Liberals on the House of Commons national defence committee will decide sometime this week whether to allow a review into the investigation and prosecution of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman as opposition MPs force an emergency meeting on the issue.
In a letter addressed to the clerk of the committee, Conservative and NDP members accused the government of interfering in the shipbuilding contract at the centre of the case and “smearing the reputation” of Vice-Adm. Norman. The opposition MPs are proposing that a number of high-profile witnesses, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, testify before the committee.
An emergency meeting is triggered when four MPs on the committee write to the clerk to call one − but the Liberals hold a majority, so it will be up to government members of the committee to decide whether to allow the process to proceed.
The letter is signed by Conservative MPs James Bezan, Cheryl Gallant and Richard Martel and NDP MP Randall Garrison. The opposition members request that the committee convene within five days.
The MPs wrote in the letter that the Prime Minister “prejudiced the conduct of this matter by inappropriately anticipating that the RCMP’s investigation would result in a prosecution," referring to comments Mr. Trudeau made before Vice-Adm. Norman was charged.
“This suggests that he and his cabinet had inappropriate access to information regarding an independent criminal proceeding,” the letter says.
It says that it is also clear, “that the government tried to politically interfere in a shipbuilding contract. When this came to light, [Mr. Trudeau] reacted by smearing the reputation of a highly respected naval officer. This has had a deleterious effect on the morale of the Canadian Armed Forces.”
Crown prosecutor Barbara Mercier stayed the charge against Vice-Adm. Norman on Wednesday. She said new documents that the prosecution had received from the defence revealed that Vice-Adm. Norman’s actions in relation to a shipbuilding contract were “inappropriate," but that does not mean they were criminal.
Vice-Adm. Norman was suspended as the military’s second-in-command on Jan. 16, 2017, and charged with breach of trust last year for allegedly leaking government secrets in an attempt to influence cabinet’s decision in a review of a $668-million contract with Quebec’s Davie shipyard for a supply vessel. He denied any wrongdoing.
Defence lawyer Marie Henein said the government prevented her team from accessing thousands of documents that she said she needed to defend her client, including communications by e-mail and text messages between senior staff in Mr. Trudeau’s government.
Should the committee agree to study these “troubling developments,” the letter continues, the MPs will move a motion calling on a number of people to testify. The list includes Vice-Adm. Norman, Mr. Trudeau, former clerk of the privy council Michael Wernick, former Treasury Board president Scott Brison and Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance.
The members would also like to hear from Justice Minister David Lametti, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Service and Procurement Carla Qualtrough and former procurement minister Judy Foote. In addition, they would like to call on the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, his former principal secretary Gerald Butts, Liberal MP Andrew Leslie and James Cudmore, director of policy for the minister of democratic institutions.
The motion will request that each witness appear individually on a panel, for no less than one hour, that all witnesses appear no later than May 24, 2019, and that the committee meeting be televised.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said on CTV’s Question Period that his party would like to hear from individuals with knowledge of the case to appear before a parliamentary committee to find out “what went so wrong here."
“We had a highly respected and decorated vice-admiral go through the ringer for the sole crime of speaking the truth and trying to do what is right for the Canadian navy, so far we haven’t been able to get any of those answers in [the House],” he said.