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Politics Trudeau says Norman case unfolded ‘completely independent’ of government

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman walks with his lawyers Marie Henein and Christine Mainville as they leave court in Ottawa May 8, 2019.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the proceedings in Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s breach-of-trust case unfolded independent of government, despite criticism from the senior naval officer’s defence team.

Mr. Trudeau avoided questions from reporters on Friday about whether he will call an inquiry into Vice-Adm. Norman’s case and why his government withheld documents the defence had requested.

“Canadians understand that judicial processes, police investigations and court proceedings are all entirely independent of the government of the day, certainly of the Prime Minister’s Office. That is the way it should be,” Mr. Trudeau said in Edmonton.

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“The processes in this case have unfolded in a proper manner, completely independent of government, as they should have.”

Crown prosecutor Barbara Mercier stayed the charge against Vice-Adm. Norman on Wednesday. She said new documents the prosecution had received from the defence revealed his actions in relation to a shipbuilding contract were “inappropriate," but that does not mean they were criminal.

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.

Lawyer Marie Henein said the government prevented her team from accessing thousands of government documents she needed to defend her client, including communications by e-mail and text message between senior staff in Mr. Trudeau’s government.

“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 at a news conference earlier this week.

The RCMP defended their handling of the case in a statement on Friday, saying: “Throughout the course of this criminal investigation, investigators from the RCMP National Division Sensitive and International Investigations section have conducted a thorough, independent and highly professional investigation."

A federal procurement official was also accused of leaking cabinet documents in the same investigation and the force said they cannot comment further because of that case.

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“As certain elements of this investigation are still before the courts, we have to let the legal process continue its course and will therefore not be commenting any further at this time.”

Three former senior Conservative cabinet ministers who had knowledge of the naval procurement deal at the centre of the case have said they spoke with the 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 Ms. Henein’s legal team.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who was defence minister at the time, said prosecutors did not contact him about the case.

Peter MacKay, who held the portfolios of defence and justice, said he had a “lengthy discussion” with Ms. Henein’s team that touched on procurement, the culture of leaks in Ottawa and the Department of National Defence, as well as Vice-Adm. Norman’s “stellar character” and his interactions with him.

Mr. O’Toole said the Conservative Party wants to hear from Mr. Trudeau on the matter, including an apology, and the NDP 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.”

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