Bev Norman was watching television in her home in the east-end Ottawa suburb of Orleans around 5 p.m. when the screen flashed images of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
It was April 6, 2017, and the prime minister was taking questions from journalists. One of them was about Bev’s husband, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.
Mark Norman was in the kitchen when an astonished Bev called out to him. “I think the prime minister was just talking about you.”
Three months earlier a team of RCMP officers had raided the Normans’ home as part of an investigation into an alleged leak of the Liberal government’s plans to pause a project to procure a supply ship for the Royal Canadian Navy. The federal police force believed Norman had given confidential information to the shipbuilder, Davie, as well as to a CBC journalist in an attempt to prevent the Liberals from scuttling the deal.
The allegations were a working RCMP theory — the raid was part of their ongoing investigation — but when the police briefed Canada’s top soldier, Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance, he had quickly responded by suspending Norman from his military duties. It would later emerge that Vance had discussed the matter with Trudeau and top advisors in the Prime Minister’s Office including then-principal secretary Gerald Butts and chief of staff Katie Telford.
Mark came into the living room and the couple fumbled with their PVR to retrieve the news clip of Trudeau. “This is an important matter that is obviously under investigation, and will likely end up before the courts, so I won’t make any further comments at this time,” the prime minister said.
For the Normans it was surreal moment, watching the leader of the country talking about an active legal case and predicting — roughly a year before any charge would be laid — that the naval officer was headed for court. Bev became very upset. “How is that fair?” she asked her husband.
Norman jotted down what Trudeau had said, and immediately phoned his lawyer, Marie Henein, to tell her what happened.
Later that evening Henein issued a statement to journalists. Politicians should not be commenting about whether a case would be going to trial, she noted. “I expect what the prime minister meant to say is that he declined to comment further given that the matter is under investigation,” she said.
I think the prime minister was just talking about you
It was Henein, perhaps the highest-profile lawyer in the country, providing Trudeau with a way out if he wanted to take it.
But almost a year later Trudeau was back at it, again predicting at a televised town hall in February 2018 that Norman was headed to trial, though he had still not been charged.
Watching TV coverage of that event, Norman couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The prime minister had not only ignored Henein’s subtle warning but had doubled down.
That Trudeau was once again speaking publicly about the case badly upset Bev, so as the couple watched, Norman kept his thoughts to himself.
But, Norman told Postmedia in an exclusive interview, “I was thinking, ‘I’m screwed.’”
A little more than a month after Trudeau’s second prediction, and over two years after the start of their investigation, the RCMP charged Norman with one count of breach of trust.
Last week prosecutors stayed that charge, ending a two-and-a-half-year-long ordeal for Norman and his family. In a press conference held shortly after he left court on May 8, Norman said he wants to tell Canadians his story. “Not to lay blame, but to ensure that we all learn from this experience,” he said.
Under military regulations, however, Norman is restrained in what he can say in public. He could face a new charge under the Canadian Forces legal system if anything he says is seen to be critical of the senior military leadership or government. But in their first interview since he was suspended from his role as the Canadian Forces’ number two, Norman, his wife Bev and daughter Holly spoke with Postmedia about their experience, as candidly as they were able.
In Ottawa’s close-knit world of military procurement specialists and government lobbyists, it wasn’t much of a secret the RCMP had been called in to investigate a leak of cabinet confidences. The $670-million deal to have Quebec-based Davie Shipbuilding convert a commercial ship, the Asterix, into a supply vessel for a navy that no longer had one of its own had been struck under the previous Conservative government. At a November 2015 meeting of a cabinet committee on procurement, the newly elected Liberals decided to put the plan on hold, a decision which leaked almost immediately. Throughout 2016 police made the rounds in the small community, interviewing military officers, government officials and company executives, and seizing records from two lobbying firms that had worked for Davie.
Liberal cabinet minister Scott Brison had told police that the leak had caused significant damage. It had limited the ability of the Liberals “to really do what we’d intended to do, and that is more due diligence on this,” he said.
Environment minister Catherine McKenna, chair of the cabinet committee, told the Mounties she believed that as a result of the leak “trust and confidence in officials was clearly put into disrepute.”
Norman assumed it was only a matter of time before he, too, would be interviewed by the RCMP. He had been head of the navy when Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives green-lit the Asterix project. There had been a series of internal battles within government over the plan and Norman had fought a number of those behind closed doors. He was well aware of the internal machinations surrounding the project. He had been in contact with Davie about their pitch to convert the Asterix and with their rival, Irving Shipbuilding, which later made a similar proposal to provide the navy with a supply ship.
