Vice-Admiral Mark Norman and the House of Commons Defence Committee
Investigating Mark Norman’s Tortured Path to the Staying of the Breach of Trust Charge
In the life of any democratically elected government there are events which when the final chapter is written could be looked back on as tipping points. They are matters seemingly insignificant at the time when they occurred, but take on a great measure of significance with the electorate during an election period.
For example in 2015 it can be argued that two events during the campaign contributed to the defeat of the Conservative government. One was a self-inflicted wound and the other involved reaction to an event half a world away. They would be the Conservative Party’s pledge to implement a barbaric cultural practices snitch line and the other being the picture of little Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body lying on a beach in the Mediterranean. For the NDP it was then leader Tom Mulcair’s promise to balance the budget.
The problem for the Trudeau Liberals is that these tipping points are best identified after an election, if they could be identified beforehand, they would either be corrected or not happen at all. Looking back over the almost four years in government, tipping points could come in the form of the broken promise on election voting reform. It could also be the lack of concrete action on infrastructure promises or lack of advancement of Indigenous issues. Or perhaps it could be the expulsion of Ministers Wilson-Raybould and Philpott from the Liberal caucus.
Yesterday, one of these tipping points may have occurred when during question period Prime Minister Trudeau did not take the opportunity given to him by the opposition to apologize to Vice-Admiral Norman for putting him through the last three plus years which ended last week in the breach of trust charge against him being stayed.
What may have compounded the fallout from Trudeau’s lack of an apology was the sight of him scurrying out of the House of Commons Chamber so he could avoid participating in the vote on an apology that would be dealt with by the House itself.
The apology which passed unanimously without a vote recognized Vice-Admiral Norman for his decades of loyal service to Canada, expressed regret for the personal and professional hardship he has endured as a result of the failed prosecution and apologized to him and his family for what they experienced during this legal conflict with the government.
When a photo is taken of those present for the disposition of this apology by members of the House of Commons, Prime Minister Trudeau will not be present.
Last evening both Conservative members led by Deputy Leader Lisa Raitt and NDP members led by Tracy Ramsey put questions in Committee of the Whole to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General for Canada David Lametti on the SNC Lavalin matter as well as the treatment of Vice-Admiral Norman by the justice system over the past three years.
The implementation of questioning of ministers designated by the opposition in Committee of the Whole House was instituted as part of rule changes in the House to provide opposition members an opportunity to deal in depth over an evening with a department’s spending plans, but there are no limits except relevance concerning the questions asked. And as noted, the opposition went after the government on SNC Lavalin and the Admiral Norman affair.
The opposition will get one more kick at exploring the Admiral Norman affair on Thursday afternoon for an hour at the House Defence committee. This is when those on the opposition side will have the opportunity to speak in favour of their joint motion requesting the committee to investigate the actions of the government during the time between Norman being ousted for allegedly leaking documents regarding a ship refurbishing contract awarded to the Davie Shipyard and last week when the charge of breach of trust against him was stayed. The motion includes a witness list featuring the Vice-Admiral, Prime Minister Trudeau and the Chief of Defence Staff among others.
It is hard to disagree with John Ivison’s conclusion that this motion will be defeated by the Liberal majority on the committee given the government’s experience with the Justice Committee and witnesses regarding the SNC Lavalin affair.
It is important that the opposition use this hour tomorrow wisely as there are no shortage of procedural and legal reasons for conducting an investigation but unfortunately for the opposition there is one large political reason for the government members to vote down this request; the upcoming election and the fact that once again a commons committee would be looking at possible government interference in a judicial process.
Questions could be asked as to how it came about that Prime Minister Trudeau would say on April 17, 2017 that Norman “will likely end up before the courts” and in February at a town hall meeting that the case would “inevitably” lead to “court processes,” both statements made before the legal charge was formally laid? Then the question is why, and on what grounds, did the government decide to review the contract given to the Davie Shipyard and what role, if any, did then Treasury Board President Scott Brison play in this review?
Then there are questions that could be asked regarding the RCMP investigation and why did it seem to miss or perhaps ignore vital exculpatory details? Yesterday in question period Trudeau said that the Chief of Defence Staff brought forth the charges and that decision was made by the CDS. General Vance could be asked to supply the grounds upon which he made his decisions.
With regard to the treatment and disclosure of documents, there would be questions as to why they were withheld or extensively redacted, particularly the long note from the Clerk to the Prime Minister.
Norman’s lawyer, Marie Henein said after the charges were stayed “what you don’t do is put your finger and try to weigh in on the scales of justice. That is not what should be happening.” Questions that would be asked in an investigation would be whose finger was on those scales and for what purpose?
Yesterday, Public Safety Minister Goodale while defending the work and role of the RCMP said there were lessons to be learned from this matter. What are those lessons?
What we know from the Justice Committee hearings into the SNC Lavalin matter is that there were attempts to influence or interfere with the work of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, but they were resisted. In the Norman case allegations of political interference in the conduct of the investigation have cast a cloud over the whole matter. There are questions and they deserve answers.
As always in these matters, the answers will eventually surface and surely this government has learned from past experience from the Christmas vacation to the Aga Khan’s private island to the SNC Lavalin and Norman cases, better that everything come out at once than it drip, drip out during the writ period.
The House of Commons Defence Committee and its government members have an opportunity to let the sun shine in. But will they take it?
--today, CPI numbers for April to be released—they should help reveal whether the economy has in fact turned the corner from the Q1 slowdown
--today, Foreign Affairs Minister Freeland is in Washington to meet with U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer and Senate Finance Committee chair Chuck Grassley
--today, Prime Minister Trudeau is in Paris to attend a meeting dealing with the Christchurch mosque shootings and online hate
--May 16, monthly survey of manufacturing for March to be released
--May 16, Newfoundland and Labrador provincial election
--May 22, retail trade numbers for March to be released
--May 29, Bank of Canada deals with interest rates
--May 31, GDP for March and Q1 to be released--bc