Politics

Crown denies receiving 'instructions' from government in Vice-Admiral Norman case

The director of Canada’s federal prosecution service insisted Tuesday that the independent agency’s case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman has not been directed by the department which supports the Prime Minister’s Office.

'Prosecutors exercise their discretion ... free from any political or partisan consideration'

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman returns to the courthouse with his lawyer Marie Henein following a break in the proceedings in Ottawa, Tuesday January 29, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The director of Canada's federal prosecution service insisted Tuesday that the independent agency's case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman has not been directed by the department which supports the Prime Minister's Office.

Kathleen Roussel issued the statement after bombshell allegations were made in court this week — and after the judge hearing the breach of trust case against the military's former second-in-command publicly questioned the impartiality of the Crown.

The federal government is fighting defence requests for the release of un-redacted notes from meetings between officials at the Privy Council Office (PCO) and Crown lawyers.

Roussel said the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) "has not sought or received instructions" from the "Privy Council Office or any other government department or body" in the Norman case.

"I am confident that our prosecutors, in this and every other case, exercise their discretion independently and free from any political or partisan consideration," Roussel said in a written statement.

For the government, bad timing

The timing of this controversy is particularly awkward for the Trudeau government. This morning, former Justice minister Jody Wilson Raybould announced her resignation from cabinet following a Globe and Mail report claiming she was pressured by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to help the Quebec-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution.

Roussel went on to say in her statement that prosecutorial independence is key to the service's mandate and that Crown lawyers "are expected to be objective, independent and dispassionate in the exercise of their duties, and to exercise those duties in a manner free from any improper influence, including political influence."

Norman is accused of leaking cabinet secrets and his lawyers have been fighting a protracted battle for access to federal government documents — including the former navy commander's own notes — as they relate to a $668 million plan to lease a supply ship.

One set of documents includes notes of meetings between the Crown and the lead lawyer for the Privy Council Office (PCO), which reports directly to the prime minister's office.

The notes are censored. The lead prosecutor in the case has claimed "litigation privilege" and has said that the blacked-out portions relate to discussions of "trial strategy."

Norman's lawyers alleged political interference at a pretrial hearing Monday and said the PCO should not be talking with the Crown about how to handle the trial. They linked it to the politically-charged controversy over SNC Lavalin. Wilson Raybould has refused to comment on the claims in the Globe and Mail article, citing solicitor-client privilege.

Defence lawyer Christine Mainville told the judge that talks between the Crown and PCO about the Norman case may have been worse than what's been alleged in the SNC-Lavalin affair, because the alleged interference could have been more direct.

'So much for the independence of the PPSC'

"Unlike the SNC Lavalin case, there is a very real person standing trial here," she said following Monday's court hearing. "It would be particularly egregious if indeed there was political interference in this case."

That prompted a cutting remark from the judge hearing Norman's case.

"So much for the independence of the PPSC," said Judge Heather Perkins-McVey.

Roussel, in her statement, said the meetings with the PCO's lawyer involved no strategizing.

"In the process of preparing for trial, the PPSC was looking to identify potential witnesses who could explain issues of cabinet confidence, as it is applied by the Clerk of the Privy Council," she said, noting that the Crown will submit an un-redacted version of the notes for the judge to review.

That reference to "potential witnesses" could be significant.

In an email sent to Norman's lawyers on Friday, one of the lead prosecutors, Barbara Mercier, said the documents being sought by the defence were appropriately censored.

"As I recall, the portion of the attached documents which have been redacted deal with trial strategy, not witness preparation or discussion about their evidence," Mercier wrote. "We maintain that discussions about how to run the trial are protected by litigation privilege."

The pretrial hearing resumes on Friday.

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