Ken Hansen is an independent defence and security analyst and owner of Hansen Maritime Horizons. Retired from the Navy in 2009 at the rank of commander, he is a member of the science advisory committee for Atlantic Oceans Research Enterprise and a contributor to the security affairs committee for the Royal United Services Institute of Nova Scotia.
So after months of legal and political theatre, the trial of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman – accused of leaking cabinet secrets around the lease of a supply vessel – is sunk, and it is unlikely to resurface. After Vice-Adm. Norman was suspended from his job as the Canadian military’s second-in-command in January, 2017, it took more than a year for a single charge of breach of trust to be laid against him. It took another long year – one riddled with controversies and assumptions of guilt along the way – for the whole business to come to its current impasse: a stay and end to the prosecution.
Vice-Adm. Norman has been receiving full pay for the entire period, and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced on Wednesday that the Crown will pay his legal bills. A GoFundMe effort also raised more than $400,000 from more than 3,400 sympathetic supporters that felt the admiral was treated unfairly. Money is the least of his worries.
Having known Mark Norman for more than 20 years, I feel it safe to say that this news-conference statement was absolutely true to his character: “I am confident that at all times I acted with integrity, I acted ethically and I acted in the best interests of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Forces and, ultimately, the people of Canada.” He has never been one to be shy.
But Vice-Adm. Norman is overconfident about his position, especially with respect to military ethics. Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance has said he looks forward “to welcoming him back to work as soon as possible,” but it remains unclear what his future is with Canadian Armed Forces – and the key will be how much he is seen to be trustworthy again.
Military courses on the ethos of military leadership place pre-eminent importance on responsibility to Sovereign, whose authority is conferred in each officer’s commissioning scroll. The men and women commit to faithfully follow all legal commands and must trust that their leaders are educated and diligent. Society entrusts its family members to the duty of defending the country and its constitution. Any breach of that trust by a leader at any level of command is considered a fatal flaw that almost always leads to a foreshortened career. The importance of this trust is so great that, besides their Oath of Allegiance when first commissioned, every officer promoted to the rank of Colonel, the naval equivalent of which is Captain, is required to sign a declaration of understanding that their service can be terminated for any reason that the Minister of Defence or Chief of Defence Staff consider sufficiently grievous to the reliability and trustworthiness of that officer.
The supporting documents filed with the RCMP affidavit include the text of many e-mails between the admiral and Spencer Fraser of Federal Fleet Services are alleged to show that Vice-Adm. Norman was engaged in secretive communication on almost a daily basis. If these e-mails are accurate and in context, they indicate the admiral and Mr. Fraser worried and schemed about the prospects of the incoming Trudeau government cancelling a single-source contract with Chantier Davie shipyard in the last months of the outgoing Conservative government for an improvised replenishment ship. Crown prosecutor Barbara Mercier said the federal prosecution service still believes Vice-Adm. Norman’s conduct was “secretive and inappropriate,” but acknowledged that “inappropriate does not mean criminal.”
That’s true, but “secretive and inappropriate” behaviour, if that’s an accurate characterization, could undermine the trustworthiness of Mark Norman. Remember, Gen. Vance first learned of his activities from RCMP investigators who were in the process of acting on search warrants of the admiral’s home and office. Trust in the military structure requires the subordinate to keep the chain of command advised about what is happening and why, which these emails suggest did not occur. Prominent security consultant Jeff Mehring writes that “trustworthiness can be broken down into three components: reliability, competency and honesty.” So how, based on this, can trust be restored?
And as the admiral himself said, an organization such as Defence is bigger than one person. But he has even promised to tell his story to Canadians eventually. Where could one employ a three-star admiral that has the kind of hubris that is being alleged? As a former career manager, I cannot think of a place.
One day, this incident will become a case study for officers at all levels of their professional education. But it will be as a cautionary tale and not, as Vice-Adm. Norman may hope, an shining example of ethical conduct for those in the military.