'I acted with integrity': Mark Norman claims exoneration after Crown stays breach-of-trust charge

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman said today he's pleased to be "exonerated of any wrongdoing" but is disappointed by the "alarming and protracted bias" in his case.

Crown says there is no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction against the military's former 2nd in command

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman arrives at the Ottawa courthouse with lawyer Marie Henein on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman said today he's pleased to be "exonerated of any wrongdoing" but is disappointed by the "alarming and protracted bias" in his breach-of-trust case.

During a news conference in Ottawa following the announcement that the Public Prosecution Service of Canada would be staying a single breach-of-trust charge against him, Norman said he has no regrets about his conduct.

"I am confident that at all times I acted with integrity, I acted ethically and I acted in the best interests of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Forces and, ultimately, the people of Canada," he said.

Norman had been accused of leaking cabinet secrets in relation to a $668-million shipbuilding deal to lease a supply vessel. He was accused of leaking to both an executive at the Davie Shipyard in Levis, Que., which leased a supply ship to the navy, and to a CBC journalist.

Norman said he is now looking forward to getting back to work, but is disappointed it took this long.

"The alarming and protracted bias of perceived guilt across the senior levels of government has been quite damaging and the emotional and financial impacts of the entire ordeal have taken a toll," he said.

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Norman said he has an "important story" to tell Canadians, which he will be sharing in the coming days.

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance issued a statement today saying he will be discussing Norman's return to regular duty at the earliest opportunity.

"This decision ends court proceedings that have been a long and difficult process for Vice-Admiral Norman, his family and for the Canadian Armed Forces," Vance said in the statement. "We have missed Vice-Admiral Norman a great deal and I look forward to welcoming him back to work as soon as possible."

The Crown announced earlier today that it had stayed the charge, adding that new information that had come to light through Norman's defence team convinced the prosecution that there was no longer a reasonable chance of conviction. 

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced today the federal government would be paying Norman's legal fees. A private crowdsourcing initiative already has raised more than $400,000 for Norman's defence.

The prosecution said Norman's actions were inappropriate and secretive, but that doesn't mean a crime was committed. 

"Inappropriate does not mean criminal," said Barbara Mercier, the lead prosecutor.

A breach-of-trust charge can be laid against an appointed or elected official discharging a public duty.

To convict, the Crown must prove the accused person's conduct represented a "serious and marked" departure from the standards expected in that position, and that the accused acted outside the public interest towards a dishonest, partial, corrupt or oppressive purpose.

Watch: How the Vice-Admiral Mark Norman story unfolded this morning

How the Norman trial unfolded Wednesday morning

5 years ago
Duration 0:56
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada dropped their charges against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman. Here's how the morning unfolded around his case.

Speaking to reporters after the court proceeding, Mercier declined to describe the new information that convinced the prosecution to abandon the case.

"This was a very complex case ... I cannot get into the specifics of that information. The defence counsel gave it to us under certain conditions for our purposes only," she said.

"But I will say that, absorbing it, comparing it to investigation materials, we came to that conclusion, that there's no probable prospect of conviction."

Mercier insisted that there was no political interference in the case.

"The Department of Public Prosecutions decided to lay the charge, and they decided today, we decided alone, without political interference whatsoever, that we couldn't make the charge," she said.

Asked when he intends to return to work as he left the courthouse, Norman replied, "As soon as I possibly can."

'Bittersweet' outcome

His lawyer Marie Henein issued a statement on his behalf, calling the Crown's decision "bittersweet" because the personal cost to Norman and his family from the two-year legal battle can never be repaid.

"It has been difficult and demoralizing," the statement reads. "We have resilient institutions in this country and eventually those institutions got to the right result. But let's not forget, that only came after a long and hard fight and at great personal cost to Vice-Admiral Norman."

Watch: Vice-Admiral Mark Norman's full press conference with lawyer Marie Henein

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman spoke to reporters after charge dropped

5 years ago
Duration 32:42
Vice-Admiral Mark Norman held a news conference with his lawyer Marie Henein after federal prosecutors drop breach of trust charge against him.

At the news conference, Henein said the outcome of Norman's case should give Canadians confidence that their justice system is "truly unassailable" and that prosecutors act independently.

"No person in this country should ever walk into a courtroom and feel like they are fighting their elected government or any sort of political factors at all," she said.

The high-profile, politically charged case saw the Liberal government face allegations of political interference from both the Opposition Conservatives and Norman's defence team.

The defence had claimed, in both arguments and court filings, that the Prime Minister's Office and the Privy Council Office had attempted to orchestrate the prosecution of the case.

The defence also alleged that former Treasury Board president Scott Brison tried to kill the lease deal with the Davie shipyard in Levis, Que. on behalf of rival Irving Shipbuilding in his home province of Nova Scotia.

The Liberal government, the public prosecution service and Brison have all denied the accusations, which were made in court and in court filings.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called for an independent investigation of how the case was handled.

"What we've seen in this case is some deep concerns around a cosy relationship between the Liberal government and the Irving companies. We've heard concerns around Scott Brison's implication and involvement, and we also heard some allegations of direct political interference of the Prime Minister's Office in the handling of this case," he said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has called for an independent investigation into the handling of the Mark Norman case. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to comment on the case on his way into a Liberal caucus meeting today.

"The process involved in a public prosecution like this is entirely independent of my office," he said. "It's an independent process and we have confidence in the work done by the director of public prosecutions."

At Norman's pre-trial hearings, his defence team accused the government of blocking access to documents. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused Trudeau today of trying to destroy Norman's reputation and career because the vice-admiral "stood up to him."

"We still have lots of questions about why the government was so afraid of the truth coming to light, why they withheld documents, why they refused to hand over information that Mark Norman and his lawyer were asking for to help clear his name and shed light on this," he said.

Director of Public Prosecutions Kathleen Roussel issued a statement that said the Crown concluded it could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Norman's conduct in this case amounted to a "serious and marked departure from the standards expected of a person in his position of trust." That decision was based on the evidence, the law and the "principles regarding reasonable prospect of conviction," she said.

No political influence

"No other factors were considered in this decision, nor was there any contact or influence from outside the PPSC, including political influence in either the initial decision to prosecute Mr. Norman or in the decision to stay the charge today," Roussel said.

Andrew Leslie, a retired lieutenant-general who was elected in 2015, announced May 1 he was stepping away from politics after one term as a Liberal MP. It was reported last week that Leslie would be testifying for Norman's defence.

When Norman arrived at the Ottawa courthouse Wednesday morning, Leslie was there to greet him.

CBC News caught up with Chantier Davie CEO Spencer Fraser outside the courtroom Wednesday. He said there will be an opportunity to speak more about the case as it "gets more explored."

"Today, I want to talk about the fact that justice has been served and Mark Norman is innocent, as we've always said he is," he said.

Retired vice-admiral Bruce MacLean told CBC News' Power and Politics that the federal government owes Norman an apology.

"It's this issue of integrity and personal trust and public trust," he said. "You were at the highest level within our organization and for that to be diminished or thrown out — and to have folks within the organization disputing your particular credibility for over two-and-a-half years — is, again, unimaginable."

One other person has been charged in relation to the alleged leak of cabinet information. Matthew Matchett, a federal procurement official who was named in documents related to Norman's defence, was charged with a single count of breach of trust in February. He pleaded not guilty at a hearing in March and elected to stand trial by judge and jury.

The Crown's decision to abandon the case spares the Liberal government potential embarrassment at a critical time. Norman's trial was to begin in August, just weeks before the federal election campaign is set to begin.