Politics

What you need to know about the Vice-Admiral Mark Norman case

On Wednesday, a single breach-of-trust charge was stayed against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, who had been accused of leaking confidential cabinet information about a multi-million dollar government contract. Here is what you need to know about the controversy and the complicated case.

Crown said there was no reasonable chance of conviction in breach of trust case that started with a leak

Federal prosecutors stayed a breach of trust charge against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday announced they would be staying the breach-of-trust charge against the military's former second-in-command. Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, who had been suspended from military duty during his legal battle, had been accused of leaking confidential cabinet information about a multi-million dollar government contract to convert a civilian cargo ship into a military supply vessel.

The case was slated to go to court in August, likely would have run through the fall federal election, and prompted accusations of political interference at the hands of the Liberal government.

Here's what you need to know about the controversy and the complicated case:

What are the origins of the Norman case?

On Nov. 19, 2015, CBC News reporter James Cudmore revealed details from a Liberal cabinet committee meeting. They included the government's decision to delay approval of a deal for Quebec-based shipbuilder Chantier Davie Canada Inc. to convert a civilian cargo ship into a military supply vessel.

That $668-million deal had been signed by Stephen Harper's previous Conservative government on the eve of the election.

Though the deal was, in fact, approved by the Liberal government just days later, Cudmore's report sparked an RCMP investigation into the source of the leak that would last nearly two years.

What was the accusation against Norman?

As part of its investigation, the RCMP raided Norman's home in early January 2017. At the same time, Norman was suspended from his job as vice-chief of the defence staff.  

Other raids, according to the Globe and Mail, included the offices of Davie and affiliate companies as well as lobbying firms that worked for the shipyard.

More than a year later, the RCMP charged Norman with breach of trust, alleging he leaked cabinet secrets to both an executive at Davie and to Cudmore. 

Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos explains why the Canadian military's former second-in-command, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, was on trial. 3:04

In its court brief, the Crown alleged that Norman "knowingly and deliberately" leaked this information and breached cabinet secrecy on 12 separate occasions between Oct. 3, 2014 and into November 2015

As well, the Crown alleged Norman "knew the use to which the leaked information would be put by Davie, Davie lobbyists and the media."

"I believe Norman did this to influence decision-makers within government to adopt his preferred outcome," RCMP Cpl. Matthieu Boulanger wrote in the warrant used to search Norman's home.

What has Norman said about the allegations?

Norman pleaded not guilty. After the charge was stayed, Norman said he was confident that he acted with integrity, ethically and "in the best interests of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Forces and, ultimately, the people of Canada."

But he also said that defence procurement is a very "complicated, obtuse and ultimately ugly process. And what goes on inside that process is difficult to explain at the best of times."

Why did the Liberals initially delay approving the contract?

The Conservatives launched negotiations with Davie in June 2015, but they also changed federal procurement rules to allow a contract without a competition, a move that may have raised questions among the incoming Liberals.

Separately, Norman's defence team alleged that former Treasury Board minister Scott Brison had tried to quash the contract with Davie on behalf of its rival, Irving Shipbuilding Inc. Brison denied that claim.

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman held a news conference with his lawyer Marie Henein after federal prosecutors drop breach of trust charge against him. 32:41

Why was the Liberal government accused of political interference?

Norman's lawyers had alleged political interference, accusing the Privy Council Office of attempting to direct the prosecution. While providing no specifics, his legal team had subpoenaed emails, text messages and meeting notes belonging to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his senior advisers.

But federal prosecutors insisted there was no political interference in the case, nor in the decision to stay the charge. Attorney General and Justice Minister David Lametti also denied any political interference.

What happened to the plan to convert the cargo ship?

In March 2018, the navy officially welcomed the MV Asterix to its fleet, after it had been extensively reconfigured by Davie Shipbuilding.

Why was the charge stayed?

CBC News has learned that the Crown's case against Norman unexpectedly began to collapse in March partly under the weight of information from several former Conservative cabinet ministers and staffers.

The Crown would only say that it believed there was no longer a reasonable chance of conviction after it received new information from Norman's defence team.

The new evidence, gathered by Norman's lawyers and presented to the Crown on March 28, included some documents which were not uncovered during the investigation, something Norman's lead defence lawyer blamed on government obstruction.

In court, the Crown said the new information provided greater context about Norman's conduct and "revealed a number of complexities" prosecutors hadn't previously known about.

Lead prosecutor Barbara Mercier would not get into the specifics about that new information. She did say that the prosecution said Norman's actions were inappropriate and secretive, but that doesn't mean a crime was committed. 

"Inappropriate does not mean criminal," she said. 

With files from Murray Brewster, Kathleen Harris and The Canadian Press