“What I never in a million years expected was that (the RCMP) would show up at my house and execute a warrant,” Norman said.
Unbeknownst to Norman, who had been elevated to vice-chief of the defence staff, making him second-in-command of the Canadian Forces, the Mounties had already conducted clandestine surveillance of him and his home in preparation for a raid. By Christmas he had become the number one suspect in the RCMP’s leak investigation.
At 7:22 a.m. on January 9, 2017, seven police officers arrived in three vehicles at Norman’s house. The vice-admiral was off that Monday and was about to take Bev, a veterinary assistant, to her office. The police boxed in the Normans’ vehicle and officers with badges around their necks approached Norman, who was at the wheel.
“Are you Mark Norman?” one of the officers asked. When the vice-admiral said he was, the Mounties told him they had a warrant to search his home.
Norman asked if his wife could leave for work and police agreed. Bev, who had no idea what was going on, was so upset she was visibly shaking. “I got to work and thought, ‘What am I supposed to tell people?’” she recalled. “I was crying. I talked to my supervisor and told her what was going on and they told me to go home. But I couldn’t.”
Inside the house, Norman sat in the living room under close police supervision while the Mounties searched the home and technicians pored over the Normans’ electronic devices. At one point, Norman recalls, there were four officers sitting around his dining room table drinking coffee and laughing. The RCMP stayed for six hours, and seized a desktop computer, a laptop, two cell phones and three iPads, one owned by Bev.
When Bev did arrive home, the Normans sat together trying to process what just happened. “I was in disbelief,” Mark Norman said. “There was shock. Even at that moment, I said this is such a waste of time. I really thought (the RCMP) would find material related to the project and realize there was nothing in there that would help them in what they were trying to do.”
Then the phone rang. A senior officer from Gen. Jon Vance’s office was on the line. The Canadian Forces chief wanted to see Norman immediately.
Shortly after 6:30 p.m. Norman was ushered into Vance’s office. With Vance was John Forster, deputy minister of the Department of National Defence. The RCMP had already briefed the two men on their allegations against Norman and informed them of the raid. After hearing from the RCMP earlier that day, Vance held separate meetings to brief political officials, including one with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and one with Prime Minister’s Office staff including Telford and Butts. Vance also had a brief phone call with Trudeau to confirm that the prime minister was aware of the situation.
However, Vance told Norman he couldn’t discuss the details of what the RCMP had revealed to him, other than that the information was “compelling, sobering and frightening.”
Forster hadn’t acknowledged Norman when the naval officer entered the room. The deputy minister didn’t look up or make eye contact, Norman recalled, and was fidgeting in his chair, looking at his BlackBerry. “I immediately concluded he was the dedicated witness to whatever it was that was going to happen,” Norman said. Postmedia could not reach Forster for comment. DND said Forster was at the meeting because Norman, as vice-chief, reported to both Vance and the deputy minister.
Vance handed Norman a brown envelope containing a document outlining the general’s intention to relieve his second-in-command from his military duties. Vance said he wanted a response from Norman within 24 hours, though he later relented and allowed for a few more days.
There wasn’t much the vice-admiral could have said. He had no idea what the RCMP allegations were. All he had to go on was the page-and-a-half-long search warrant the RCMP had handed him when they arrived at his house that morning. It confirmed that police had the court’s approval to search Norman’s electronic devices for information about the vice-admiral’s contact with Davie officials but included no specifics of what he was alleged to have done.
Before he left Vance’s office, Norman recalled, Vance warned him: “You’re in for the fight of your life.”
Norman doesn’t remember much about his drive home that evening, but when he arrived home Bev and their daughter Holly, then 19, were there to greet him. They later told him he looked like he had seen a ghost.
In the days following, Norman met with an employment lawyer, but the lawyer’s advice was that his suspension from military duties was a fait accompli.
It was humiliating. It was the worst thing I could imagine in terms of my career
On Friday, Jan. 13th, Vance informed Norman he had run out of time. Admiral Ron Lloyd would be appointed as acting vice-chief of the defence staff. Norman was given a letter formally suspending him from command. In the letter, Vance wrote that he had lost confidence in Norman’s ability to command, though he offered no explanation, and asked Norman to brief Lloyd over the coming weekend on the top issues affecting the military.
Vance would later suggest that in suspending Norman from his job he was actually trying to help. “In this case, that meant removing him from duty so he could take care of the business he needed to take care of,” the general told journalists outside a pre-trial hearing in 2019.
