Norman was suspended after it was reported that the newly elected Liberals planned to delay a contract awarded to Davie Shipbuilding for a navy supply ship
Lawyers for Vice-Admiral Mark Norman have served notice they intend to probe the actions of one of the Liberal government’s top cabinet ministers as they try to clear the name of the naval officer accused of leaking confidential information.
In newly filed court documents, Norman’s lawyers allege that as a November 2015 deadline approached to sign a deal to lease a much-needed naval supply ship from Quebec-based Davie Shipbuilding, both defence minister Harjit Sajjan and Judy Foote, then minister responsible for procurement, were in favour of moving ahead with the project. Set in motion by the previous Conservative government, the deal also had the backing of senior government bureaucrats.
But Treasury Board president Scott Brison intervened just before the deadline, the documents claim, attempting to convince his cabinet colleagues to put the Davie deal on hold.
Norman’s lawyers claim Brison, a Nova Scotia MP, is close to Atlantic Canada’s wealthy and powerful Irving family. Their shipbuilding firm had submitted its own proposal to provide a supply ship, which the Conservative government had rejected in favour of Davie’s bid. “It will be the defence’s position that Minister Brison was behind the effort to delay and potentially terminate the Davie agreement,” the documents state.
The claims are contained in an application Norman’s lawyer Marie Henein filed in an Ottawa court Friday seeking access to a massive trove of classified government documents she argues are necessary to mount the vice-admiral’s defence when he comes to trial on a criminal charge of breach of trust.
Norman, who as vice-chief of the defence staff was second-in-command of the Canadian Forces, was suspended from his position by Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance in January 2017, nearly two months after then-CBC journalist James Cudmore reported that the newly elected Liberal government planned to delay a contract awarded to Davie Shipbuilding to provide the navy with a supply ship.
In the face of the resulting publicity the government backed down on the delay, but asked the RCMP to investigate the leak of documents protected by cabinet confidence, which it is illegal to release without authorization. After the RCMP raided Norman’s house, Vance suspended him from his duties. He was not charged until March 2018.
The RCMP allege Norman championed Davie’s proposal and provided Davie officials with information from the cabinet meeting and the discussions about delaying the deal with the company. Norman was not at the meeting and was not in Ottawa at the time.
Henein’s application argues that, far from interfering in a shipbuilding contract for personal gain or preference, as the Crown has alleged, Norman was working to ensure that the orders of elected officials were being followed in the face of resistance from “several senior civil servants.” It also argues there is no evidence Norman ever leaked cabinet documents, alleging the leak in question actually came from a government employee. And it points out that leaks are endemic in Ottawa, only occasionally investigated and almost never a matter for the courts.