Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance has agreed to appear before the Senate committee investigating the failed prosecution of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, marking the first time the head of the military will face a series of questions since the breach-of-trust charge was stayed last month.
Conservative Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais said the steering committee that’s organizing the study is grappling with which witnesses to invite and how to proceed if they don’t hear from Vice-Adm. Norman, who has not yet responded to the committee’s invitation. Mr. Dagenais would like to hear from Gen. Vance, Vice-Adm. Norman and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan – but he also wants to invite former Treasury Board president Scott Brison and senior officials.
Although he is keen to start the study with testimony from Gen. Vance and Mr. Sajjan, who have both indicated they will appear, he said some senators are insisting the committee hear first from Vice-Adm. Norman.
“I would like to begin with Vance and the national Defence Minister, but I have opposition from Senator Mercer ... because he told me, ‘You know Senator Dagenais, we must have Norman.’ ”
Liberal Senator Terry Mercer said he had no comment to offer at this time.
The committee plans to begin its study on June 17 and report to the Senate by June 20. But Mr. Dagenais said the committee could work past June 20 and meet in July if necessary.
Mr. Dagenais proposed the motion to examine the circumstances that led to the investigation and prosecution of the senior naval officer. He said the committee has not yet heard from Vice-Adm. Norman nor his legal team and is giving him one more day to respond before deciding how to proceed with its investigation at its meeting Wednesday.
Mr. Dagenais, who is the deputy chair of the Senate national security and defence committee, said he also wants to hear from RCMP Deputy Commissioner Gilles Michaud, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former national security adviser Daniel Jean and Mr. Trudeau’s former principal secretary Gerald Butts. Mr. Dagenais wants to hear from the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Katie Telford, former clerk of the privy council Michael Wernick and Kelly Gabie, a public servant who worked with Vice-Adm. Norman.
“For my opinion, if we don’t have an answer from Norman, we must begin the committee with Vance and [Sajjan], but I’m sure we’ll have the hard discussion," Mr. Dagenais said.
The Department of National Defence (DND) confirmed that Gen. Vance has agreed to appear. Daniel Le Bouthillier, the head of media relations with the department, said that when it comes to Vice-Adm. Norman’s appearance, DND and the Canadian Armed Forces, “respect Senate rules for such appearances." Neither Vice-Adm. Norman, nor his lawyer Marie Henein, has responded to The Globe and Mail’s requests to comment.
When asked last month whether he would appear as a witness in the Senate study, Mr. Sajjan said he is “always happy to participate in the parliamentary process.”
The decision from the Senate committee to study the circumstances around Vice-Adm. Norman’s case came shortly after Liberal members on the House of Commons national defence committee rejected a similar request from opposition members. In that case, Liberal members of the House committee argued it wasn’t the right venue to hear from Vice-Adm. Norman, accusing the opposition of engaging in partisan tactics.
Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz said that while she has some outstanding questions about the affair, she does not believe the Senate, “our Chamber of ‘sober second thought’ on legislation introduced by the elected House of Commons – should be reviewing the decisions of independent Canadian bodies/organisations,” in a recent e-mail to The Globe and Mail.
Vice-Adm. Norman was suspended as the military’s second-in-command on Jan. 16, 2017, and charged last year with a single count of breach of trust. The Crown prosecutor said new information provided by his defence team prompted the decision in early May to stay the charge. Federal prosecutor Barbara Mercier told court in May that there was no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction.
The Globe and Mail has reported that the Prime Minister was frustrated and angry that a cabinet decision to delay a navy supply ship contract had been leaked to a CBC reporter in late 2015. Sources said that triggered the Privy Council Office to call in the Mounties.
While Vice-Adm. Norman has not returned to his former post, The Globe and Mail reported in late May that he and Gen. Vance met to discuss his return. Although Mr. Sajjan has said Vice-Adm. Norman would not be getting his old job back as vice-chief of defence staff, a source said the discussions between Gen. Vance and Vice-Adm. Norman focused on when he could return to the No. 2 post. The source was granted anonymity so they could speak openly about the issue.