff.”
Vice-Adm. Norman has served in the Forces for 36 years and commanded the Royal Canadian Navy for more than four-and-a-half years.
The son of an army officer and grandson of a First World War veteran, Vice-Adm. Norman graduated from Queen’s University with a degree in economics and joined the Naval Reserve as a diesel mechanic in 1980 – fuelling a love of cars that would carry him into his 50s. He later specialized in above-water warfare.
As navy commander, Vice-Adm. Norman cracked down on alcohol use and other inappropriate behaviour, calling back HMCS Whitehorse during a major U.S. Navy training exercise after sailors were accused of sexual misconduct, shoplifting and drunkenness.
When it comes to Vice-Adm. Norman’s own situation, Mr. Bertrand said the unusual step to remove a second-in-command should not be taken lightly. But he said he still believes in his friend.
“All great men become stronger through challenges,” Mr. Bertrand said.
“Whatever happens, Mark will come out of all this a stronger person, a better person and he will still be able to do whatever he wants to in life.”