On the morning of Monday, Jan. 16, Vance distributed a letter outlining the situation to senior military officers at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa. It took only 20 minutes to be leaked to the media.
Norman had already predicted to Vance that the news would get out quickly, but even he was surprised how quickly journalists had secured a copy of the letter from inside defence headquarters. (This particular unauthorized release of information was never investigated.)
Days previously, Norman had asked Vance how he would explain the suspension to the media. Norman said he got no answer save a vague response that Vance promised to figure out something.
With the release of the letter, 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, or 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. Vance would later say he couldn’t provide any information about Norman due to “privacy considerations.”
Vance, meanwhile, had left the country — but the military wouldn’t say where he had gone or why, or even when he’d departed. Asked about Norman’s removal, Trudeau declined to provide any details. Vance had made the decision, Trudeau said, and his government fully backed its defence chief.
Sajjan released a statement that echoed Trudeau’s almost word for word.
The total lack of information fuelled gossipy theories in political, defence and media circles. Some military personnel wondered whether Norman’s suspension was related to sexual misconduct. Perhaps he was a Russian spy, others mused.
The news got international attention. “It was playing on CNN, on BBC, it was all over the world,” said Norman. He started receiving emails from naval officers and commanders from around the globe, he said, including from the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia. “They were asking what the hell is going on and asking me whether I was okay,” said Norman. “I couldn’t answer them. I was in shock. I didn’t even know how to answer them.”
“It was humiliating,” he added. “It was the worst thing I could imagine in terms of my career.”
After 10 days of allowing speculation to percolate about the reasons for Norman’s suspension, Sajjan announced publicly what the government had known all along. “This is not an issue of national security,” the minister told journalists. However, he provided no further explanation.
Sajjan has declined to answer why he waited so long to make clear that the investigation wasn’t a matter of national security. But defence sources confirm that the minister’s response wasn’t intended to provide any relief for Norman. Sajjan was sending a message to the U.S. and other Canadian allies who were starting to ask questions about whether Norman’s removal was the result of a significant security breach.
Norman said the government and military silence significantly damaged his reputation. “I don’t know what the hell they were thinking or what they hoped to achieve,” he said.
While Sajjan’s response cleared the air about one avenue of speculation, it didn’t shut the door to the others. “Was he some kind of sexual offender?” asked Bev, rhetorically. “It was very frustrating.”
But both Bev and Holly said they were relieved the media did not dwell on such speculation, and eventually it emerged through reports based on a series of defence sources that Norman’s suspension was linked to the Davie project.
The months following were a whirl of meetings with lawyers and sleepless nights.
Norman needed legal representation. When he explained his predicament to the first attorney he met with, that lawyer told him there was one person better equipped than any other to defend him: Marie Henein. Henein had become the preeminent defence lawyer in the country thanks to her successful defence of former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi on sexual assault charges. The lawyer made arrangements for the Norman to meet her, and he began travelling back and forth to Toronto for consultations.
As much as possible Bev and Mark tried to maintain a sense of normality. Bev would go to her job at the veterinarian clinic. Mark was starting to help his legal team pull together what they needed. In the meantime, he renovated a bathroom in their house and exercised on a regular basis.
“It wasn’t to distract myself,” he explained. “I had to figure out how to continue to live my life to the best of my ability, notwithstanding all the stuff going around me that I had no control over.
“We have a bit of motto; to live our lives as normally as we could.”
That Norman family motto developed in 2003 when the naval officer, then in command of HMCS St. John’s, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. It would take a year of treatments before he would be cleared to return to duty.
“I’m a cancer survivor,” he said. “So when life comes along and drops that on your front door you have to figure out how to deal with that. This (legal case) was a similar thing.
“You look at time differently. You look how you measure success or don’t measure success. You take it a day at a time, a week at a time.”
Friends and family provided support. Norman paid particular attention to ensuring his daughter Holly knew exactly what was happening.
“I invested a lot not just in explaining to her what had gone on but what was going on, and I expressed to her my complete confidence that I would be vindicated,” Norman said. “But I didn’t want to give her fluff. To her credit she was genuinely curious. She got it. She understood it.”
He told Holly to focus on her studies at the University of Ottawa, but even then the first several months were stressful. The two would have honest conversations about what was happening. “I’m proud how she handled the whole thing,” Norman said. “She was a real rock.
“In many respects it made us closer but it’s a shitty way to get closer to your daughter.”
