Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance and Vice-Admiral Mark Norman on their way to court, separately, on Jan. 30, 2019.
Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance and Deputy Minister Jody Thomas were full of praise for Vice Admiral Mark Norman in a message sent out Thursday to both civilian and military personnel in the Canadian Forces and Department of National Defence.
The legal case against Norman, over the alleged leak of information about a naval supply ship, had collapsed a day earlier in an Ottawa court.
“Vice-Admiral Norman, you entered a plea of not guilty,” Justice Heather Perkins-McVey told the naval officer shortly after Crown prosecutors announced Wednesday they no longer had a reasonable prospect of conviction and were staying the charge. “You are presumed to be innocent, and you remain so. You are free to leave.”
Thomas and Vance issued their message Thursday to announce that Norman would be returning.
Norman is “a highly experienced and successful officer,” they wrote.
“VAdm Norman has had, and will continue to have, the trust of senior military and civilian leadership,” Vance and Thomas added.
Those were some interesting statements, considering all that has happened in the last two and a half years. In fact, Norman’s supporters put much blame on Vance for moving too quickly and basing his decision to suspend the Vice Admiral on unproven information from the RCMP.
Go back to January 2017 when Vance summoned Norman to his office. Vance had been briefed by the RCMP on their allegations against Norman. Also with Vance was then deputy minister John Forster.
Vance handed Norman a draft notice of his intent to relieve the naval officer of his military duties. “I have compelling, sobering and frightening information,“ Vance told the naval officer, although he provided no details.
“Do you have anything to say for yourself?” Vance asked.
Given the severity of Vance’s statement, Norman said he wanted time to consult a lawyer, and, concerned that his response might be turned over to police and potentially used against him, asked Vance about the legal status of any response he would provide. Neither the general nor Forster could answer his question.
Norman didn’t get much time to figure out his response. On Friday, Jan. 13th, 2017 Vance informed the naval officer that he had run out of time. Norman was given a formal letter, suspending him from command. In the letter, Vance wrote without explanation that he had lost confidence in Norman’s ability to command.
There would be no internal hearing, and no formal opportunity for Norman to present his side of the story. The decision was based on the unproven claims that underpinned the RCMP’s search warrant that had been executed on Norman’s home.
Norman had not been charged with any crime. That would come more than a year later.
Vance’s suspension of Norman was the beginning. Then the following happened:
-A letter from Vance about Norman’s removal – sent only to the most senior staff – was leaked to the news media by someone inside National Defence headquarters within 20 minutes of being distributed. But strangely, the Canadian Forces would not investigate who leaked the document.
-Vance ordered a blackout on all information about Norman. The Canadian Forces refused to say why the vice-admiral had been removed, when Norman was given Vance’s letter, whether Norman was still serving and, if so, in what job or capacity. It also refused to explain why it couldn’t answer such basic questions. That blackout allowed damaging speculation to circulate about Norman both in the news media and on social media networks.
-The Department of National Defence rejected Norman’s request for financial assistance in 2017 as it claimed the senior officer was guilty of disclosing confidential information. Government officials reached that stunning conclusion — contained in a justice department letter leaked to Postmedia — even though Norman had not been charged at the time and no formal internal investigation was carried out by the Canadian Forces or the DND.
-A brigadier-general boasted about attempts within the Canadian Forces/DND to stop Norman from receiving the documents he needed for his legal defence. The judge in Norman’s pre-trial hearing was so concerned that the military member who came forward with this information would face retribution from the Canadian Forces leadership that she imposed a publication ban on the individual’s name.
-In late January 2019 during the pre-trial hearing for Norman the judge heard that despite a court order, Vance and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s chief of staff Zita Astravas didn’t search their personal email and phone accounts for data related to the naval officer.
-Meetings on the Norman case were held between Vance and the RCMP, along with top Liberal advisors. Vance also talked to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the Norman case. Deputy Minister Thomas also participated in meetings with police. Vance and Thomas never took a single note.
-On Wednesday Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan stated that Norman would not be given back his previous job of vice chief of the defence staff. However that decision is not Sajjan’s to make. That decision can only be made by Vance.
This is the work environment that Vice Admiral Mark Norman will be returning to in the near future.