Politics

Vice-Admiral Norman's pre-trial hearing hears of possible efforts to withhold records

A pre-trial hearing for a top Canadian Navy officer accused of leaking cabinet secrets heard dramatic claims today about possible manipulation of the access-to-information system within the Department of National Defence.

Judge calls testimony 'very disturbing'

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman listens as his lawyer Marie Henein speaks to reporters as they leave the courthouse in Ottawa following his first court appearance on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

A pre-trial hearing for a top Canadian Navy officer accused of leaking government secrets heard dramatic claims today about possible manipulation of the access-to-information system within the Department of National Defence.

The legal team representing Vice-Admiral Mark Norman today called two surprise witnesses. The first, a military member whose name is protected by a publication ban — due to fears that the testimony could lead to reprisals in the workplace — told court about an alleged scheme within National Defence to avoid using Norman's name in internal correspondence.

The witness told court about work on one specific request for documents related to Norman submitted to the department in 2017. When it turned up no records, the witness told court, a superior smiled and remarked, "Don't worry, this isn't our first rodeo. We made sure to never use his name."

Norman's lawyer, Marie Henein, suggested DND officials might have been trying to bury information about her client's case. Justice Heather Perkins McVey appeared to sympathize, calling the testimony "very disturbing."

Along with raising concerns about the conduct of DND, Norman's legal team also today questioned whether the government as a whole was being entirely forthcoming in providing answers and information about Norman's case.

The second witness called by Norman's defence team was Melissa Burke, a former policy analyst in the Privy Council Office, the department that works with and supports the prime minister and cabinet.

Burke was involved in the navy's plan to lease an interim supply ship. Norman, facing a single count of breach of trust, is accused of leaking cabinet secrets regarding that $668 million lease contract to executives at the Davie shipyard in Levis, Que.

Burke told court today she was interviewed by the RCMP in 2016 about meetings she attended where the supply ship project was discussed. But she went on to testify that when lawyers involved in Norman's case asked to speak with her again this year, federal officials never made clear to her what she could discuss without violating rules governing cabinet secrecy.

Henein again accused the government today of trying to prevent — or least delay — the production of thousands of government documents that she says are necessary to prove Norman's innocence.

Most of the documents relate to the ship contract, though Henein is also seeking records from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office and the Privy Council Office about the case itself.

Norman's hearing was scheduled to wrap up today, but his legal team successfully argued proceedings should be extended into the new year.

Henein told court she "is trying to unravel what is going on" and will request subpoenas for three more witnesses, including Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance.

The court date for that extended hearing has been set for late January. Norman is scheduled to go to trial in August, 2019.

With files from the Canadian Press

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