Vice-Admiral Mark Norman owed the 'decency' of silence while system works: Vance

The country's chief of defence staff briefly broke his silence Friday over the suspension of his deputy. Gen. Jonathan Vance made a heartfelt appeal to let the system do its work but steadfastly refused to say why Vice-Admiral Mark Norman was asked to relinquish his duties a month ago.

Chief of defence staff and suspended deputy chief are life-long friends

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, the country's second-highest military commander, was temporarily relieved of his duties Jan. 13, 2017. (CBC)

The country's top military commander delivered a heartfelt appeal for privacy and an end to the speculation surrounding the fate of his deputy.

Gen. Jonathan Vance, speaking to reporters Friday, said the extraordinary situation involving Vice-Admiral Mark Norman requires him to maintain a dignified silence.

He once again refused to explain why he ordered Norman suspended a month ago and cited his duty to protect the privacy of the vice chief of defence staff, one of the most senior, sensitive positions in the federal government.

"That was one of the hardest days of my career," Vance said following a speech to the annual meeting of the Conference of Defence Associations Institute in Ottawa.

"I have known Admiral Norman my entire life. And to have my vice-chief leave, because I had to do it," Vance said. "I had to do it. But to have him leave was a bad day for me; a bad day for all of us, but sometimes, the right thing to do hurts. In this case, it was the right thing to do. And the man is owed the decency of silence until you know the facts."

Most of what the public has learned about Norman's circumstance has been garnered through leaks.

He is — according to multiple sources — being investigated by the RCMP, something the federal police force has refused to confirm, or deny, even to Parliament.

A senate committee put the question directly to RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, who declined to give any information.

"I cannot give you an update," Paulson told committee chair Senator Daniel Lang on Feb. 6. "I think if you had a question about his duty status those are properly placed before the military."

But the senate committee wasn't asking about Norman's duty status. The military had made that clear from the outset, saying the admiral was relieved of his responsibilities but not stripped of his office.

The question was about whether or not Norman was under investigation and it is the RCMP that has the responsibility to look into alleged breaches of national security.

Sources have said the investigation by the Mounties apparently involves classified information leaks related to shipbuilding.

To whom and for what purpose is not clear.

A difficult situation

The federal government is in the midst of recapitalizing the navy with planned multi-billion programs to replace the country's patrol frigates and military supply ships.

This week it extended the deadline for submissions in the competition to design the next generation of warships.

The fact the public has been kept in the dark, relying on leaks to learn about potential leaks of classified information, has troubled the opposition and vexed Vance.

"It is a situation that makes none of us happy at all," Vance said. "I'm not happy, nor is he. It is a difficult situation for all of us. I owe the guy, the decent thing to do, and in this case, it's to let the system that's happening now happen.

"The decent thing to do for Admiral Norman is to let what's happening happen, and not speculate and not try to find sources that may not have all of the information."

The problem is, the RCMP has been known to sometimes take years to conduct national security investigations, leaving potential suspects in limbo throughout that time.


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.