Vice-Admiral Mark Norman donned his ceremonial uniform, including nine medals earned over more than three decades of military service, as he faced his first day in court on a charge of breach of trust.
While the start of the trial of the former second-in-command of the Canadian Armed Forces remains months away, Vice-Adm. Norman sent a clear message to the public that he is ready for a full-fledged fight to preserve his honour and reputation.
Vice-Adm. Norman was charged in March by the RCMP over the alleged leak of confidential information on a contentious ship contract, 14 months after he was suspended from his duties as vice-chief of the defence staff.
For his initial court appearance, the 54-year-old son and grandson of military members wore the Order of Military Merit and the United States Legion of Merit around his neck, along with medals earned in Canada, Yugoslavia and with NATO on his chest.
Speaking out in public for the first time about the charge, Vice-Adm. Norman said he wants his case to proceed as quickly as possible, and to return to his regular duties after the trial.
“I’m anxious to get to court, get this dealt with as quickly as possible and get back to serving the people of Canada,” Vice-Adm. Norman told reporters.
The Canadian Armed Forces said that given he is simply suspended, Vice-Adm. Norman was within his rights to wear the uniform called the Canadian Armed Forces Dress 1A. The Forces added they are not paying his legal fees.
The official order of business at the Ottawa courthouse on Tuesday was to set the timeline for the trial, which will be finalized on May 15. The trial is expected to start in the fall or even next year.
I’m anxious to get to court, get this dealt with as quickly as possible and get back to serving the people of Canada.— Vice-Admiral Mark Norman
In response to a question at a short news conference, defence lawyer Marie Henein said it was “self-evident” that her client had been scapegoated by the RCMP in this case. To date, Ms. Henein has publicly defended Vice-Adm. Norman as a victim of bureaucratic infighting whose only goal was to serve the Canadian public.
“We’ve been waiting for a year and a half to deal with this matter. This is our first appearance and we’re anxious to get this dealt with. I’m tired of shadowboxing. It’s time to step in the courtroom and deal with the evidence,” Ms. Henein told reporters after the court appearance. “We want to get this going, get this dealt with and let the public know exactly what this case is about.”
Speaking in court, Ms. Henein said she has already received most of the evidence amassed by the RCMP in this case and that her priority was to get the trial “on the rails.”
The RCMP filed a charge of breach of trust against Vice-Adm. Norman last month, alleging that he had “illegally disclosed government information to unauthorized parties.”
“This investigation began in December, 2015, when the RCMP received a complaint alleging that cabinet confidence information about a Canadian naval supply ship contract had been leaked,” the RCMP said.
In court documents made public last year, the RCMP alleged that Vice-Adm. Norman had leaked cabinet secrets to an executive of a Quebec-based shipyard and advised the businessman on how to use the media to press the federal government to approve a $667-million contract for naval supply ships. The court documents included e-mails from Vice-Adm. Norman to Spencer Fraser, chief executive of Federal Fleet Services, the company in charge of refitting a cargo ship to serve as a naval supply vessel at the Chantier Davie Canada Inc. shipyard in Lévis, Que.
Vice-Adm. Norman was the commander of the navy when the previous, Conservative government awarded the contract, without competition, to Davie in 2015.
Soon after taking power in November, 2015, the new Liberal government put the project on hold 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. Chief executive James Irving tried to persuade the government to kill the sole-source contract with Davie, saying his firm had offered a lower-cost option.
Another shipbuilder, Vancouver-based Seaspan, also called for an open competition and said it could convert a civilian cargo ship into a military supply ship at a significantly lower cost.
Vice-Adm. Norman sought to press the new government to stick with the Davie contract, according to court documents.
He argued publicly in 2016 that delays in the shipbuilding program had hurt the navy and “were completely avoidable.”