Vice Admiral Mark Norman is no longer a charged man and says for now, he just wants to get back to work.
In a stunning reversal of position, the Crown stayed its charge of breach of trust against the former second-in-command of the Canadian military, admitting it did not have enough evidence to meet the standard of conviction required for the allegation in light of new evidence presented by the defence and third parties in a March 28 meeting between the Crown and Norman’s counsel.
The nature of that information is not clear at this point.
Marie Henein, Norman’s defence lawyer, noted there are ongoing legal issues around the other federal employee who faces another breach of trust charge in relation to the allegations of leaked material about a controversial Liberal plan to freeze a shipbuilding deal negotiated and formalized by the former Conservative government.
But at issue was whether the Crown could prove that Norman’s alleged behaviour constituted a “marked departure” from the standards expected of someone in his role, which the Public Prosecution Service of Canada said in a press release it had concluded it could not do.
WATCH: Lawyer for Vice Admiral Mark Norman says it’s ‘Time to say sorry’
“Ultimately I look forward to my immediate reinstatement and a return to serving Canada,” Norman said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Norman added he is “obviously pleased” with the decision of the Crown to stay the charge against him.
Henein said while they are confident he would have won at trial, they are grateful the case is now over.
“We are confident at the end of a trial, he would have been vindicated,” Henein said. “We are grateful this vindication came today.”
She also added that it is “time to say sorry” for those in the government who weighed in on his case.
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Norman was accused of being the source of the leak in November 2015 but has maintained his innocence.
WATCH BELOW: Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan reacts to dropped charges in case of Vice Admiral Mark Norman
Barbara Mercier, the Crown prosecutor, told the court Wednesday that while some of Norman’s behaviour was “secretive and inappropriate,” she also noted that “inappropriate does not mean criminal.”
“There is no reasonable prospect of conviction,” she admitted in court.
Shortly after, Justice Heather Perkins-McVey said to Norman: “You are free to go.”
When asked why the information provided to the Crown by the defence was not uncovered during the original investigation, the RCMP provided little clarity.
“We respect the decision that was announced today and wish to reiterate the excellent working relationship we have with PPSC on criminal proceedings,” the force said in a statement.
“Throughout the course of this criminal investigation, investigators from the RCMP National Division Sensitive and International Investigations section have conducted a thorough, independent and highly professional investigation. As certain elements of this investigation are still before the courts, we have to let the legal process continue its course and will therefore not be commenting any further at this time.”
WATCH: The political debate in the wake of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s vindication
Norman has remained tight-lipped and said little throughout the court process but he spoke with reporters for the first time at a press conference shortly after the Crown stayed the charge against him and he walked out of court a free man.
“I am confident that at all times I acted ethically and in the best interest of the people of Canada,” he told reporters.
But Norman also said he was alarmed at the “alarming and protracted bias” that came from senior government officials about his case as well as the “bias of perceived guilt” that he says came from all levels of government.
Norman said he’ll be telling his story of the issue in the coming days, with the goal “not to lay blame” but to ensure his truth is told.
He thanked his lawyers and the people who took personal and professional risks to support him.
Norman and his lawyer said he has incurred financial costs because of the trial which sources have told Global News is in excess of $500,000.
Both he and Henein said the question of whether to pursue a civil suit is “for another day.”
WATCH BELOW: Vice Admiral Norman says he is ‘ready to get back to work’
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was asked about the cost of legal fees in a scrum taking place at the same time as Norman’s press conference.
He said that he has approved the payment of legal fees to Norman but would not say how much the government will cover.
He also said the details of Norman’s return to work with the military still need to be worked out with Gen. Jonathan Vance, chief of defence staff.
“This stay eliminates the conditions that caused me to relieve Vice-Admiral Norman from his military duties in January of 2017,” said Vance in a statement.
“In that context, Vice-Admiral Norman and I will be discussing his return to regular duty at the earliest opportunity. This decision ends court proceedings that have been a long and difficult process for Vice-Admiral Norman, his family and for the Canadian Armed Forces.”
Vance continued, adding that, “We have missed Vice-Admiral Norman a great deal and I look forward to welcoming him back to work as soon as possible.”
The dropped charge comes after prosecutors alleged he was the leak of sensitive information in late 2015 about Liberal plans to freeze a deal to buy the navy an interim supply ship after both of its remaining vessels rusted out and caught fire, forcing their early retirement.
Not signing that deal, which was negotiated under the former Conservative government with Quebec’s Davie Shipyard, would have left taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars worth of penalty fees to compensate the shipyard for having already bought the ship.
WATCH BELOW: Mark Norman case addressed during Question Period
But the leak of the plan to freeze the deal sent the newly-elected Liberals on a hunt for the source.
Norman was relieved of his duties as vice-chief of the defence staff, Canada’s second highest military position, in January 2017 without explanation. He is currently assigned to a temporary-duty post in defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance’s office.
It was not until more than a year later in March 2018 that the Crown laid a charge of breach of trust against him, and the case has been dogged by accusations of political interference since Norman was first relieved of his post.
Henein has said the government was scapegoating her client.
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Henein has also spent months in preliminary hearings arguing top government officials hid records and used code names to discuss the case, and refused to release the requested records she needs to mount a defence.
In court Wednesday, Mercier addressed those concerns saying there was no “orchestration” or “interference” in the charge laid, or the decision to stay the charge.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also told reporters on Wednesday morning he had confidence in the office of the public prosecution.
“The process involved in a public prosecution like this is entirely independent of my office,” he said.
But the case and the concerns raised by Norman’s team about political bias and interference dominated question period on Wednesday, which is when the prime minister normally fields all of the questions from the opposition parties.
Trudeau was absent for the first time in months though, leaving Justice Minister David Lametti to handle most of the questions.
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The case has embroiled top officials including senior staff from the Prime Minister’s Office, the military and several members of Parliament with links to shipbuilding and the military.
Lawyers for former Liberal cabinet minister Scott Brison, who told RCMP that the leak interfered with his ability to do his job evaluating the deal as then-president of the Treasury Board, were also in attendance.
Brison is one of several ministers who had received letters from Irving and Seaspan, rivals to Davie, in early November 2015 asking for the government to consider their own bids for the interim supply ship deal after it had been given to Davie.
WATCH BELOW: Justice Minister stresses there was no political interference in Norman case
Brison’s lawyers had previously sought standing in the case out of concerns about his reputation.
Liberal MP Andrew Leslie, who announced last week he will not run again in the fall, was also at the courthouse and warmly greeted Norman as he arrived.
Leslie, a former military general, is a longtime friend of Norman’s as well as the MP for his federal riding.
Sources tell Global News that Norman will be immediately reinstated as a member of the military now.
However, he will not automatically be returning to his old position as it has since been filled.
WATCH: Scheer says they still have ‘lots of questions’ on Norman case after stay on charge
A second federal official, Matthew Matchett, was also charged in the case earlier this year.
Matchett faces an identical charge to the one laid against Norman — breach of trust.
— with a file from the Canadian Press