Mark Norman's defense team focuses documents subpoena hunt on Trudeau and Butts

​Subpoenas have been issued to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his former and current top officials — including ex-principal secretary Gerald Butts — for any notes, emails or texts they may have related to the criminal case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.

Lawyers seeking emails, texts and notes related to vice-admiral's criminal case

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves his office with his principal secretary Gerald Butts to attend an emergency cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. Butts recently resigned amid allegations that the Prime Minister's Office interfered to prevent criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

​Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his former and current top officials — including ex-principal secretary Gerald Butts — are now the top targets of subpoenas issued for federal government notes, emails or texts they may have that relate to the criminal case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.

The notes are being sought by the legal team defending the former vice chief of the defence staff against a single charge of breach of trust. Norman is accused of leaking cabinet secrets in relation to a shipbuilding deal.

The subpoenas were issued by the court at the request of Toronto lawyer Marie Henein, who is preparing a motion to dismiss the case on the basis of alleged political interference.

The court order for notes includes both the prime minister and Butts, and also Trudeau's Chief of Staff Katie Telford, Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick and Zita Astravas, chief of staff to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

Henein told the court Friday she views obtaining those notes as a "high priority" for the defence.

"These requests have been outstanding for some time," she said. "I just want to make sure we're moving to the top of list the material that may be relevant to the abuse of process motion."

Justice Heather Perkins-McVey noted that Wernick "has been quite busy this week" — a reference to the clerk's testimony Thursday before the House of Commons justice committee, which is investigating allegations of political interference in the prosecution of SNC Lavalin.

At a pretrial hearing on Friday, the Department of Justice indicated officials are still in the process of collecting the notes and could not say when they will be turned over.

"We've made it a priority, along with some other priority tasks," said Robert MacKinnon, the Department of Justice lawyer who is shepherding the disclosure of federal government documents. "I think you can appreciate everyone is working at full speed."

Focused request

Henein asked the court last October to force the government to deliver up communications between the Prime Minister's Office and the Privy Council, which supports and advises Trudeau.

The demand for documents was narrowed on Feb. 1 after Astravas testified at the pretrial hearing last month that she could not recall the substance of any conversations within the PMO about the Norman case while she was a senior official there.

The former commander of the navy is accused of leaking cabinet secrets related to a $668 million shipbuilding deal in 2015. He is one of two people charged in the case; federal procurement official Matthew Matchett also faces a single count of breach of trust.

Henein will present a motion to dismiss the case — citing abuse of process — at the end of March.

Many of the documents being sought by the defence — including items of witness evidence — have not been fully disclosed.

The RCMP conducted many of its interviews in the winter and spring of 2016, two years before Norman was charged. The Crown is obliged to disclose documents and notes the witnesses relied on in giving their statements to police.

The process, however, has been hung up because the government is worried the notes may reveal cabinet secrets. Justice Perkins-McVey has said it's "baffling" that the Crown still has not produced the records.

Cases Intersect

Norman's lawyers alleged political interference in the case earlier this month, claiming the Crown had inappropriate conversations with the top lawyer in the Privy Council Office, which supports and advises the prime minister.

The director of public prosecutions vehemently denied the claim in an extraordinary public statement on Feb. 12.

The issue of prosecutorial independence strikes at the heart of the justice system and has been the key factor in the controversy involving SNC Lavalin and former justice minister Jody-Wilson-Raybould.

Wernick, testifying before the House of Commons justice committee on Thursday, tacitly acknowledged both the Norman and SNC cases intersect over the claims of Crown separation.

He twice cited the prosecution of the former vice chief of the defence staff and attempted to assure MPs that the justice system remains solid.

"There is a statutory legal force field around the prosecution function in Canada," Wernick said "We have the strongest protection of independent prosecution that I can think of.

"Should Canadians be concerned about the rule of law in this country? No."


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.