OTTAWA — Suspended Vice-Admiral Mark Norman will be shuffled out of his position as the military’s second-in-command on Thursday, as the criminal case against him works its way through the court system.
The move comes 18 months after Norman was relieved of his duties as vice chief of defence staff for allegedly leaking government secrets to a Quebec shipyard, for which he faces one charge of breach of trust.
The veteran naval officer has denied any wrongdoing and has said he plans to fight the charge in court.
Defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance had appointed several other senior officers to fill in on a temporary basis until the case could go through the judicial process.
He has also shouldered some of the position’s responsibilities himself.
But the Defence Department has confirmed that Vance has tapped army commander Lt.-Gen. Paul Wynnyk to take over as the Forces’ new vice chief, effective July 16.
“Command and control, as well as leadership, are critical as the Canadian Armed Forces continue to deploy on operations and implement the defence policy,” DND spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said in an email.
“The chief of defence staff is grateful for those who have stepped up to fill the gap, but at this juncture … the Canadian Armed Forces require a full-time vice chief of defence staff going forward.”
The military just this week began to deploy troops to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali.
Norman will be moved to a supernumerary position within the defence chief’s office, Le Bouthillier added, where he will continue to serve as a member of the Forces until the court case plays out.
It is believed Norman was informed of the shuffle ahead of time, as he and Vance have been in constant contact by email and the occasional phone call and letter since January 2017, though it’s unclear whether he agreed to it.
The move is likely to spark anger from Norman’s supporters, including many former military members and even some politicians who have contributed thousands of dollars to help pay for his legal defence.
The case against Norman revolves around the newly elected Liberal government’s decision in November 2015 to reconsider a $700-million contract the Harper Conservatives had awarded to Quebec-based Davie Shipbuilding.
The contract was to convert a civilian vessel, the MV Asterix, into a temporary navy resupply ship that would be leased for five years, with another five-year option, until permanent replacements could be built in Vancouver.
While the plan to revisit the contract was supposed to remain secret, court documents released last year show the RCMP suspected Norman was upset with the decision and worried the government would cancel the project.
He was commander of the navy at the time and, according to the documents, allegedly worked with Davie to try to pressure the government to stick with the project.
None of the allegations against Norman have been tested in court.
The Liberals ultimately decided to proceed with the project and the MV Asterix is now being used by the navy.
Norman was officially charged on March 9, at which point Vance issued a statement saying he needed to “consider the impact and implications” of the criminal charge against the military’s second-in-command.
“This is a complex matter, separate from the judicial process,” Vance said at the time. “I need time to weigh these factors carefully and deliberately.”
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Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press