Maybe it wasn’t the best call for the prime minister to speculate on Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s case before he was charged, says one of his cabinet ministers.
In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough was asked about the decision by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to weigh in not once but twice on the future of the criminal breach of trust case, which was stayed last week after the Crown admitted it could not prove its case against the former second-in-command of the Canadian Forces.
Those comments have led to accusations of political interference from the opposition parties, something Qualtrough said she recognizes has some concerned.
“I know. I know that’s how it was perceived and I think, in hindsight, not the best framing of words, I can assure you,” she said.
“But at the end of the day, there wasn’t political interference here.”
WATCH: How did the case against Vice-Admiral Norman collapse?
The case itself stems from a leak of cabinet secrets to media in November 2015, which revealed the then-newly elected Liberals wanted to freeze a deal for an interim supply ship from Quebec’s Davie Shipyard, even though doing so would leave taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars in penalty fees.
Court documents have suggested that leak effectively forced the Liberals into keeping the deal intact, but the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister’s Office, quickly referred the matter to the RCMP for investigation.
In a city like Ottawa, though, political leaks are a routine occurrence.
Because of that, the intensity of the hunt for the source of the leak prompted questions about why this leak was being taken so seriously.
In January 2017, Norman was suspended from his position without explanation, and in April 2017, Trudeau told reporters at a press conference that Norman’s case “will likely end up before the courts.”
Less than a year later, he weighed in for a second time, telling attendees at a February 2018 town hall that the case would “inevitably” lead to “court processes.”
Norman was charged with one count of breach of trust one month later.
WATCH: The political debate in the wake of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s vindication
That charge was stayed by the Crown last week after prosecutors said Norman’s defence provided them with new information missed by the original investigation by the RCMP.
While the nature of that information has not been released publicly, the Crown has said it was enough to lead prosecutors to conclude they would not be able to prove Norman’s alleged leaking was a “marked departure” from behaviour expected of someone in his position — a key requirement for the charge to stick.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has so far come forward saying he provided information and offered to testify for the defence in the case.
Kenney worked with Norman, who, at the time of the leak, was the commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, while minister of defence under former prime minister Stephen Harper. He described the information he provided as material that “would have helped with his exoneration had this case gone to trial.”
WATCH: ‘Time to say sorry’ to Vice-Admiral Mark Norman — lawyer
Marie Henein, Norman’s defence lawyer, has called on the government to apologize to her client for his treatment.
But Qualtrough indicated no such plan is in the works.
“It’s more that we have to be careful about the independence of the process, Mercedes,” she said when asked why the government would not apologize, given the other apologies it has offered for the unjust actions of governments past.
“We can’t be in the business of apologizing for independent organizations doing their jobs. We really committed to having stayed far away from this, as much as we possibly could have.”
Norman and Henein said last week that it is too early to speculate on potential legal action against the government.
Almost immediately after the Crown’s decision to stay the case, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced the government would pay for his legal fees.
Norman says he wants to get back to work as soon as possible.