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Politics Norman returning to active duty after Crown says his actions were ‘inappropriate,’ not criminal

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman leaves the Ottawa Courthouse with his defense team, on May 8, 2019.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman is returning to active duty with the Canadian Forces after the Crown dropped a breach of trust charge against him.

The federal prosecutor said on Wednesday that new documents the prosecution received from the defence revealed that the senior naval officer’s actions in relation to a shipbuilding contract were “inappropriate," but that does not mean they were criminal.

Vice Adm. Norman’s defence lawyer, Marie Henein, welcomed the decision, praising the Crown for its independence from political considerations in staying the prosecution. But Ms. Henein also criticized Ottawa for preventing the defence team from accessing thousands of government documents it said it needed to defend Vice-Adm. Norman.

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“No person in this country should ever walk into a courtroom and feel like they are fighting their elected government or any sort of political factors at all," she said.

“There are times you agree with what happens in a court, there are times you don’t and that’s fine. But what you don’t do is you don’t put your finger and try to weigh in on the scales of justice, that is not what should be happening," Ms. Henein said.

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 $700-million contract with Quebec’s Davie shipyard for a supply vessel. He denied any wrongdoing.

The Crown’s decision ends the politically charged criminal case in which Vice-Adm. Norman’s defence team threatened to seek subpoenas for senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office to testify in court if they failed to produce the documents it wanted, which included communications between government officials related to the case.

Vice Adm. Norman said on Wednesday that he has more to say about his ordeal.

“I have an important story to tell that Canadians will want and need to hear. It is my intention in the coming days to tell that story, not to lay blame, but to ensure that we all learn from this experience.”

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Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance said he will discuss Vice-Adm. Norman’s return to regular duty with him at the earliest opportunity. “We have missed Vice-Admiral Norman a great deal, and I look forward to welcoming him back to work as soon as possible," he said in a statement.

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Vice-Adm. Norman said returning will likely feel a bit surreal. “In some respects, it will be like I never left," he said.

Federal prosecutor Barbara Mercier told court earlier on Wednesday that there was no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction. She said the defence brought new information to the prosecution in late March, and lawyers from both sides discussed the matter on March 28.

“This new information definitely provided greater context to the conduct of Vice-Adm. Norman and revealed a number of complexities in the process that we were not aware of,” Ms. Mercier said.

She said that to prove her case, she would have to show that his conduct represented what the Criminal Code defines as “a serious and marked departure from the standards expected of an individual in the accused’s position of public trust.”

Ms. Mercier told reporters the new information from the defence raised doubts about whether the prosecution could prove Vice-Adm. Norman’s conduct was criminal in nature.

“It’s relatively complex. I can’t get into the specifics, but I can tell you that it did call into question whether or not we could prove the ‘serious and marked departure,’ which is something we must prove in a breach-of-trust case, and prove it on a very high standard,” she said.

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Still, the prosecution did not budge from its position that Vice-Adm. Norman acted inappropriately.

“It continues to be our view that some of Vice-Adm. Norman’s actions … they were secretive and inappropriate. As one witness put it, ‘He crossed the line.’ As we had argued in this case, it was the means of communications and the content of some of those that indicated to us he knew he had crossed the line,” Ms. Mercier said. “However, inappropriate does not mean criminal.”

Ms. Henein refused to disclose any details about the information the defence provided, saying she would not “get into the specifics of the documents that were provided," but said, “when you’re looking at the standard ... you’re looking at how business was being done, how was this particular contract negotiated.”

Ms. Henein listed the ways the government was involved in the case, including the Privy Council Office’s role in preventing the defence team from accessing documents. In pretrial hearings, she said she would seek subpoenas for the Prime Minister’s former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, and clerk of the privy council Michael Wernick to testify in court if they failed to produce them.

Ultimately, Ms. Henein said, Mr. Wernick provided a 60-page memo he wrote to the Prime Minister last fall related to the case that was “completely redacted.”

The government has been so involved, Ms. Henein said, its lawyers decided which documents should be covered by cabinet confidentiality or solicitor-client privilege, and counselled witnesses.

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“Neither we, and here’s the important part, nor the prosecution were given access to those documents," she said.

Vice-Adm. Norman said that while he is pleased with the Crown’s decision, he is “disappointed” it took this long.

“The alarming and protracted bias of perceived guilt across the senior levels of government have been quite damaging and the emotional and financial impacts of this entire ordeal have taken a toll,” he said.

“I am confident that at all times I acted with integrity, I acted ethically, and I acted in the best interest of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Forces, and ultimately the people of Canada.”

In the House of Commons, the Conservatives accused the Liberal government of hiding evidence in the case and trying to take revenge on Vice-Adm. Norman after he objected to further delays in the acquisition of the ship.

The NDP asked for an independent investigation into the government’s handling of the case, including whether there was political interference.

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Justice Minister David Lametti responded that the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) handled the case independently from the start.

“There was no contact or influence from outside the PPSC on either the initial decision to prosecute or the decision to stay the charge,” he said.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the Department of National Defence has revised a policy that prevented it from covering Vice-Adm. Norman’s legal fees and will now provide the funds.

“Wow,” Vice-Adm. Norman said when he learned about this at his news conference.

Ms. Henein declined to comment on whether the defence will sue the government.

“It will be another day and another time when we consider that,” she said.

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The RCMP defended its handling of the case. Deputy Commissioner Gilles Michaud told officers that the fact the case was dropped “should not be seen as a reflection of [your] hard work.”

“There were allegations of highly inappropriate actions which needed to be investigated. We conducted a comprehensive investigation into serious allegations and put our evidence before the courts,” Deputy Commissioner Michaud said in an internal note to staff.

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