An only child who grew up on military bases across the country, Holly agreed that the legal ordeal had that one positive outcome. “My family and I are really close,” she said. “The three of us have a special bond that not all kids and parents have. But this experience has brought us even closer together.”
The other stress Norman faced was the growing financial burden for his legal defence. He and his family lived a comfortable life and his $265,000 salary from the Canadian Forces was significant. But taking on the unlimited public-funded resources of government prosecutors requires money, and lots of it. Potential witnesses had to be found and interviewed. Access to Information requests had to be filed to try to obtain documents. Even getting basic documents from the government would turn into an ordeal that only served to create more work and drive up costs.
Norman applied to have his legal bills covered through a fund designed to pay lawyer’s fees for federal public servants who, as a result of their job, found themselves in court.
He was shocked by the response he received. Not only was he rejected for such funding, but DND had already determined he was guilty.
At that point Norman had not been charged. DND sources told Postmedia that the department has never conducted a separate investigation into the Norman case; it had accepted without question the RCMP allegations. Deputy minister John Forster, who had been with Vance when he suspended the officer, had made the decision in conjunction with a justice department advisor. Sajjan later defended Forster’s decision, adding that it was the right one based on the information available.
“What was really disturbing was not that they said ‘No,’” Norman said. “That was disappointing. The disturbing part of it was the bias that was explicit in the decision.”
To deal with his legal fees Norman took out a large line of credit with his $600,000 house as collateral. He borrowed money from friends and supporters.
Unbeknownst to him, a retired army colonel in Vancouver had read Postmedia’s report about the government rejecting his request for assistance with his fees and decided to set up a GoFundMe page to help the naval officer. Lee Hammond didn’t know Norman well, but had met him while working at DND headquarters in Ottawa. The former army officer was struck with the inequality of an individual facing off against the full force of government. Hammond set up the GoFundMe with an initial goal of $50,000. He made the first donation, followed by contributions from some non-military friends. “My real goal is to give the guy a chance to defend himself and, in today’s society, that means having a lawyer to fight for you,” Hammond explained. “Paying for top legal advice is the kind of thing that can bankrupt you.”
As the legal battle dragged on, Hammond would raise the fundraising goal, eventually bringing in more than $430,000 from more than 3,500 individuals, every penny critical to fund the vice-admiral’s ongoing legal defence.
“I’m eternally grateful to Lee,” Norman said. “I owe him as well as the people who contributed to that fund a debt of gratitude.”
Norman has declined to discuss the final tally of his legal fees. Public reports have put that cost at $500,000. Norman, however, said that is figure is not accurate. “The full cost of this is well beyond what has previously been reported,” he said. “We’re talking multiples of that number.”
Legal specialists consulted by Postmedia estimate the cost to Norman for his legal bills since 2017 is well over $1 million.
The criminal charge against Norman — a single count of breach of trust — was laid on March 9, 2018.
Norman was disappointed the case was going to court, he said, as he felt he had done nothing wrong. Bev said she had believed the RCMP would realize after going over the materials seized from the family’s home that there was nothing to the allegations being made.
The RCMP had interviewed Liberal cabinet ministers, who said the leak had damaged the government and undermined the public’s trust in the system, but one glaring line of investigation was missing from the police probe: officers never interviewed any individuals from the previous Conservative government, a seemingly major oversight considering many of the police force’s allegations were based on claims Norman had acted inappropriately during that Harper government’s tenure.
But the RCMP’s case was already being questioned in the courts. In an April 21, 2017 ruling on an application a group of news organizations including Postmedia made to make public the details of the search warrant executed on Norman’s home, Ontario Superior Court Justice Kevin Phillips pointed out some problems with the police case: the fact Norman was communicating with Davie officials, Phillips said, didn’t mean he was guilty of anything. “The emails in question are by no means smoking guns,” Phillips wrote in a ruling that unsealed the information.
Phillips also pointed out another possible explanation for Norman’s emails: for decades, Canadian military procurement has been a mess. Norman found himself in the middle of a situation where the acquisition of a supply ship the navy badly needed appeared to be headed off the rails due solely to political considerations. The judge specifically noted that none of what Norman did was for financial gain, but was instead to ensure the well-being of the navy and his sailors. “At its highest, it appears that the potential allegation against Vice-Admiral Norman is that he was trying to keep a contractual relationship together so that the country might get itself a badly needed supply ship,” Phillips wrote in his ruling. “A reasonable member of the informed public might understand the frustration of being Vice-Admiral of a Navy that cannot on its own go more than a tank of gas away from port. An officer of his rank would be expected to develop and maintain relationships with those in the business of supply the Navy and his communications with such people are not, therefore, in and of themselves untoward.”
