The Public Prosecution Service of Canada is fending off allegations of political interference raised in court by Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s defence lawyer this week, insisting in a defensive statement that it has never sought or received instructions from the government with respect to the case.
On Monday, defence lawyer Christine Mainville questioned the independence of federal prosecutors by taking issue with the fact that notes from meetings between the prosecutors and the Privy Council Office had been redacted.
The PPSC said in its statement on Tuesday that it would like to clarify the context of the conversations between its counsel and the counsel for the Privy Council Office.
“In the process of preparing for trial, the PPSC was looking to identify potential witnesses who could explain issues of cabinet confidence, as it is applied by the Clerk of the Privy Council," it said.
“The PPSC has not sought or received instructions in respect of the prosecution of Mr. Norman from the Privy Council Office or any other government department or body.”
The partly redacted notes and an e-mail exchange between Ms. Mainville and one of the lead Crown prosecutors, Barbara Mercier, were filed in court on Monday.
Ms. Mercier wrote in an e-mail that the notes from meetings with PCO officials are redacted because they deal with “trial strategy," which is protected by litigation privilege.
Ms. Mainville said in court that “the prosecution should not be discussing trial strategy with the Prime Minister’s Office’s right-hand person,” referring to the PCO’s legal counsel.
Her submission prompted an interjection from Justice Heather Perkins-McVey: “So much for the independence of the PPSC.” Justice Perkins-McVey ordered federal prosecutors to provide unredacted versions of the notes under seal on Friday.
Ms. Mainville also said the Crown’s position is “more concerning” than the allegations surrounding SNC-Lavalin because the Crown dealt directly with the Privy Council Office.
The Globe and Mail reported last week that former attorney-general and Justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould resisted pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to issue a directive to the PPSC to stay court proceedings against the engineering giant in favour of a negotiated settlement. The Montreal-based company is facing bribery and fraud charges related to contracts in Libya.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet on Tuesday. In her resignation letter, she wrote that she had entered public life because she believed in a different way “of doing politics.”
Meanwhile, Kathleen Roussel, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said she is “confident that our prosecutors, in this and every other case, exercise their discretion independently and free from any political or partisan consideration.”
The PPSC statement concludes by saying that “the principle of prosecutorial independence is key to the PPSC’s mandate.
"PPSC prosecutors are expected to be objective, independent, and dispassionate in the exercise of their duties, and to exercise those duties in a manner free from any improper influence, including political interference.”
On Monday, Ms. Mainville told reporters that it’s “extremely important for the prosecuting Crown to be entirely independent of political interference. … We would just say that it’s a heightened concern in our case given that the government is essentially the complainant in this case.”