Two former senior Conservative cabinet ministers who had knowledge of the naval procurement deal at the centre of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s breach-of-trust case say they spoke with the senior naval officer’s defence team and provided information about the contract.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole, a veterans affairs minister in the government of Stephen Harper when the contract was awarded in 2015, said that while he did not hear from public prosecutors or the RCMP, he did hear from and gave information to Marie Henein’s legal team. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who was defence minister at the time, said that prosecutors did not contact him about the case.
“I was asked about the circumstance of the naval contract," Mr. O’Toole said outside the House of Commons on Thursday. He said he talked about how the contract with Davie shipyard was good for the navy and for Canada, without disclosing information from his time in cabinet.
Mr. Kenney said he met with Ms. Henein’s team for about two hours last year in Toronto before becoming Premier. “I gave them information which I believe would have helped with his exoneration had this case gone to trial,” he said.
“I offered to testify in his defence at trial, but thankfully it will not go to that,” he said in a video on Facebook, adding that he was speaking in his capacity as former minister of defence.
In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail, Mr. Kenney said he told the defence “that I reached out to Norman to get the Navy’s view on the replacement, and he persuaded me to support the Davie proposal as the fastest way to get a supply ship.
“He was always honest, discrete and honourable in my dealings with him."
On Wednesday, the Crown prosecutor said new documents the prosecution received from the defence revealed that Vice-Adm. Norman’s actions in relation to the shipbuilding contract were “inappropriate," but that does not mean they were criminal.
Ms. Henein welcomed the decision to stay the charge but criticized Ottawa for preventing defence lawyers from accessing thousands of government documents they said they needed to defend their client.
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.
But while there’s been some speculation about whether the information provided by members of the former Conservative government to the defence helped aid the Crown’s decision to stay the charge, Mr. O’Toole said he believes it was the eventual disclosure of documents from the current government that led to the decision.
“I think whatever the Prime Minister’s Office was withholding, once either the defence or the prosecutors themselves received the documents and the court reviewed which were not secret, the prosecutor decided not to proceed,” Mr. O’Toole said.
“I think a lot of questions should be asked here, but I think the documents didn’t relate to what Conservatives thought about the contract,” he said, adding that the party would like to hear from the Prime Minister on the issue.
The opposition is also calling on Justin Trudeau to apologize to Vice-Adm. Norman for the ordeal.
In the House of Commons, Conservative MP Mark Strahl kicked off Question Period by alleging that the Prime Minister “interfered in the judicial process” by withholding documents from the defence and by denying Vice-Adm. Norman access to his own documents.
“Why did the Prime Minister so clearly have his finger on the scales of justice in the Mark Norman case?” asked Mr. Strahl, borrowing words that Ms. Henein used Wednesday during her news conference.
Bill Blair, Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, said Mr. Strahl should know “that all of the procedures conducted by the office of the public prosecutor and the RCMP are totally independent of the Government of Canada.”
Peppered with questions from Conservative MPs about whether the Prime Minister will apologize, National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan would only repeat that the government has now decided to pay for Vice-Adm. Norman’s legal fees.
When asked about the senior officer’s coming reinstatement, Mr. Sajjan said Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance will meet with Vice-Adm. Norman, and then “we will be talking about the next steps.”
Gen. Vance said Wednesday that 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.
Meanwhile, the New Democratic Party is calling on the Director of Public Prosecutions to appoint an independent prosecutor to “investigate and determine that the proceedings against the vice-admiral were completely free of political pressure.”