More importantly, Phillips pointed out, to make a case against Norman the RCMP would need to prove that the naval officer was the first to leak confidential information in the supply ship case. That could be difficult. The Privy Council Office, the organization that supports the prime minister and cabinet, had already conducted its own investigation of the November 2015 leak and found that at least 42 people knew about the planned cabinet committee discussion about the Asterix contract beforehand, and at least 73 people knew the result afterward. The PCO investigation determined there were six separate leaks to various lobbying firms and journalists.
In fact, the RCMP had information implicating an alleged second suspect in the leak. The police force had seized a Memorandum to Cabinet — a document marked ‘secret’ — and a slide deck related to the Liberal’s cabinet committee meeting on the Asterix deal from the office of Brian Mersereau, a top official with the public relations and lobbying firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies. The company had Davie Shipbuilding as one of its major clients. The police also seized an email to Mersereau from Matthew Matchett, a senior official with Public Services and Procurement Canada.
In the email Matchett told Mersereau he was going to drop off some material at the Hill and Knowlton offices. “I got everything — the motherload (sic),” Matchett wrote in his email.
Strangely, the RCMP hadn’t charged Matchett and the government had continued to allow him to work as a senior official at Procurement Canada. (The government only suspended Matchett after Norman’s defence team publicly disclosed his name and alleged role in court documents. He would be charged with one count of breach of trust in February 2019. Matchett has pleaded not guilty, and has not responded to Postmedia’s numerous attempts to contact him.)
Despite the flaws in the case against Norman, the Public Prosecution Service proceeded with the criminal charge against the naval officer. Federal Crown prosecutor Barbara Mercier would later state the prosecution service “did a thorough analysis of the evidence and the law” before deciding to charge Norman.
On April 10, 2018 Norman prepared for his first appearance in an Ottawa court. He selected a dress uniform and carefully arranged his medals. He was determined to wear his naval uniform at each and every court appearance.
“The decision was simple,” he said. “I’m a serving officer. I was proud to wear my uniform. The whole thing was about my service, my responsibilities. In the context of what I was being accused of it had everything to do with me as Vice-Admiral Norman. It’s natural to me that’s what I would do.”
With Henein at his side, the two walked into the courthouse and Norman stood, with his naval hat tucked under his arm, as the lawyer addressed the judge.
The session was to determine logistics and timelines for the case. Henein told the provincial court judge that her priority was to get the case “on the rails and get moving towards a hearing on the merits.”
Outside court Henein was more blunt. When a journalist asked Norman about whether the Liberal government was making him a scapegoat, Henein stepped in to answer: “I think that’s self-evident, isn’t it?” Henein said she was keen to get the case moving. “We’ve been waiting for a year and a half to deal with his matter,” she remarked. “I’m tired of shadowboxing. We want to get this going, get this dealt with and let the public know exactly what this case is about.”
A trial date would be set for August 2019, placing it squarely in the run-up to a federal election expected that fall.
But first, elements of the case would be played out in pre-trial hearings and with documents filed with the court in the fall of 2018.
The pre-trial hearings would allow Norman’s legal team to make their arguments to obtain federal government documents and for both sides to outline their cases in general terms. Some of the hearings would also see the initial cross examination of government officials as arguments were made for the release of records.
However prepared he was for what was to unfold in court, Norman said he still found it difficult to hear the Crown’s allegations against him. Bev and family friends attended court with him. He had confidence in his legal team. He would watch the judge, Justice Heather Perkins-McVey, to try to get a sense of how she was responding to what she was hearing.
“The hardest part was getting a taste for how the prosecution was going to come after me,” he said. “It was difficult for me sitting there and listening to what they were saying about me and my conduct.”
Norman maintains he did what he did for the good of the navy and ultimately for the taxpayer. He was engaged in an internal battle against federal bureaucrats who fought against the Conservative government’s original plans to acquire Asterix as quickly as possible.
But the Crown portrayed Norman as a master manipulator, breaking government rules he had sworn to uphold. Norman, the Crown alleged, was behind more at least a dozen leaks in an effort to champion Davie’s ship proposal and battle bureaucrats he believed stood in the way of the military getting the equipment it needed. The prosecutors conceded that while the navy might have needed the ship and the Davie vessel might well have been the best and most cost-effective option, that wasn’t “Mr. Norman’s decision to make.”
