New documents in Mark Norman's case reveal contradictions in Crown's case, defence says

A newly released trove of court documents in the prosecution of the military’s former second-in-command have laid out a series of what the defence claims are contradictions in the case involving Vice Admiral Mark Norman.

Documents also provide glimpse into how military's former second-in-command came under suspicion

Lawyers for Vice-Admiral Mark Norman take aim at Treasury Board president Scott Brison, seen here on Oct. 16, in court documents filed in Norman's breach of trust case. The documents contain information that has not yet been tested in court. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Newly released court documents in the prosecution of the military's former second-in-command have revealed what the defence claims are contradictions in the case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.

The most significant, and politically explosive, relate to Treasury Board president Scott Brison's role in the shipbuilding dispute at the centre of the case, and the importance of the leaks of cabinet secrets which form the basis of the Crown's case.

The documents also provide a glimpse into how Norman, the former head of the navy who is charged with a single count of breach of trust, came under suspicion.

Hundreds of pages of police interview transcripts, internal federal documents and media clippings were released late Friday after Crown attorneys lost a bid in Ontario Superior Court to prevent their public disclosure. None of the statements in the documents has been proven in court, nor can the records be considered evidence at this time.

Norman, the former vice-chief of the defence staff, is accused of leaking cabinet secrets in 2015 related to a $668 million shipbuilding deal to provide the navy with a temporary supply vessel.

Brison was under fire in the House of Commons recently after Norman's lawyers alleged in court filings that he attempted to kill the contract with Davie Shipyard, of Levis, Que., at the behest of rival Irving Shipbuilding, of Halifax.

The minister denied the allegation and said he was only doing his job.

"My mandate as president of the Treasury Board is to ensure due diligence in the expenditure of public funds and to perform a challenge function, particularly in terms of the procurement function," he said on Oct. 15.

But in his January 2016 interview with the RCMP, included as a partial transcript in the documents, Brison said the Treasury Board was "engaged in transactions" but wasn't at that stage of the process. 

"This wasn't my role as… as a member of this committee," he told the Mounties. 

McKenna contradicts Brison

The Liberal government, newly elected in the fall of 2015, decided to put the temporary ship program on hold, but word soon leaked to the media. The decision was reversed, but the government was furious.

"Our concerns were raised with [Privy Council Office] officials," Brison told the RCMP, adding he was "pissed off" that the material had "ended up in the hands of lobbyists and the media."

In cabinet, ministers have a responsibility to "express yourself fully" and "to have that violated is infuriating," Brison said.

He claimed the leak impeded cabinet's ability to do its due diligence on the contract.

Norman is facing a single charge of breach of trust related to a contract to lease a supply ship for the navy. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

However, in her interview with the RCMP, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who was also at the ad-hoc cabinet committee meeting on Nov. 19, 2015, flatly denied the leak influenced the eventual change of heart. 

"It wasn't because of the leak," she told investigators. "There was many considerations in these types of situations."

Cabinet wanted to "ensure that we made the right decision and also that we made sure [the leak] didn't happen again," she said. 

Tough questions

The court records also shed more light on how the Liberal government was formally urged to approve the temporary supply ship and how Brison argued against it at the meeting. 

Brison brought a letter from Irving Shipbuilding about its competing proposal, a document that neither Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan nor then-public works minister Judy Foote had seen, even though it was addressed to them, according to the court records. 

Witnesses, including staffers present for the cabinet session, told the RCMP investigators Brison asked a series of tough questions.

A Treasury Board spokesman defended the minister late Friday.

"As president of the Treasury Board, Minister Brison's mandate includes expenditure review and the challenge function to ensure due diligence in government contracting," said Bruce Cheadle.

"Minister Brison's only engagement with Irving Shipbuilding or its representatives during this time was being copied on the letter sent to other ministers, to which he did not respond."

Norman's defence team also alleges — in the court records released Friday — that police have yet to interview the federal procurement official, Matthew Matchett, who allegedly passed cabinet documents to a lobbyist working for the Davie shipyard.

The fact that police were investigating more than one suspect has been a fixture of the case from the beginning.

Matchett has not been charged, nor have any of the allegations been proven in court.

Asked last month why no charges have been laid, an RCMP spokeswoman said the investigation was still ongoing.

Norman's lawyer said they had been informed of that.

Tainting witness testimony​

The court documents, known as the application record, were released only after a legal fight.

The media had been denied access to them, though application records are usually made public.

Crown attorney Jeannine Plamondon argued that releasing them could taint witness testimony in Norman's upcoming trial.

CBC News opposed that position in court and was later joined by CTV News and a lawyer for Postmedia.

Judge Heather Perkins-McVey sided with the media, noting the records were part of the public record.

"This is an open court," said Perkins-McVey. 

Lawyer Ryder Gilliland, who represented CBC News, said the Crown's position in such a high-profile case was extraordinary.

"You have secrecy and you don't even know the reason for the secrecy. That's obviously unacceptable in a country where we have an open court principle," he said. 

Norman's defence team is still engaged in a protracted battle to get government documents ahead of the next court hearing on Dec. 12. Norman does not go to trial until next year.


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.