OTTAWA — A Canadian Forces member says his commanding officer appeared proud when he revealed last year that military officials had intentionally avoided using Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s name in internal correspondence.
The Forces member, whose identify is covered by a publication ban, recounted the conversation in testimony Tuesday as Norman’s lawyers again accused the government of playing political games with their client, who has been charged with allegedly leaking government secrets.
The service member, who still works for the military, said the conversation in July 2017 occurred after he went to his commander looking for help with an access-to-information request that asked for internal documents about Norman.
The request specifically wanted emails, reports, memos, text messages and other records from a two-week period around when Norman was suspended as the military’s second-in-command in January 2017.
The service member, who testified that he doesn’t know Norman and only came forward because it seemed the right thing to do, said his commander smiled as he told him to respond to the request that there were no records.
“He gives me a smile and says … ‘Don’t worry, this isn’t our first rodeo. We made sure we never used his name. Send back nil return,'” the service member testified, later adding: “He seemed proud to provide that response.”
The member’s testimony came on the last day of a five-day pre-trial hearing in which Norman’s lawyers have been fighting for access to numerous government records that they say will exonerate their client.
Justice Heather Perkins-McVey described the member’s testimony, which has not been cross-examined, as “very disturbing” before court broke for lunch.
Norman was charged this past March with one count of breach of trust for allegedly leaking government secrets about a $700-million military contract.
The contract, in which a Quebec shipyard was asked to convert a civilian container ship into a support vessel for the navy, was negotiated by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and finalized by the Trudeau Liberals in 2015.
Norman’s team kicked off the day by reminding the Crown of its duty to the truth after the prosecution on Monday said the defence had not provided any evidence to prove there had been political interference in the case.
Defence lawyer Marie Henein also again accused the government of trying to prevent — or least delay — the production of thousands of government documents that she says are necessary to prove Norman’s innocence.
Most of the documents relate to the ship contract, though Henein is also seeking records from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office and the Privy Council Office, the government’s top department, about the case itself.
One of the questions leading up to the pre-trial hearing was whether Trudeau and Harper would block the release of government secrets created while they were prime minister, as is allowed under the law.
In fact, Norman’s team and Perkins-McVey had asked several times over the past few days whether the government had asked Harper for his position on releasing the files after the former prime minister tweeted on the issue.
Justice Canada lawyer Robert MacKinnon had repeatedly sidestepped the question, saying it was irrelevant since the government was leaving it up to the court to decide whether to release them.
But Norman’s lawyers revealed in court an email Harper sent to the clerk of the Privy Council on Tuesday morning confirming that he would not block the release of any documents deemed relevant by the court.
Henein said the fact that her office had to go out of its way to obtain the confirmation and email — which she suggested should have been the responsibility of the Crown — was further proof of obfuscation.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press