The Admiral Mark Norman Affair

Over the last few months, Canadians have been transfixed by the SNC Lavalin scandal. What began as a headline in the Globe & Mail alongside flat denials by the Prime Minister, led to the resignation of two top Liberal cabinet ministers. The self-styled “feminist” Prime Minister was forced to toss two of his best MPs out of the Liberal caucus in a clear effort to save his political skin. For many Canadians it was the first time the curtain was pulled back on Justin Trudeau and his team. While conduct in the SNC scandal is deeply troubling to many observers, it is not even the most serious example of the Trudeau government’s disregard for the rule of law. In my view, that distinction goes to the Admiral Mark Norman affair, where the liberty of an honourable Canadian is at stake.

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman has served thirty-eight years in the Canadian Armed Forces. He was the second highest ranking official in our military and has been decorated by Canada and our allies. Like so many members of the Canadian Armed Forces, Norman grew up in a military family. Therefore, his entire life has been spent either serving Canada himself, or as part of a military family serving the country. This is why I believe that the Admiral Norman affair is far more disturbing than the SNC scandal. One deals with a corporation and efforts by the Liberal government to assist it, while the other deals with one of our best citizens and actions by the Liberal government that have hindered his legal rights.

The roots of this affair take us back to the very origin story of the Trudeau government. We all remember the carefully staged stroll up Rideau Hall for Trudeau and his cabinet. He pledged they would be “transparent by default”, yet within days they were secretly interfering in a $700 million naval contract. In November 2015, the House of Commons had not yet been sworn in following the election, but one or more Liberal Ministers attempted to halt a contract in their first cabinet meeting. The contract at issue was one geared at getting our Navy a much-needed supply ship after fire had taken our last remaining one out of service.

Read: “Lawyers in Mark Norman case take aim at Liberal minister, court documents reveal”

We might not even know about the interference in this first cabinet meeting were it not for the reporting of a CBC journalist. James Cudmore wrote about the cabinet review of the contract and the interventions by private industry that came before the cabinet meeting. The CBC stories by Cudmore led to two things. First, the government decided to proceed with the original contract. And second, James Cudmore stopped reporting for the CBC. In a move that raised many eyebrows, Cudmore accepted a job from the Liberal government weeks later. He went from covering defence issues as a journalist to advising the Liberal Defence Minister.

Read: “Davie interim supply ship $700M deal delayed by Liberals”

The leaks surrounding the shipbuilding contract led to a furor in Ottawa and an investigation revealed that dozens of people were aware of details from the cabinet meeting. A year later, Mark Norman was suspended from his job as Vice-Chief of Defence Staff. He was charged with a single charge of breach of trust a year after his suspension. I have yet to hear any reasonable suggestion as to what personal benefit Mark Norman would have received in relation to this alleged breach of trust. The Crown will need to prove this element of the offence and I don’t think that ensuring his naval comrades got “the kit” they needed is going to cut it.

Read: “The Mark Norman files – the official list of those who knew about discussions on supply ship project, according to PCO investigation”

The troubling pattern of apparent interference by the Trudeau government arose before charges were laid. On two separate occasions, the Prime Minister alluded to the fact that criminal charges were likely against Mark Norman. Either he misspoke on two occasions, or he was aware of details related to the investigation. Even worse is the fact that the Trudeau government resisted disclosure of documents needed by Admiral Norman for his defence. After months of pressure, the government finally agreed to let the judge review the documents for relevance, but this made the process slow. The judge also chastised the government for releasing duplicate documents that bogged down the review. Court documents have also revealed that the Privy Council Office appears to have been getting updates from the prosecution team on “trial strategy” in a manner that Norman’s lawyers have suggested was improper.

Read: “Mark Norman lawyers protest ‘strategy’ talks between Crown, federal lawyers”

The most disturbing part of the Norman affair is its similarities to the Ontario gas plant scandal. Not only are many of the principal players from the Ontario Liberal team working in the Trudeau government, but lawyers at the Norman trial are raising questions about practices that appear similar to those used in the gas plant scandal. In the gas plant scandal, the McGuinty government used code words like “Apple” and “Vapour”, which had the effect of delaying or avoiding disclosure of documents. Admiral Norman’s lawyers have been asking witnesses about code words like “Kraken” or “CN3” and whether officials within the Defence Department or the Prime Minister’s Office used code words to avoid disclosure.

Read: “Defence lawyers allege some military officials used code names to hide information about Mark Norman”

Read: “Norman defence team drills Sajjan’s chief of staff on code words”

Read: “How to avoid a paper trail: The reliable — sometimes illegal — tricks used by bureaucrats and political staff”

It will be up to the court to determine whether code words were used or whether there was inappropriate direction from the Prime Minister and his advisors in the Admiral Norman affair, but after the SNC scandal you will understand why many observers don’t give them the benefit of the doubt. Until the trial is complete or charges withdrawn, Admiral Mark Norman marches into court and not across the parade square. I hope he gets justice and until then I salute him for his service and tremendous resilience throughout this terrible ordeal.

Read: “Defence lawyers receive heavily censored memo to Trudeau about Mark Norman’s case”

Watch: “Liberals Deprive Admiral Mark Norman of his Legal Rights”