The RCMP investigation that led to a criminal charge against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman was set in motion by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was furious at the leak of classified cabinet deliberations involving a $668-million naval supply ship contract, sources say.
Leaks of confidential information are common in Ottawa but rarely does the Prime Minister get involved in summoning the RCMP to investigate. This sends a powerful signal throughout the government, which sources say may have accounted for the energy and effort the RCMP invested in a two-year probe of Vice-Adm. Norman.
Vice-Adm. Norman, the former commander of the navy, was charged with a single count of breach of trust in 2018 after being accused of leaking cabinet secrets involving a contract the Harper Conservatives awarded to Quebec-based Davie Shipbuilding.
The public prosecutor abruptly stayed the charge against Vice-Adm. Norman last week, fuelling opposition charges that the Liberal government interfered politically in the case.
Sources, who were granted anonymity to speak frankly about what went on prior to the RCMP investigation, told The Globe and Mail that Mr. Trudeau was frustrated and angry that a cabinet decision had been leaked to the CBC in late 2015. Mr. Trudeau wanted to find out who was responsible and that percolated through the Privy Council Office, sources said.
The alleged leak sprang from a Nov. 19, 2015, meeting of Liberal cabinet ministers, who decided to postpone the naval supply ship project at Chantier Davie shipyard in Quebec City after receiving a letter of complaint from Irving Shipbuilding, which already had a multibillion-dollar contract to build a fleet of warships for the navy in Halifax.
Sources said Mr. Trudeau indicated he felt betrayed that bureaucrats would leak cabinet confidences, especially when the newly elected Liberal government had made efforts to highlight the importance of the public service after a decade of rule by the Harper Conservatives.
However, once it became known that Vice-Adm. Norman was the key RCMP suspect, Mr. Trudeau predicted in 2017 that the naval commander would end up in court even as he denied politically interfering in the matter.
The Prime Minister’s Office acknowledged on Thursday that Mr. Trudeau and cabinet ministers were upset at the sensitive leak but said the decision to call in the RCMP was made by then-Privy Council Clerk Janice Charette in late 2015.
“Leaks of a cabinet confidence are extremely concerning and serious,” communications director Cameron Ahmad said.
The Privy Council Office (PCO), which manages the public service and reports to the Prime Minister, sent an e-mail Thursday, saying Ms. Charette referred the leak to the RCMP after an internal security review was conducted by officials reporting to the Prime Minster’s then-National Security and Intelligence Adviser (NSIA) Richard Fadden.
An internal investigation by Security Operations at the Privy Council Office failed to discover who was behind the cabinet leak, sources say.
“Based on the information derived from this review, and in consultation with the RCMP, the NSIA recommended to the Clerk that the matter be referred to the RCMP for pursuit of a criminal investigation,” PCO media director Paul Duchesne said. “The Clerk agreed with the recommendation and referred the matter to the RCMP.”
After discussions with the Clerk, Mr. Fadden telephoned then-RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson to request an investigation of the leak for possible breach of the Criminal Code.
Mr. Fadden confirmed he made the telephone call to Mr. Paulson but had no further comment.
The Prime Minister was not aware of who may have leaked the cabinet deliberations when that request was made to the RCMP, sources said.
Cabinet leaks are typically investigated by PCO Security Operations but rarely turned over to the RCMP for criminal investigation. In most cases, it is difficult to find the leaker and the PCO sends out a memo reminding people of the sanctity of cabinet confidences.
Mr. Trudeau’s desire to find out who was behind the cabinet leak was supported by then-Treasury Board President Scott Brison, who had urged cabinet to review the Davie shipyard contract, according to a cabinet colleague.
Mr. Brison, who left government in January, told RCMP investigators that the leak prevented cabinet from conducting a proper analysis of the Chantier Davie project as political pressure mounted in Quebec City for Ottawa to keep the naval contract in place.
“The renderings of this [classified information] into the public domain did an awful lot to limit our ability to really do what [cabinet] committee intended to do, and that is more due diligence on this,” Mr. Brison is quoted as saying in court documents.
One insider, with knowledge of what transpired, said the fact the Prime Minister was “so ticked” at the leak empowered the RCMP to “pop the clutch” and go full steam ahead with a criminal investigation.
On reflection, the source said Ms. Charette and Mr. Fadden should have tried to make an arrangement with Mr. Paulson to have the RCMP try to find the leaker without launching a full-scale criminal investigation. This would have avoided a lengthy investigation and prosecution of Vice-Adm. Norman.
The Mounties obtained search warrants in 2016 to seize the contents of Vice-Adm. Norman’s mobile devices as well as e-mails from Davie shipyard executives and their Ottawa lobbyists.
Preliminary evidence uncovered by the Mounties suggested Vice-Adm. Norman had leaked information aimed at thwarting the cabinet decision.
Vice-Adm. Norman was suspended as the military’s second-in-command on Jan. 16, 2017, and charged last year with breach of trust. The prosecutor said that new information supplied by Vice-Adm. Norman’s defence team prompted the decision last week to stay the charge.
In February, the RCMP charged a second person with breach of trust over the alleged leak. Matthew Matchett, who worked for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, a government body, at the time of the alleged infraction, was charged with one count of breach of trust.
In courts documents filed as part of his defence, Mr. Norman’s lawyer alleged that Mr. Matchett provided a classified memorandum to cabinet and a slide deck to lobbyist Brian Mersereau, who was working for Davie. The information was allegedly transferred to a CBC reporter at the time.
The House of Commons unanimously passed a Conservative Party motion on Tuesday to apologize to Vice-Adm. Norman for the ordeal he and his family went through. Prime Minister Trudeau and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan were absent during this vote.
On Thursday, Liberal MPs on the Commons national defence committee voted down attempts by the opposition to hold an inquiry into the Norman matter, including having Vice-Adm. Norman testify.
“We owe it to the men and women in uniform to examine it,” Conservative defence critic Erin O’Toole told the committee.
Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz said to the committee that the opposition motion requesting an inquiry was a “fabricated partisan exercise.”