“Mr. Norman knew he was breaking many very well-defined rules,” they argued in their submission to the court.
The Crown alleged Norman’s communication with a Davie official included descriptions of the contents of cabinet memos or discussions. In one instance, Norman wrote an email in support of the Davie project to a personal email account used by then-justice minister Peter MacKay.
On the day of the Nov. 19, 2015 Liberal cabinet committee meeting, the Crown pointed to evidence that showed Norman had been talking to CBC journalist James Cudmore, who reported on the leaked information.
Norman’s response to the Crown’s allegations was to try to not take it personally. “But that’s harder than it seems,” he said.
During the pre-trial hearings Henein’s strategy became clear. Right from the beginning, Norman’s lawyers put front and centre their intention to take aim at key Liberal government officials, in particular then-Treasury Board President Scott Brison.
Central to Henein’s allegations was the claim that Brison, a Nova Scotia MP, was close to Atlantic Canada’s powerful Irving family, whose shipbuilding firm had submitted its own proposal to provide a supply ship. Norman’s lawyers alleged that Brison intervened to scuttle the Asterix project on the Irving’s behalf.
The Irvings have consistently denied any attempt to undercut a rival shipbuilder by political interference, and Brison has also denied any wrongdoing, saying his only interest was to look out for taxpayers. But Henein’s allegations, made in various legal documents, got Brison’s name into the headlines and increased the political heat on the Liberals over the Norman affair.
Norman’s legal team also hammered away in declaring the case had been politicized, pointing out the failure of the RCMP to interview any witnesses from the Harper government. The RCMP, warned Norman’s lawyers, had adopted the “political narrative advanced by the Trudeau government.”
In mid-December 2018, Henein further expanded on her political interference theory when she filed an exhibit consisting of emails between a Crown prosecutor and legal counsel in the Privy Council Office. The emails show the Privy Council lawyer asking for updates on who the Crown has been identified as potential witnesses, what was discussed in judicial pre-trial meetings and what the defence planned to argue in its pre-trial motions. “The nature and tone” of the emails were especially problematic, Henein said, given that Trudeau had a history of commenting publicly on the case.
The pre-trial hearings were mainly focused on attempts by Norman’s legal team to obtain federal documents they argued were needed for the naval officer’s defence. Known as a third-party records application, Henein and fellow lawyer Christine Mainville relentlessly used the process to argue that the government was interfering in Norman’s ability to defend himself, alleging everything from obstructing disclosure to having justice department lawyers inappropriately coach the prosecution’s witnesses.
There was no “eureka moment” when Norman thought the Crown’s case was in trouble, he said. He viewed Henein’s legal strategy as a battle of attrition. “There was no one point where I thought, ‘That was it.’ Marie and Christine had to deal with things, one by one.”
Henein and Mainville were slowly and methodically dismantling the RCMP’s arguments and undermining the credibility of one of the Crown’s potential star witnesses, Gen. Vance. They also focused on Zita Astravas, a former senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office who had been involved in political crisis management on the Norman case.
Vance testified that the RCMP had briefed him on the Norman case, that he had briefly discussed the situation with Trudeau and then later that day met at various times with Sajjan, Butts and Telford. However, he testified, he didn’t jot down a single note during any of those meetings.
Vance also acknowledged in court that even though he had been served with a subpoena requiring him to disclose all records, emails, texts and BlackBerry messages in which the Norman matter was discussed, he hadn’t bothered searching his own personal phone or email address.
The cross-examination of Astravas was even more devastating, some legal observers contend. She had difficulty remembering the names of her own staff. She couldn’t remember if she had ever dealt with Butts or Telford on the matter. She too admitted not having searched her personal phone or email for material on Norman despite the legal order to do so.
There was another moment of high drama when a young major in the Canadian Forces came forward to testify on Norman’s behalf.
On Dec. 18, 2018 the officer, whose name is protected by a publication ban because of fears of professional reprisal, testified that his superior told him Norman’s name was deliberately not used in internal files — meaning any search for records about Norman would come up empty.
The witness said he was processing an access-to-information request about Norman in 2017 that returned no results. When he sought clarification, the officer testified, his supervisor — a brigadier general — smiled and told him: “Don’t worry, this isn’t our first rodeo. We made sure we never used his name. Send back the nil return.”
“He seemed proud to provide that response,” the witness said.
The witness told court he has no relationship with Norman, and came forward only because it’s “the right thing to do.”
“It just doesn’t seem right, the way the whole situation kind of played out, when I was thinking back about it,” the witness said. “I just wanted to make it known, whether it’s relevant or not.”
