Crown prosecutors asserted in court on Friday that there is no political interference in Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s criminal case, releasing pages of previously redacted documents to the defence team that were at the centre of scrutiny earlier this week.
On Monday, defence lawyer Christine Mainville questioned the independence of federal prosecutors because notes from meetings between the prosecutors and the Privy Council Office had been redacted. One of the Crown’s lead prosecutors, Barbara Mercier, wrote in an e-mail to Ms. Mainville that notes were redacted because they deal with “trial strategy,” which is protected by litigation privilege.
Crown lawyer John MacFarlane said the defence team gave a misleading impression, and the talks that related to trial strategy were between members of the prosecution team, not between public prosecutors and the PCO.
Mr. MacFarlane said the notes were redacted because the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) contacted the PCO to identify potential witnesses who could explain the issue of cabinet confidences. He added that the prosecution team is waiving privilege to provide transparency to Vice-Adm. Norman and his defence team.
“In the wake of comments made in court on Monday, there is no political influence over PPSC, no improper influence by the Privy Council Office.”
Earlier this week Ms. Mainville compared the Crown’s discussions with the PCO to another controversy that deals with the public prosecution service. She said the Crown’s position is “more concerning” than the allegations relating to SNC-Lavalin because the Crown dealt directly with the Privy Council Office.
Mr. MacFarlane said it’s not surprising his office would contact the PCO, saying it’s a non-partisan office that handles cabinet confidences and reiterated that his office has not been directed by the PCO, or the Prime Minister’s Office.
Justice Heather Perkins-McVey interjected, quoting a note from a PCO lawyer, from an unredacted version: “How about comments from Paul Shuttle, like, ‘is there a way to engineer the issues at stake?’ ”
Mr. MacFarlane said the PPSC will continue to prosecute the case independently and “free from all political or other outside influences or interferences.”
“We object to and reject claims to the contrary.”
Justice Perkins-McVey acknowledged that “we don’t know the context” of the notes and “we don’t know exactly what they were about.”
Ms. Mainville agreed: “A lot of it remains ambiguous.”
Kathleen Roussel, director of Public Prosecutions, said in a statement earlier this week that she is “confident that our prosecutors, in this and every other case, exercise their discretion independently and free from any political or partisan consideration.”
Ms. Mainville said the redactions never should have been made and everyone will need to take a closer look at any vetting that’s being done.
“Some passages, I note, do not relate to the selection of a PCO witness,” Ms. Mainville said after reviewing the notes.
Ms. Mainville said that it’s “difficult to imagine a scenario” where the notes will not be raised in an abuse-of-process motion the defence plans to argue in March.
Vice-Adm. Norman was suspended as the military’s second-in-command on Jan. 16, 2017, and charged last year with breach of trust for allegedly leaking government secrets in an attempt to influence cabinet’s decision on a $700-million shipbuilding contract with Quebec’s Davie shipyard. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Vice-Adm. Norman’s pretrial hearing continues next Friday.