Vance, Not Trudeau, Owns Decision to Suspend Norman

KINGSTON - Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance says the decision to suspend Vice-Admiral Mark Norman was his alone, made without any influence from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Vance made the comments after telling reporters in Kingston, Ontario, that, while he regrets what happened to Norman, he would not answer any questions about the case at this time.

But before departing, he offered a brief remark. "The prime minister did not pressure me to suspend him, ok? My decision, my decision alone because of the code of service discipline in the Queen's regulations and orders. Not the prime minister, not the minister, me. I own it."

The comments came on the same day a government official confirmed that the prime minister asked the Privy Council Office (PCO) to investigate the leak from the cabinet committee studying the shipbuilding contract. According to the official, Trudeau was frustrated about the leak of cabinet secrets in relation to a multi-million dollar shipbuilding contract and asked the PCO to look into it.

Paul Duchesne, media director for the PCO, said cabinet confidence is a "core tenet" of government and the office takes any leaks "extremely seriously" and this was no exception. He said then-Privy Council Clerk Janice Charette immediately tasked then-National Security and Intelligence Advisor (NSIA) Richard Fadden to undertake an administrative review.

Based on the information uncovered in the review, Duchesne said the NSIA recommended to Charette that the matter be referred to the RCMP for "pursuit of a criminal investigation". The PCO agreed and the investigation was passed on to the RCMP, the statement read.

The government official said the RCMP acted independently in its decision to proceed with a criminal investigation.

Vice-Admiral Norman was charged with breach of trust last year for allegedly leaking secrets from former prime minister Stephen Harper's cabinet. It was alleged that Norman spilled confidential information about a $700-million shipbuilding contract the Harper government awarded to Quebec-based Davie Shipbuilding. Norman was suspended from the military, where he served as the second-in-command, as a result of the charges. He consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Last week, federal prosecutors abruptly stayed the breach of trust charge against Norman, citing no "reasonable prospect of conviction", as evidence emerged that Norman had acted with the full knowledge and consent of the former Harper cabinet.

In the days following, opposition MPs pounced on the opportunity to accuse the Liberals of covering up key information in the case, which prolonged it. The Conservatives alleged the government deliberately suppressed evidence to continue the prosecution while the NDP repeatedly called for an investigation into the whole matter.

Norman’s legal team, led by Marie Henein, immediately called on the Liberal government to apologize to him and his family for his treatment throughout the case. That sentiment has been echoed by MPs in the House of Commons who unanimously agreed this week to apologize to Norman. Two days later, a motion from opposition MPs calling on the House National Defence Committee to study the government's conduct in the case was defeated during an emergency meeting of the committee.

Although the call for a probe was voted down, there appeared to be a willingness to allow Norman testify on his own accord if he chooses to do so. He previously has said that he has an "important story to tell"”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has called on Trudeau to launch a formal public inquiry into exactly how and why the RCMP were called in to investigate Norman. Scheer also used the opportunity to draw a parallel between the Norman case and the SNC-Lavalin scandal. "This is a page right out of the SNC-Lavalin playbook. Shutting down investigations when they get too close to the truth," he said during a news conference on Parliament Hill. "This is an egregious abuse of Canada’s justice system."

The Conservative leader said the Liberals withheld documents from Norman's lawyers in order to prolong the prosecution. He also called on Trudeau - who was conspicuously out of the Commons chamber when the apology motion was passed - to directly apologize to Norman. "“Vice-Admiral Mark Norman and his family deserve a direct apology from the prime minister. Today, I reiterate my call for Justin Trudeau to immediately and personally apologize to Vice-Admiral Norman," he said.
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