Politics

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman reaches settlement with government, announces retirement

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman has reached a settlement with the federal government and will retire from the military, the Department of National Defence announced Wednesday.

DND says details of former vice-chief of the defence staff's settlement are 'confidential'

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman is retiring. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman has reached a settlement with the federal government and will retire from the military, the Department of National Defence announced Wednesday.

A single charge of breach of trust against Norman, who was accused of leaking cabinet secrets in relation to a shipbuilding deal, was stayed by the prosecution last month. Prosecutors said there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.

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.

Norman was suspended from his job as vice chief of the defence staff after the RCMP raided his home in January 2017, but was not formally relieved of his duties until 18 months later.

Norman had indicated that he wanted to return to his post.

According to a DND statement, discussions between his lawyer and the federal government, which were overseen by a former Ontario Court of Appeal justice, have resulted in a settlement — "the details of which will remain confidential." The settlement appears to forestall any possible lawsuit against the federal government by Norman.

A defence official, speaking on background, said Wednesday no date has been set for his retirement and that all Norman's "benefits commensurate with the time spent in the Canadian Armed Forces," including his pension, will be paid.

The mediation discussions between Norman's lawyer and the government took place over the last two weeks and "were held in good faith," the official said.

Political embarrassment

The Norman case, which started with a 2015 CBC News report on details of a Liberal cabinet meeting about a deal to convert a civilian cargo ship to a military supply vessel, turned into a major source of political embarrassment for the Trudeau government even before the charge was stayed.

On Nov. 19, 2015, former CBC News reporter James Cudmore revealed details of a cabinet decision to delay approval of a deal for Quebec-based shipbuilder Chantier Davie Canada Inc. to convert the ship. That $668 million deal had been signed by Stephen Harper's previous Conservative government on the eve of the election.

In its court brief, the Crown alleged that Norman "knowingly and deliberately" leaked cabinet secrets to both an executive at Davie and to Cudmore, and breached cabinet secrecy on 12 separate occasions between Oct. 3, 2014 and into November 2015.

Allegations of political interference

Norman pleaded not guilty. His lawyers alleged political interference, accusing the Privy Council Office of attempting to direct the prosecution. While providing no specifics, his legal team 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.

CBC News has reported that three former ministers in the Harper cabinet, and a handful of staffers who were around when the shipbuilding project was negotiated, cooperated with the defence and provided information that may have been pertinent to the case.

Among other things, that information included confirmation that Norman had the authorization of the Harper cabinet to speak to the Davie Shipyard and share information as the project was assembled.

Last month, the House of Commons voted unanimously to apologize to Norman for his legal ordeal.

Conservative Opposition leader Andrew Scheer took to Twitter Wednesday afternoon to praise Norman and condemn what he described as a "politically motivated smear campaign" against an officer who had served "with honour and distinction."

Another 'best wishes in retirement' message came from former Liberal cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was in charge of the justice department when Norman was charged.

"Thank you Vice-Admiral Mark A.G. Norman, CMM CD, for your years of dedicated and meritorious service to Canada," Wilson-Raybould tweeted. "Wishing you well in your future endeavours."

The government's own statement thanked Norman for his service and wished him well.

The reaction from Liberals today to Norman's departure was largely silence, however. The exception was Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who is responsible for the RCMP.

In an interview with CBC's Power and Politics, Goodale stuck largely with the government line but also expressed relief: "I'm just happy the process has drawn to a conclusion."

Opposition attempts to investigate the handling of the case were stymied in both the House of Commons and the Senate.

Following the end of his criminal case, Norman said he had a story to tell, one that he hoped the public could learn from. But in the nearly two months since, he has only given one interview — to the Postmedia newspaper chain — in which he described the personal toll the case has taken over two years.

He did not address the remaining substantive public policy questions, such as whether there was political interference in the shipbuilding deal at the heart of the case.

The fact that Norman's retirement and confidential settlement came on the same day startled former Conservative cabinet minister Erin O'Toole.

He described it as political operation by the Liberals to clean up the case before this fall's election.  

"This is unparalleled in Canadian history when one of our most trusted public servants, the second highest ranking member of the military, was essentially dragged through a public show trial, in many ways, over something he was later vindicated over," said O'Toole. "All of it could have been avoided."

The Conservatives, he said, will still attempt to make the government's handling of the case an election issue.

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