As the witness testified, Norman said, he could hear an audible response ripple throughout the courtroom. “It was a shocking piece of testimony. There was a lot of people sucking air through their teeth when that happened.”
Justice Heather Perkins-McVey described the testimony as “very disturbing.”
“I was really impressed by that young officer, by his bravery, his composure,” Norman said.
But he wasn’t surprised at the officer’s testimony. Past investigations and documentation have showed the Canadian Forces and Department of National Defence have a track record of destroying, hiding or delaying the release of potentially embarrassing records requested under Access to Information law. “The organization had spent a lot of time and energy over the course of my career, from my personal observation, to figure out ways to deny people access to information, whether it was in a formal application process or whether it was in a broader general sense,” Norman said.
Throughout the winter and spring, Norman’s defence launched new allegation after new allegation against the prosecution and further highlighted delays in getting documents. Records from Trudeau, Butts, Telford and Michael Wernick, the clerk of the privy council, that discussed the Norman case were among the top documents being sought.
Bev, who went to each pre-trial hearing, watched the proceedings with frustration. “It was frustrating because of how things were being kept from us, how slow things were,” she said. “You would go into court and think something would happen that day. But then nothing happened because they didn’t have the documents that day.”
In February 2019, Norman’s defence team alleged Privy Council lawyers were discussing trial strategy with federal prosecutors in a manner that showed worse political interference than the SNC-Lavalin affair. The prosecution service strongly denied that any of the discussions were inappropriate or compromised their independence.
In April, Norman’s lawyers challenged the censorship of information on a series of memos involving staff in the Prime Minister’s Office. All of this was leading up to a pre-trial motion that would allege abuse of process, arguing political interference had irreparably damaged Norman’s right to a fair trial.
Justice Perkins-McVey called it “baffling” that the Crown still had not handed over the requested documents. There were other issues as well.
In late March there was a shift in the Crown’s dogged position. Prosecutors examined new evidence gathered by Norman’s legal team, as well as documents federal officials had finally turned over.
Norman, Henein and the prosecutors have all declined to discuss the nature of that new evidence. But the information was enough to put an end to the prosecution case.
On the night of Wednesday, May 7 Norman received a call from Heinen’s office. The charges would be stayed, he was told.
“I knew Marie was in discussions with the Crown but I had no idea of the specific nature,” Norman said. “I didn’t want to know, I didn’t ask. I had complete faith in Marie and Christine to do what needed to be done.”
Norman hadn’t wanted to create any expectations in himself or in his family. He didn’t find out about the development until an hour after the judge had been informed.
Bev was in complete disbelief. Their two-and-a half-year ordeal was now at a close.
“I said to myself, ‘Okay, settle down,’” she recalled. “I was not going to believe it until I heard it in court.”
Holly was in Toronto that night. At dinner with friends, she received a text message from her parents telling her to phone home immediately. After they told her the news she returned to the table, excited but unable to tell her friends what had happened. “I was really happy for my dad to have his name officially cleared,” Holly said. “I thought the whole time he had done nothing wrong and had acted in the best interest of Canadians.”
The next morning in court prosecutors officially announced that the charge against Norman had been stayed, having determined there was no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction. Prosecutors said they made their decision after reviewing further evidence provided by Norman’s legal team as well as additional evidence from the third-party records that were not originally part of the RCMP’s investigation file.
“Based on new information, we have come to the conclusion that given the particular situation involving Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, there is no reasonable prospect of conviction,” said Crown prosecutor Barbara Mercier.
“It continues to be our view that some of Vice-Admiral Norman’s actions were secretive and inappropriate,” she added. “However, inappropriate does not mean criminal.”
Perkins-McVey wrapped up the proceedings. “Vice-Admiral Norman, you entered a plea of not guilty,” she said. “You are presumed to be innocent and you remain so. You are free to leave.”
A stay meant the charge could be reinstated within a year, but that seems unlikely considering the statements made by prosecutors.
Based on new information, we have come to the conclusion that given the particular situation involving Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, there is no reasonable prospect of conviction
Director of Public Prosecutions Kathleen Roussel issued a statement denying there had been political influence in either the decision to charge Norman or the decision to stay that charge.
