Conservatives among high-profile backers of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman's defence fund

A fundraising drive to help pay legal bills for Vice-Admiral Mark Norman — accused of leaking cabinet secrets — has netted almost $120,000 in donations.

Prosecution has undermined 'fundamental trust' between military and government, says supporter

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman speaks briefly to reporters as he leaves the courthouse in Ottawa following his first appearance for his trial for breach of trust on Tuesday April 10, 2018. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

A fundraising drive to help pay legal bills for Vice-Admiral Mark Norman — accused of leaking cabinet secrets — has netted almost $123,000 in donations, drawing support from many high-profile Conservatives and prominent former soldiers.

The list of nearly 1,000 names reads like a who's-who of the country's political and military establishment and includes a former defence minister, at least one former chief of staff to a Conservative prime minister, an ex-MP and a bevy of retired generals.

Norman's case returned to court Tuesday for the first of two days this week set aside for procedural matters. Tuesday's session was conducted behind closed doors.

Norman, 54 — a career naval officer and currently the vice chief of the defence staff — is charged with a single count of breach of trust.

I thought he was hung out to dry.- Retired major-general Lew MacKenzie on Vice-Admiral Mark Norman

The federal government rejected his request for legal assistance.

Retired army colonel Lee Hammond set up the GoFundMe campaign in January with the initial goal of raising $50,000, but that target recently was bumped up to $200,000.

Hammond said the federal government likely does not understand the kind of wedge it has driven between itself and the military by prosecuting Norman while denying him assistance with his legal bills.

Damaged trust

"I just think the way this situation has unfolded has undermined the fundamental trust between soldiers and their country," Hammond told CBC News.

"If you have to fear your own country because you're trying to do the right thing and you might be dragged into court for trying to do your job to the best of your ability, even if that's inconvenient for the politicians of the day; that undermines the trust between the military institution and the government they serve."

The case has the potential to be "corrosive," he said, because "there's no suggestion in this case that Admiral Norman was not acting in the best interests of the country.

"Is an admiral, or a general, in the future going to stand up and tell the government what the government needs to hear when it comes to defence issues if this is the kind of treatment they might receive?"

Jason Kenney, a former defence minister and the current leader of the United Conservative Party of Alberta, is among the high-profile contributors to Norman's defence fund.

Spokeswoman Annie Dormuth confirmed Kenney's donation but declined to arrange an interview.

Kenney "believes Admiral Norman to be a good and honourable man, and wanted to make at least a modest contribution to his legal defence," said Dormuth in an email.

Ian Brodie, ex-chief of staff to former prime minister Stephen Harper, confirmed to CBC News that he is a donor.

Retired major-general Lew MacKenzie said he was pleased to contribute because he "found it terribly unfair" the way Norman was treated.

"I don't want to get ahead of the court process, but I thought he was hung out to dry," MacKenzie said. 

The names of other high-profile Conservatives are also listed as donors, but they did not return CBC News' requests for confirmation and comment.

This week, Norman's lawyer Marie Henein and the Crown will set a date for a pre-trial hearing and agree on a date for his next remand appearance.

Norman did not plead to the charge during his first court date last month, but signalled after the hearing that he intends to fight.

"I'm anxious to get to court and get this dealt with as quickly as possible and get back to serving the people of Canada," he said.

The charge against Norman was laid in March after nearly two years of RCMP investigation into an alleged leak of cabinet secrets related to a $668 million contract to lease a military supply ship.

The navy was forced to prematurely retire its last replenishment vessel after a fire in 2014. The decision meant Canadian warships had to rely on allied nations for refueling and rearmament — not a sustainable situation over the long-term.

Federal Fleet Services Inc., which operates out of the Davie shipyard in Levis, Que., offered to convert a civilian cargo ship for military purposes.

A preliminary contract was struck with the former Conservative government just before the last election. Negotiations carried on through the transfer of power to Justin Trudeau's newly minted administration, which was asked to approve the details.

Political embarassment

At the time, Norman was head of the navy.

The project was put on hold by the new government and the Liberal government's hesitation over the contract was leaked to the media. The disclosure was deemed politically embarrassing and the RCMP were called to investigate.

The project eventually was allowed to proceed.

Norman emerged as subject of interest after the Mounties uncovered several emails in raids on two Ottawa lobby firms and the shipyard.

Norman's home was raided in January 2017. He was, by that time, the deputy commander of the military and was suspended with pay following the search by the Mounties.

In order to prove breach of trust, federal prosecutors have to meet a high standard of proof.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2006 that there is a difference between criminal and unethical behaviour for politicians and senior government officials.

The court said the legal test for breach of trust should be that a public office holder's conduct is a "marked departure from the standards of acceptable behaviour" and that there was some kind of "corruption" or personal gain involved.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, 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.