Liberals block opposition bid to bring Mark Norman before committee to testify

The Liberal-dominated House of Commons defence committee has blocked a pitch by opposition MPs for a committee probe of the criminal case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.
Vice Admiral Mark Norman arrives at the Ottawa courthouse with lawyer Marie Henein on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The Liberal-dominated House of Commons defence committee has blocked a pitch by opposition MPs for a committee probe of the criminal case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.

The Conservatives and New Democrats wanted to conduct hearings to determine how the case against the military's former second-in-command collapsed, and what led to him being charged with breach of trust in the first place.

The Crown withdrew the charge on May 8 — over two years after Norman was publicly named and then later formally accused of leaking cabinet secrets related to a $668 million contract to lease a supply ship for the navy.

The motion to study the Norman case was defeated this evening, after the Liberal MPs who form the majority on the committee said they were not convinced by almost two hours hours of opposition arguments.

While acknowledging questions still linger about the case, Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen said the committee was not the appropriate forum to investigate the factors that led to the country's second most powerful military officer being hauled into court.

"It is not the job of the committee to re-examine information that has been examined by independent agencies," he said, referring to the public prosecution service and the RCMP.

The Crown conceded when it dropped the charge against Norman that it did not have all of the information when it laid the charge. Mounties acknowledged in an interview with The Canadian Press news agency that they had not seen the new evidence presented by the defence.

Gerretsen, however, said that asking the committee to investigate what went wrong would amount to "re-litigating" the matter. He ducked the question of whether there should be an independent investigation or review.

Other Liberals on the committee seemed not the least bit curious about what went wrong and focused their attention on attacking opposition claims of political interference in the prosecution.

Liberal MP Sherry Romando, a former member of the military who was not a voting member of the committee, described the notion as "spin."

Her colleague, MP Julie Dzerowicz, went even further, dismissing the call for hearings as a "fabricated political exercise."

New Democrat MP Randall Garrison tried to salvage the investigation by proposing that the committee invite only Norman to tell his story — a suggestion that was voted down.

One Liberal MP said if Norman wrote to the committee expressing a desire to testify, that could be something the committee could consider — a position dismissed as disingenuous by the Conservatives.

"There was a lot of Liberal double-speak," said Conservative defence critic James Bezan. "At no point in time were they going to allow Vice Admiral Norman to actually speak."

Former Conservative cabinet minister Erin O'Toole said that, as a serving military officer, it should not be up to Norman "to insert himself politically" — essentially prompting MPs to do the job they were elected to do.

MPs had planned to call Trudeau to testify

The opposition MPs had hoped the hearings would substantiate allegations that the Liberal government politically interfered in the prosecution. Aside from Norman, they wanted to call Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and a host of other high-profile Liberals.

Legal experts have said that the best chance of hearing Norman's unfiltered version of events would have been to bring him before a parliamentary committee, which grants extraordinary privilege and latitude to those summoned to testify.

While still a serving member of the military, Norman is subject to military regulations that limit his public statements.

When Norman was charged, the Crown alleged he had leaked the results of a Liberal cabinet committee meeting to a now-former CBC journalist. They also also claimed he had provided secret information on 11 other occasions to an executive at the Davie Shipyard in Levis, Que., which was involved in the leasing contract.

His lawyer Marie Henein fought a six-month battle for access to federal government documents needed to defend the former navy commander.

In addition to her claim that the government interfered politically in her client's case, Henein alleged the government obstructed disclosure of the documents.

The case ultimately unravelled after the defence presented new evidence to the Crown, including interviews with key individuals who had not been interviewed by the RCMP.

The Mounties released a statement last week defending their handling of the case and — as late as Monday — had turned aside further requests for comment.


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.