Vice Admiral Mark Norman, on the record

David Pugliese, writing in the National Post, says that “A little more than a month after Trudeau’s second prediction … [that Vice Admiral Norman would be charged and ottnormanmay17.4tried in court] … and over two years after the start of their investigation, the RCMP charged Norman with one count of breach of trust … [but, as we all know] … On May 8, 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, 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.” (Photo, taken 16 May 2019, by the Ottawa Citizen.)

Mr Pugliese explains, and this is important for those without a military background to understand, that “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.” He goes on to tell us that “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 … [and] … Liberal cabinet minister Scott Brison had told police … [very correctly, in my view] … 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 … [and that due diligence, on your behalf and mine, is one of the reasons why we have a Treasury Board in our cabinet] … 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.” The last is debatable, veteran ministers, including Scott Brison, knew that, as Jason Kenney explained before, Ottawa leaks like sieve but our system of responsible cabinet government (in contrast to the American system of representative government) means that the entire government is responsible for every decision that every minister, and, indeed, every official makes ~ the whole government can (it has happened in the past) fall over any action taken by a minister or even an official. For that reason, the cabinet must have access to the best advice possible and that advice must, very, very often, be SECRET so that officials can give their unvarnished opinions to ministers and minister can debate and discuss what they have heard without having to fear that their deliberations will be made public. It’s not some arcane “rule” in a political “game,” it is a feature that makes for better governance for all of us. Cabinet confidences, as they are called, are important and Scott Brison was right to be upset at the leak.

Vice Admiral “Norman assumed,” David Pugliese writes, that “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 … [but] … “What I never in a million years expected was that (the RCMP) would show up at my house and execute a warrant,” Norman said … [and] … 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.” By the time that Prime Minister made his second and decidedly ill-considered prediction that Mark Norman would face trial he (Norman) said, “I was thinking, ‘I’m screwed.’” But he kept his thoughts to himself.

The details of the RCMP raid and the subsequent interview with General Vance, at which the Deputy Minister of National Defence John Forster was present but took no part, are recounted in considerable detail in Mr Pugliese’s article … I find it somewhat troubling, on a personal level, that, since David Pugliese tells us that General Vance was briefed on the RCMP raid “earlier that day” and that he, General Vance, had time to hold “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 …[and time for] … a brief phone call with Trudeau to confirm that the prime minister was aware of the situation,” that no one on his staff found time to send a legal officer to Vice Admiral Norman’s home to ensure that his rights were being fully respected and protected.

Mr Puglies reports that “Before he left Vance’s office, Norman recalled, Vance warned him: “You’re in for the fight of your life” … [and how true that proved to be, but] … 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 … [and] … 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.

The news of Vice Admiral Norman;’s suspension went global, and General Vance’s letter to senior defence staff officials, explaining that Norman had been relieved of duties, was leaked to the media less than a half hour after it was sent. Then an information blackout was imposed … by someone but that was far too late: “The total lack of information fuelled gossipy theories in political, defence and media circles,” Mr Pugliese recalls, and  “Some military personnel wondered whether Norman’s suspension was related to sexual misconduct. Perhaps he was a Russian spy, others mused … [and, to make matters worse] … 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” … [then] … 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 … [and David Pugliese writes] … 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 … [but] …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 … [and] … 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.”” Many naval and military officers are somewhat taciturn and most are reticent about talking to the media but I think we can detect a cold fury in what Vice Admiral Norman and Mrs Norman have to say. He has, in my opinion, a good reason to feel that treated extraordinarily poorly by Canada’s political, civil and military leaders.

