The RCMP have laid a single charge of breach of trust against the country’s second-highest military commander, CBC News has confirmed.
The charge against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman was laid Friday in an Ottawa court. He is scheduled to appear before a judge April 10.
News of the charge comes just weeks after a senior federal prosecutor in Halifax was put in charge of the case, say several sources with knowledge of the file.
Those multiple sources also say the scope of the investigation was expanded recently beyond claims that Norman was the source of unauthorized disclosures to the media shortly after the Liberal government was elected in the fall of 2015.
The investigation started after reports surfaced publicly that the Trudeau government, newly elected at the time, had decided to put the acquisition of a leased supply ship for the navy on hold.
Curiously, the RCMP revealed Friday that they asked U.S. authorities for help with the probe, but refused to say what sort of assistance was rendered.
Norman’s lawyer said he will fight the charge.
“Vice-Admiral Norman has devoted his entire career to serving Canada and our military,” Marie Henein said in a statement. “Not once has he ever been swayed by political or personal considerations.”
She said he “remains unwavering in his commitment, confident in the knowledge that he has always acted in the best interests of this country.”
During the course of the investigation, RCMP search warrants revealed that police were looking at Norman and one other unnamed federal official at the Public Services department.
A spokesman for the Mounties, Vladimir Napoleon, confirmed the investigation is ongoing, but would not say whether more charges are expected.
Investigators recently returned to speak with a handful of the over 30 witnesses that have been interviewed.
They looked into how alleged information leaks to the defence industry shaped the former Conservative government’s bid to secure a contract for a leased naval supply ship with Federal Fleet Services Inc., which operates the Chantier-Davie shipyard in Levis, Que.
Court records, unsealed last year, show Norman only became involved in a back-channel dialogue with a senior Davie executive in the summer of 2015, after the government of then-prime minister Stephen Harper announced it had secured a preliminary deal.
The RCMP focused on those email exchanges with Spencer Fraser, a former navy officer who was a senior executive with the company.
The Mounties were looking for evidence Norman leaked the outcome of a November 2015 cabinet meeting, during which the government decided to put the supply ship project on hold.
The media and political storm that followed made senior members of cabinet furious.
The Liberals relented and the MV Asterix was delivered recently to the navy to begin operations.
The RCMP handed their investigation report over to the Crown in Ottawa last summer.
Still no word on Norman’s job status
Norman was summarily suspended from his duties but was not relieved from his post as vice chief of the defence staff in January 2017.
There is no word on whether the military intends to remove Norman from the vice chief’s job and place him on some sort of administrative leave.
His boss, Gen. Jonathan Vance, would only say Norman “remains a member of the Canadian Armed Forces” and that he will not comment further in public.
“As Chief of the Defence Staff, I must consider the impact and implications of criminal charges against a senior Canadian Armed Forces Officer on our organization,” he said in a statement.
“This is a complex matter, separate from the judicial process. I need time to weigh these factors carefully and deliberately.”
The ambiguity is perhaps a reflection of the fact that a conviction may not be a slam-dunk for the prosecution.
In unsealing search warrants last year, Ontario Superior Court justice Kevin Phillips said the emails were “by no means a smoking gun.”
The judge went further and suggested Norman might not have done anything criminal and that his exchanges with Fraser were “meant to keep a contractual relationship together.”
That raised the bar for police and the Crown.
The act of moving the file and the case review to Halifax was significant on a number of levels.
It reflects the political stakes for the Crown and the RCMP after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly said — on more than one occasion — that he expects the case against Norman to end up in court.
Henein said Norman has faith in the legal system.
“We will respond to this allegation in a courtroom, where evidence, objectivity and fairness matter, and where politics have absolutely no place,” she said..