As Liberal insider takes the stand, Norman’s lawyers hint at more ‘code names’
Vice-Admiral Mark Norman‘s lawyer has raised the prospect that government officials used several more undisclosed identifiers to refer to her client in internal communications and hide any paper trial.
Lawyer Marie Henein proposed several potential identifiers while questioning Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan‘s chief of staff Thursday about government efforts to gather thousands of documents requested by Norman’s team.
The former vice-chief of the defence staff, Canada’s second most senior military officer, is facing a trial for breach of trust over allegations he leaked documents to a favoured shipbuilder in line for a $700-million defence contract.
Norman’s lawyers say they need access to the documents to defend their client, and have accused the government of dragging its feet and cherry-picking what information has been made available to the court and public.
During her questioning, Henein specifically asked Sajjan’s top aide Zita Astravas whether she had ever referred to Norman on her personal iPhone or email account as “a certain naval officer,” “a certain naval fellow,” or “a naval colleague.”
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Astravas replied that she did could not recall having ever used such terms. Henein did not provide any further details, including why she had asked about the phrases in the context of Astravas’s personal phone or email account.
Astravas told the court that after being subpoenaed, she had only searched her work phone and email account for records related to Norman, not her personal phone and account.
Norman was suspended as the military’s second-in-command in January 2017 and charged last March with one count of breach of trust for allegedly leaking government secrets about the shipbuilding contract to Davie Shipyards of Quebec.
He has denied any wrongdoing.
His politically-charged trial is scheduled to start in August and run through much of this year’s federal election campaign.
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This phase of the case, a multi-day pre-trial hearing, is about determining what evidence is relevant and what sensitive materials the government has to disclose to Norman’s defence lawyers.
Astravas’s testimony followed contradictory accounts from witnesses over whether Defence Department officials used code names to refer to Norman — or simply commonplace military acronyms and terms.
One military member testified in December that he had been told officials intentionally avoided using Norman’s name in internal correspondence; Norman’s lawyers on Tuesday provided the court with a list of “code names” for their client.
But defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance told the court on Wednesday that officials weren’t trying to hide information and that the military regularly uses acronyms and other terms to refer to people in internal documents and communication.
Vance did acknowledge the department could have done a better job of looking for documents that identified Norman only by acronyms and other labels when answering legal requests for documents about the vice-admiral’s case.
Astravas, who was previously served in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office as the person responsible for identifying and addressing potential problems to the Liberal government before joining Sajjan’s staff in August 2017, was the last witness during this three-day stretch of pre-trial hearings.
© 2019 The Canadian Press