OTTAWA — Federal prosecutors have urged an Ottawa judge to keep the case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman focused on his actions — not his motives — as they seek to limit the release of thousands of government documents.
Most of the documents relate to a $700-million contract with a Quebec shipyard to refit a civilian container ship into a support vessel for the navy that was negotiated by the Harper Conservatives and finalized by the Trudeau Liberals in 2015.
Norman is accused of breach of trust over allegations he leaked important information to the shipyard and others to help land the contract.
His lawyers have asked for access to those reams of government documents, arguing in court this week that they will provide broader context for the former navy commander’s actions and what was happening with the project.
Crown attorney Mark Covan conceded in court on Friday that some of the documents held by the government could be relevant to the case.
Yet he also attacked suggestions Norman’s activities were above board, saying the defence had yet to show any of the leaks were authorized and citing several emails obtained by the RCMP as suggesting Norman “specifically took steps to hide his conduct.”
“It’s a pattern,” Covan said of the attempts at secrecy. “There’s a pattern.”
Covan’s comments came on the third day of a five-day pre-trial hearing in which Judge Heather Perkins-McVey is being asked to determine whether the government documents that Norman’s lawyers have requested are relevant and should be made public.
They represented the first substantive arguments from the Crown after more than two days of submissions by Norman’s legal team, and provided a glimpse of the prosecution’s expected case against the senior military officer.
The defence said this week that Norman was working with the Harper government in trying to move the project along and it was other civil servants who were trying to thwart cabinet’s will and kill the deal — which they say the requested documents will show.
If that had been the case, Covan countered on Friday, there were numerous legitimate avenues available to Norman and any other civil servant to flag such concerns and ensure the government is made aware of the problem.
The reality, Covan told the court, is that there was a sharp difference of opinion within the civil service over the project, the decision ultimately rested with the politicians in the cabinet — and Norman circumvented proper procedures to get his way.
“Even if Mr. Norman or other individuals thought that this ship was the absolute best thing for Canada, the absolute best thing for the navy, you can’t commit a crime to get that,” Covan told the court.
“This is not a decision that belonged to anyone except to cabinet. And so to the extent that we say this was interfered with — or the work of civil servants was being interfered with — that is conduct that is contrary to the public good.”
He went on to compare the situation to a person robbing a bank to pay for medical treatment, adding that many public departments and agencies such as hospitals need vital equipment.
Earlier in the day, defence lawyer Marie Henein raised concerns about updates the Crown has given about the case to bureaucrats in the Privy Council Office, which supports the Prime Minister’s Office.
Perkins-McVey noted that it is not unusual for the Crown to provide updates to complainants or victims, but Henein suggested the exchanges were inappropriate because officials in the Privy Council Office will also be witnesses in the case.
Henein also alleged that the information was being passed up to the Prime Minister’s Office with a view to intentionally delaying Norman’s politically sensitive trial, which is slated to start in August and run through much of next year’s federal election campaign.
Suspended as the military’s second-in-command in January 2017 after previously serving as head of the navy, Norman was charged this past March following a lengthy RCMP investigation. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
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