Though the parties involved won’t reveal details about the new evidence, sources confirm it clearly shows members of the Conservative government — and not Norman — were the force pushing the Davie project. Sources told Postmedia that the Conservative government was so intimately involved in the project that members of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office were in direct communication with Davie officials about specific details on Asterix, such as requesting that the hangar on the vessel be designed to accept the larger Chinook helicopters which the Conservatives had purchased for the Canadian Forces. In fact, Access to Information documents obtained by Postmedia show that by August 2014 Davie had already made two unsolicited proposals on Asterix to the Conservative government, which ministers had then provided to naval staff to examine.
In the aftermath of the stay of the charge against Norman and increasing questions about how the RCMP conducted its investigation, the federal police force issued a brief statement: “Throughout the course of this criminal investigation, investigators from the RCMP National Division Sensitive and International Investigations section have conducted a thorough, independent and highly professional investigation.”
The statement also acknowledged that since the court case against Matchett was still before the courts, the police force would provide no further comment.
Taxpayers may never know how much the failed prosecution of Noman cost them. The Public Prosecution Service of Canada told Postmedia it will not release the final tally.
The justice department declined to provide their costs, telling Postmedia it would have to use the Access to Information law to attempt to obtain details of the ministry’s spending on the Norman case. That process can take from one to seven years and does not guarantee the cost figure will ultimately be released. Various legal specialists consulted by Postmedia suggested the cost for the prosecution may be around $15 million.
The day charges were stayed against Norman, Trudeau offered little comment save that the prosecution was independent of his office.
But days after the charges were stayed defence minister Sajjan and procurement minister Carla Qualtrough were on the weekend political TV shows in an attempt to justify the government’s actions and highlight claims there was no political interference in Norman’s case.
Qualtrough was asked about Trudeau’s comments about Norman going to trial, even before charges were laid. “I know that’s how it was perceived and I think, in hindsight, not the best framing of words, I can assure you,” Qualtrough told Global. “But at the end of the day, there wasn’t political interference here.” Asked why the Liberal government wouldn’t apologize to Norman when it had in previous years issued numerous apologies to various groups, Qualtrough had her answer ready. “We can’t be in the business of apologizing for independent organizations doing their jobs.”
On CTV Sajjan doubled down on defending how the Norman case unfolded, fully backing Vance’s decision to suspend vice admiral based on unproven allegations by the RCMP. As for Norman, Sajjan wouldn’t apologize. In fact, he couldn’t bring himself to even say that he regretted what Norman and his family had gone through.
Sajjan said his regret was that Norman and the Canadian Forces had to go through what they did. The minister denied the Liberal government had dragged out the process of producing documents in the hopes Norman, facing mounting legal fees, would go bankrupt and throw in the towel.
Despite Sajjan’s denial, there are many in the military community who have told Postmedia they believe that strategy was at play.
On May 14 the House of Commons voted to accept a Conservative MP’s motion to apologize to Norman for what he and his family experienced during their legal battle. Although MPs supported it, the motion was not an apology from the Liberal government and while the Commons can express opinions by voting on motions those are typically not binding and carry no legal weight. Neither Trudeau nor Sajjan were in the Commons when the vote was taken.
Norman has said he wants to go back to his job as vice-chief of the defence staff. But Sajjan has already stated that won’t happen, though only Vance has the legal authority to make the decision.
The government has finally agreed to pay Norman’s legal fees, although negotiations on that matter have yet to begin. Norman has yet to go back to National Defence headquarters or to meet in person with Vance, who declined Postmedia’s request to comment for this story.
Norman declined to discuss his future plans, including whether he will be launching a lawsuit against the federal government. But sources have told Postmedia that is in the works. The military rules that restrain Norman’s public comments do not prevent any lawyer involved in a lawsuit from speaking on his behalf or filing documents.
And military regulations don’t apply to his family.
Bev told Postmedia she still has flashbacks about the RCMP raid and questions about how everything unfolded. “It was such an intrusive feeling to know people had come into my house and had gone through my personal things, to take away my personal iPad,” she said. “It’s been a huge stress on our family.”
One of the most frustrating and baffling aspects of the case for her is that no one in the RCMP or prosecutor’s office ever talked to her husband to ask for his side of the story. “I could never quite understand that,” she said. “Why wouldn’t you? I focus on that a lot.”
But both she and Holly take comfort in the thousands of people who supported the family, both financially and through their best wishes.
The family is now adjusting to their new situation. “Just like we had to adjust to a new normal after the (RCMP raid) we’ll adjust to the new normal after this is all sorted out,” Mark Norman said. “We’re pretty resilient. But the good news is this is a much better place to be in than the place we’ve been in for the last two-and-a-half years.”
— with files from Brian Platt, National Post