'It was my decision and my responsibility': Vance speaks on suspension of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman

The country's top military commander said there was no political input into his decision to suspend Vice-Admiral Mark Norman from his post over two years ago.

Beyond telling Trudeau, Sajjan of suspension, Vance says he 'never, ever' spoke to anybody political

Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance arrives fo the graduation ceremony at the Royal Military College of Canada in in Kingston, Ont. Friday. He says there was no political input into his decision to suspend Vice-Admiral Mark Norman. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

The country's top military commander said today there was no political input into his decision to suspend Vice-Admiral Mark Norman from his post over two years ago.

Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defence staff, issued the denial on the same day reports surfaced that it was the prime minister who instructed the Privy Council Office to conduct an investigation into a leak of cabinet secrets.

The investigation by the department that supports Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office snowballed into an RCMP probe which led to Norman, the military's former second-in-command, being charged with breach of trust.

Other than informing Trudeau, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and senior government officials that Norman was under RCMP investigation, Vance said that he had "never, ever spoken to anybody political about this — beyond that — ever. Period."

Norman, the former commander of the navy who also separately held the post of vice-chief of the defence staff, was accused by the RCMP of leaking cabinet secrets in relation to a $668 million shipbuilding deal to lease a supply vessel.

By the time the charge of breach of trust was laid against Norman, the Crown alleged he had not only leaked the results of that cabinet meeting to a now-former CBC journalist, but had also provided secret information on 11 other occasions to an executive at the Davie Shipyard.

Vance, in a brief interview with CBC News on Friday, said once he was presented with the allegations by the RCMP in January 2017, he informed senior government officials working for the prime minister.

"I did not remove him because of pressure from the prime minister, or the minister, or anybody else," Vance said in a telephone interview. "It was my decision and my responsibility as a commanding officer under Queen's Regulations and Orders," which govern military discipline.

Shortly after notifying the Prime Minister's Office, Vance said, the phone rang.

"The PM calls and says, 'I acknowledge.' OK. Thanks very much. Click," he said.

Scheer accuses Trudeau in Norman case

5 years ago
Duration 1:53
Featured Video'Liberals are afraid of what else might be revealed about Trudeau's involvement in this affair.'

On Thursday, the Liberal-dominated House of Commons defence committee turned aside an opposition motion to conduct an investigation of the investigation of the Norman case.

On Friday, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said the Liberal government stonewalled not only the hunt for federal government documents by the vice-admiral's defence team, but also Opposition attempts to get to the bottom of the issue.

"I call on Justin Trudeau to conduct a formal public inquiry into exactly how and why the RCMP were called in to investigate Vice-Admiral Mark Norman and any other relevant issue surrounding this affair," he said.

In particular, Scheer said the government sat on documents, dating back to the Conservative government, which would have shown that the former navy commander was acting under cabinet direction at a time when the RCMP claimed he was leaking.

Scheer blamed Trudeau.

"His government engaged in a sustained campaign in preventing the full release of documents," he said Friday. "This strongly suggests the government was deliberately suppressing this information to maintain a bogus, politically-motivated prosecution."

Apologizing to Norman

Almost two years after Norman was publicly named as a suspect, the Crown withdrew a charge of breach of trust on May 8, saying new information unearthed by the defence left little chance of a conviction.

The House of Commons voted unanimously Tuesday to apologize to Vice-Admiral Mark Norman for his legal ordeal, just days before opposition MPs were expected to push for a full-blown House of Commons committee investigation into the handling of the controversial criminal case.

Conservative MP Lisa Raitt proposed the motion, which saw the Commons recognize Norman "for his decades of loyal service to Canada, express regret for the personal and professional hardships he endured as a result of his failed prosecution and apologize to him and his family for what they experienced during their legal conflict with the government."

The motion passed unanimously, however the vote took place after the prime minister and some ministers had already left the House.

Norman said he is now looking forward to getting back to work, but is disappointed it took this long.

"The alarming and protracted bias of perceived guilt across the senior levels of government has been quite damaging and the emotional and financial impacts of the entire ordeal have taken a toll," he said.

Norman has said he has an "important story" to tell Canadians.

The high-profile, politically charged case saw the Liberal government face allegations of political interference from both the Opposition Conservatives and Norman's defence team.

The defence had claimed, in both arguments and court filings, that the Prime Minister's Office and the Privy Council Office had attempted to orchestrate the prosecution of the case.

It also alleged that former Treasury Board president Scott Brison tried to kill the lease deal with the Davie shipyard in Levis, Que. on behalf of rival Irving Shipbuilding in his home province of Nova Scotia.

The Liberal government, the public prosecution service and Brison have all denied the accusations, which were made in court and in court filings.


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.