It is hard, for me to imagine, but, Mr Pugliese tells us a bit about the intervening time. First, and foremost “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 Normans to meet her, and he began travelling back and forth to Toronto for consultations … [and] … 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 … [he explained that] … “It wasn’t to distract myself. 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 … [and, he added] … “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 … [the admiral explains that] … “I’m a cancer survivor, 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 … [and, he explained] … “You look at time differently. You look at 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,” the article goes on to say, and “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” … [and] … 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 … [he said that] … “In many respects it made us closer but it’s a shitty way to get closer to your daughter” … [and] … 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.”” But, Vice Admiral Norman is clearly correct, if a bit laconic, in saying that ““it’s a shitty way to get closer to your daughter”

Then came the financial burden and another blow to Admiral Norman’s already shaken faith in the ‘system.’ David Pugliese tells us that “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 … [and] … 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 … [but] … He was shocked by the response he received. Not only was he rejected for such funding, but DND had already determined he was guilty … [and I can tell you that he was not the only person who was shocked; that decision was discussed, generally with dismay verging on disgust, in military messes and clubs across Canada and oversesa] … 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 … [and Admiral Norman said that] … “What was really disturbing was not that they said ‘No, that was disappointing. The disturbing part of it was the bias that was explicit in the decision.”

But there was something right. Even though “To deal with his legal fees Norman took out a large line of credit with his $600,000 house as collateral …[and] … He borrowed money from friends and supporters … [but] … 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” … [but then] … 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” … [but, while] … Norman has declined to discuss the final tally of his legal fees … [and] … 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” … [and] … Legal specialists consulted by Postmedia estimate the cost to Norman for his legal bills since 2017 is well over $1 million.” The decision to deny Admiral Norman the sort of support that most public servants, at any level, would have thought to be a routine right shocked and dismayed many, Lee Hammond’s actions inspired many more.

 Mr Pugliese provides a fairly detailed account of the many weaknesses in the legal case against Vice Admiral Norman, and I heard more than one lawyer opine that the government’s case was somewhere between weak and ludicrously hopeless. But the RCMP and the prosecutors were determined, against all the evidence, that Vice Admiral Norman was guilty of a crime.

20190508_128-e1557350265296“On April 10, 2018,” David Pugliese reminds us, “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 … [he says that] … “The decision was simple, 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.”

As we get towards the end of the beginning we are told that “On the night of Wednesday, May 7 Norman received a call from Heinen’s office. The charges would be stayed, he was told … [he said] … “I knew Marie was in discussions with the Crown but I had no idea of the specific nature … [and] … 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” … [David Pugliese writes that] … 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 … [and] … 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” … [then] … 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 … [and the lead prosecutor said] … “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” … [but] … “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” … [then the judge] … 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.”

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has said he is sorry that Vice Admiral Norman and the Canadian Forces had to go through this ordeal. He has 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 … [but] … Mr Pugliese, who is very well connected in the military says that] … “Despite Sajjan’s denial, there are many in the military community who have told Postmedia they believe that strategy was at play.” I would count myself amongst them. While I believe that Scott Brison was quite correct to say that leaks of cabinet confidences are harmful to the proper functioning of government, I believe that this government, Justin Trudeau’s government, went on a witch-hunt and maliciously tried to ruin a distinguished Canadian ~ a better man than any who conspired against him.

David Pugliese concludes his sad story about a brave man and his family: “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 … [but] … military regulations don’t apply to his family … [so] … 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” … [and] … 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 … [and] … 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.”

I’m with Conservative insider and commentator Andrew MacDougall:

Screen Shot 2019-05-18 at 16.49.04.png

The story, now seen, at last, from Vice Admiral Norman’s perspective, should make almost everyone involved with investigating him, suspending him from duty, pressing the charges and prosecuting him ~ especially Harjit Sajjan and Justin Trudeau ~ feel somewhat soiled. But I really suspect that Prime Minister Trudeau has no doubts at all that he is entitled to ruin someone’s life for his political convenience.

All decent, fair-minded Canadians, and that includes most Liberals, must wish Vice Admiral Norman and his family the very best in the future, and we must all hope that somewhere in the Trudeau regime there is a single, albeit well-hidden shred of self-respect and human decency which will force them to apologize, formally, to Vice Admiral Norman and offer him full and fair restitution for what he has suffered at the hands of Justin Trudeau and his minions.

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