Norman's defence accuses Trudeau PMO of attempting to direct prosecution

A pretrial hearing in the breach-of-trust case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman took a sudden political turn Monday when the defence alleged that prosecutors have been talking trial strategy with the bureaucratic department that supports Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office and the federal cabinet.

'The prosecution should not be discussing trial strategy with the (PMO's) right hand person' - Mainville

Suspended Vice-Admiral Mark Norman and his lawyer Christine Mainville leave court following a hearing on access to documents in Ottawa, Friday November 23, 2018. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

A pretrial hearing in the breach-of-trust case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman took a sudden political turn Monday when the defence alleged that prosecutors have been talking trial strategy with the bureaucratic department that supports Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office and the federal cabinet.

The federal government is fighting defence requests for the release of un-redacted notes from meetings between officials at the Privy Council Office (PCO) and Crown lawyers.

In an email sent to Norman's lawyers on Friday, one of the lead prosecutors, Barbara Mercier, said the documents being sought by the defence are being censored because they deal with "trial strategy" and censoring them is entirely appropriate.

"We maintain that discussions about how to run the trial are protected by litigation privilege,"  Mercier wrote.

That prompted defence counsel Christine Mainville to accuse the Prime Minister's Office of trying to direct the case.

She also said the Crown should not be discussing strategy with PCO because the PCO instigated the investigation into an alleged leak of cabinet secrets Norman has been accused of orchestrating.

Mainville said the discussion with PCO is "more concerning" than the allegations at the centre of the SNC Lavalin controversy because it involves direct dealings between the PCO and prosecutors.

"The prosecution should not be discussing trial strategy with the Prime Minister's Office's right-hand person," she said, referring to the PCO legal counsel.

"By all appearances, this is a more direct influencing of the prosecution. The attorney general is entirely bypassed. The Prime Minister's Office, via its right arm the PCO, is dealing directly with the (Public Prosecution Service of Canada). And the prosecution service is allowing this to happen."

That prompted a cutting remark from the judge hearing Norman's case.

"So much for the independence of the PPSC," said Judge Heather Perkins-McVey.

The Crown has been ordered to deliver an uncensored version of the requested notes, under seal, to the judge by Friday, when lawyers will argue the question of whether the documents are privileged.

It's the claim of "litigation privilege" that concerns the defence, said Mainville, because that privilege is meant to protect the "adversarial process" in the justice system.

"Frankly, the Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister's Office should not be an adversary to Vice-Admiral Norman in this case, and certainly not in conjunction with the prosecution," she said.

Lawyers have argued several times over the last two months about the disclosure of federal government documents being sought by the defence. Norman's lawyers claim the documents are important to his case.

Norman is accused of leaking cabinet secrets to a Quebec shipyard and a CBC journalist in relation to a $668 million shipbuilding deal in 2015.

He was — at the time — commander of the navy. He later went on to be the vice chief of the defence staff, the second-highest ranking member of the military. He has been relieved of those duties.

Speaking after the court hearing on Monday, Norman said he wanted to thank members of the public for their ongoing support.

"I remain confident in our position. I remain very confident in the team that's supporting me and I remain very confident in the wisdom of the court to make the right decision," he said.

Norman's trial is scheduled to take place this summer.

About the Author

Murray Brewster

Defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

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