OTTAWA – Vice-Admiral Mark Norman‘s lawyer Marie Henein has called out Justice Canada for making what she says are “inaccurate” public statements about her client’s high-profile case while conceding a delay in her attempts to get it tossed.
The statements she criticized came earlier this month in the form of several Twitter posts and a public fact-sheet in which the department said it wanted to “clarify” Henein’s requests for internal records held by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other top officials.
They appeared aimed at rebutting Henein’s allegations that the government has been dragging its feet in producing those records and thousands of other documents related to Norman’s breach-of-trust charge.
Directed at a journalist and Trudeau’s former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, the tweets from March 6 asserted at one point that “the government is providing documents to the judge for her review at the pace directed by her and will continue to do so.”
A similar comment was contained in the fact-sheet, which was posted to the Justice Department’s website and sent to other journalists.
Except Justice Heather Perkins-McVey has previously questioned why it is taking the government so long to gather the requested documents, which she must review before deciding whether they should be released to Norman’s lawyers.
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The tweets, copies of which were provided by Henein’s office to The Canadian Press, have since been deleted and Henein told the court during a brief pre-trial hearing Monday that the department changed the fact-sheets after complaints from her office.
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Copies provided by Henein’s office showed that the amendments included removing the comment about Perkins-McVey directing the department to produce the documents at a certain pace.
Henein nonetheless questioned why Justice Canada officials felt the need to comment publicly on the case, adding that the department has been posting statements that “we take the position are inaccurate.”
“We’ve made our position known in writing to the Department of Justice as to the propriety of that sort of behaviour,” she said. “We take issue with a number of the statements that they posted.”
Justice Canada did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.
The court also heard that an abuse-of-process hearing scheduled for next week, in which Norman’s lawyers were to argue that the case against him should be tossed, will be delayed because they still don’t have the requested documents.
Norman’s team has been fighting since October for internal communications from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office about the case, which included issuing subpoenas last month for emails, BlackBerry messages and other records.
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Subpoenas were issued for Trudeau, Butts, Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford and Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick, among others, as Henein tries to find records to prove political interference in Norman’s case and have the charges dismissed.
Justice Canada lawyer Robert McKinnon told the court most of the subpoenaed material had been delivered to Perkins-McVey for her review.
But Henein, who has accused the government of trying to delay Norman’s actual trial, which is scheduled to start in August and run through most of the election, said she still hadn’t seen any of the material.
As a result, she said, she wouldn’t be able to make her abuse-of-process case next week.
The court will now aim to hold the five-day hearing in April.
McKinnon also indicated it could take another two to four weeks for the government to finish handing over some encrypted information and records involving former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould.
Norman, who previously served as the military’s second-in-command, was charged last year with breach of trust for allegedly leaking government secrets to help a Quebec shipyard with a $700-million naval contract.
He has denied any wrongdoing and his lawyers have accused him of having been a victim of political games and interference by the Trudeau government.