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Lawyers for Vice-Adm. Mark Norman begin battle for secret government documents in court

Vice Admiral Mark Norman arrives to the Ottawa Courthouse in Ottawa on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick.
Vice Admiral Mark Norman arrives to the Ottawa Courthouse in Ottawa on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick.

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman‘s lawyers started making their case in earnest for access to thousands of government files Thursday.

They argue the records – many of them cabinet secrets – will prove the suspended military officer’s innocence.

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The Crown alleges Norman tried to undermine and influence the federal cabinet’s decisions on a $700-million naval project by leaking government secrets to the shipyard and media for more than a year.

But Norman’s lawyers told an Ottawa court during the second day of a five-day pretrial hearing that the former vice-chief of the defence staff, who has been charged with one count of breach of trust, was doing the exact opposite.

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And they say the documents that they want to see, which the Crown has argued are irrelevant to the case, will confirm that fact by revealing the full context of what was really happening in the halls of power.

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“This is information we need to show that he did not try to undermine the cabinet process,” defence lawyer Christine Mainville said.

“We simply can’t convict Vice-Admiral Norman on theories, we need to know what happened.”

The requested documents include memos, letters, meeting agendas and minutes as well as communications between political and military officials as well as Davie Shipbuilding, which was awarded the contract.

The contract, negotiated by the Stephen Harper Conservatives and signed by the newly-elected Liberals in 2015, involved Davie refitting a civilian container ship into a support vessel for the navy to lease.

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During her arguments before Judge Heather Perkins-McVey, Mainville cited several emails and witness statements collected by the RCMP during their investigation of Norman’s activities to show that there is a lot more to the case.

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For example, she cited several emails that indicated Norman wasn’t the only one talking to Davie, but that there were numerous discussions taking place between the shipyard and political staff inside the Harper government.

Available documents and witness statements also suggest that the Tories were pushing for the deal independently of any involvement or influence from Norman, Mainville said, “and a lot of the records we are seeking relate to that.”

Those records will show cabinet’s decision-making, she added, and that Norman “was in fact supporting and working with members of cabinet and facilitating the will of elected officials.”

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Perkins-McVey appeared surprised at times that the Crown had deemed some documents, such as Norman’s calendar in 2014 and 2015, irrelevant to the case and thus not available to the defence.

The Crown has argued that Norman leaked sensitive information to Davie and the media at specific times because he was unhappy with what other civil servants were doing or because the project was approaching a key decision point at cabinet.

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“There is an assumption here that the (other) civil servants were acting lawfully and in an accountable manner. Our position will be that several were not,” Mainville said.

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“He was trying to remedy the perversion of the process by others and protect it. In order to challenge the Crown’s theory, we need the records to show what was happening.”

The Crown, which has yet to respond to the specific arguments put forward by Norman’s lawyers on Thursday, has previously argued that the larger context of Norman’s action is not relevant: the issue is simply whether he broke the law.

But Mainville told Perkins-McVey that context is key.

“There is more to this story than the black-and-white picture that the Crown would like to paint.”

Suspended as the military’s second-in-command in January 2017, Norman was charged this past March following a lengthy RCMP investigation with one count of breach of trust.

He has denied any wrongdoing and his trial is scheduled to start in August and run through next year’s federal election.