COMMENTARY: With so many questions around the Mark Norman case, a public inquiry is needed
After the dramatic developments of the past few days, a few facts about Vice-Admiral Mark Norman have become clearer.
We know that he has dedicated nearly four decades of his life to serving his country and is eager to serve more. We know that was he trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare for the past two two years. And we also know that he is now vindicated.
But that’s nowhere near enough. Canadians deserve to know a whole lot more about this fiasco. While justice may have prevailed this week, it does not put this matter to rest.
The collapse of the case must not be the final word. There is still so much we simply don’t know.
We don’t know why Norman was charged with criminal breach of trust. We don’t know why the government seemed so hell-bent on destroying his career. We don’t know what convinced the crown to stay the charge. We don’t know why that information needed to come from Norman’s own lawyers, as opposed to the government (his lawyer Marie Henein told reporters this week that federal bureaucrats would have also been in possession of this information).
It was certainly a sudden and shocking end to this saga on Wednesday, and the admission that there was no reasonable prospect of a conviction in this case stood in stark contrast to the very aggressive approach the government seemed to take on this matter for the past two years. There were reports that it was the prime minister himself who had pushed for an RCMP investigation.
And even though the RCMP is defending its investigation, it is most peculiar that they never spoke with any Harper-era cabinet ministers — especially since it now appears as though they provided information that was instrumental in the charge being stayed.
All along, though, this case has seemed rather unusual. For example, it was more than a year between the raid on Norman’s home and the charge being officially laid. The judge who lifted the publication ban on affidavit that led to that raid seemed underwhelmed by the government’s case against Norman, noting that “Nowhere is there any suggestion that the man was even thinking of trying to line his own pockets, or get any personal advantage whatsoever (…) hardly the stuff of stigma or moral turpitude.”
WATCH: Coverage of the Vice-Admiral Mark Norman case on Globalnews.ca
Even before Norman had been formally charged, Trudeau had publicly stated that he believed the matter would end up before the courts. Prior to the charge being laid, Norman had his request for his legal fees to be covered denied by the military — on the basis that he was guilty of what he would eventually be formally accused of doing (interestingly, the government is now prepared to cover his legal fees).
In fact, there are many troubling questions about why the government was so interested in this case and whether there may have been any inappropriate political interference. Sordid politics may even explain why the government was prepared to put plans to acquire a (desperately-needed) navy supply ship on hold after the election (the very thing Norman was accused of leaking details about).
Norman’s legal team had maintained that their client was a scapegoat and that this case was politically-motivated and politically tainted. The prospect of such an argument being in presented in court mere months before a federal election would have undoubtedly unnerved many in Ottawa’s corridors of power. The abandonment of the case potentially spares the government a great deal of embarrassment.
It also precludes Canadians from seeing and hearing all of this on the record. It’s possible that Mark Norman might turn around and sue the government — one couldn’t blame him for doing so — and that such proceedings might also yield these relevant facts. However, a settlement would seem a far more likely resolution in that case.
Where does that leave us? Opposition parties have called for a public inquiry, which at this point would seem to be our best bet for understanding what unfolded here.
Mark Norman’s ordeal obviously shouldn’t have happened. Moreover, something like this should never happen again. There is a need for answers that is not satiated by a sudden end to a curious prosecution.