Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, the second-in-command of the Canadian Forces, has been charged with breach of trust over allegations he leaked news in late 2015 that the Liberal government was considering cancelling a significant shipbuilding project inked earlier that year by the Conservatives.
In a statement issued Friday, RCMP said the charges are a result of an investigation that involved American authorities and that came as the result of a complaint in December 2015, roughly a month after the leak made its way into media reports.
“Following receipt of this complaint, the RCMP sought evidence through a number of judicial authorizations and a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty Request from U.S. authorities,” the statement reads.
“The investigation also involved other investigative measures such as witness interviews, as well as the forensic analysis of a significant number of documents.”
RCMP allege Vice-Admiral Mark Norman leaked government secrets
Norman, 54, was formerly head of the Royal Canadian Navy and a fierce critic of bureaucratic delays and government hand-wringing that have caused Navy capabilities to atrophy over the last decade.
Norman will appear in court on April 10.
Marie Henein, the high-profile defence lawyer representing Norman, said in a statement that her client was not notified charges were being laid until mere hours before the charges were sworn in court.
“That lack of transparency has unfortunately been a feature of this investigation for the past year,” she said.
“This is a very sad day for an extraordinary Canadian who we should be celebrating rather than prosecuting. Our public resources should be put to better use. His faith in his country remains unshaken. So too is his faith in the legal system.”
Henein also hit back at the handling of the case so far, which has seen senior officials including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance publicly defend the decision to strip Norman of his responsibilities.
“We will respond to this allegation in a courtroom where evidence, objectivity and fairness matter and where politics have absolutely no place.”
How did the case get here?
After a fire and old age forced the Royal Canadian Navy to retire both of its joint supply ships from duty in 2014 and early 2015, sailors were left without a way to refuel while at sea.
A lack of supply ships means Canadian vessels either could not participate in missions that would take them offshore for weeks on end or that the ships that did would be forced to rely on allied ships for refuelling of supplies.
Prior to the 2015 election, the former Conservative government changed the rules around how and when the government can issue sole-sourced contracts.
The government then signed a letter of intent with Quebec’s Chantier Davie in August 2015 and in October 2015, finalized the terms of the agreement for the shipyard to lease a refurbished commercial supply ship to the military.
However, the deal still needed to be approved by cabinet.
After the Liberals won the election — and swept Atlantic Canada — news emerged that the government had paused the deal and was considering cancelling.
That decision would have cost taxpayers $89 million according to the letter of intent, which laid out compensation for Davie given it acquired the MV Asterix, the vessel it planned to refurbish, and hired staff prior to the deal being officially inked.
Shortly after, news emerged that two rival firms had sent letters to four federal cabinet ministers imploring the government to take a second look at their own bids to supply the interim supply ship.
READ MORE: Seaspan joins push to halt supply ship deal
Treasury Board president and Nova Scotia Liberal MP Scott Brison was one of those who received the letters from Irving and Seaspan, the two firms which wanted the shipbuilding contract for themselves.
Former public services and procurement minister Judy Foote, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains, and Norman were also sent the letter from Seaspan.
The letter sent by Irving was also addressed to Brison and Foote in addition to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
According to unredacted court documents released publicly last year, Brison told the RCMP that the leaks impeded the cabinet’s ability to do its job.
Those court documents also included emails between Norman and some of the shipbuilding officials who RCMP investigated in conjunction with the leak and painted a picture of a “personal” and “vindictive” feud between the head of Irving and Norman.
The shipbuilding industry in Canada is by and large a duopoly dominated by Irving and Seaspan, which both hold billions in federal contracts to build vessels for the Navy and coast guard through the National Shipbuilding Strategy.
Those contracts include replacements for permanent supply ships for the Navy but neither vessel will be ready for years and the goal behind an interim contract was to get a ship to bridge the gap left by the early retirement of the Navy’s remaining supply ships.
Davie delivered the interim supply ship on time in December 2017 and the Navy accepted it after testing last month.