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‘You are free to leave’: How the case against Mark Norman ended

Vice-Admiral was charged with breach-of-trust over leaked documents.


OTTAWA—Vice-Admiral Mark Norman had walked up to the entrance of the Ottawa courthouse dozens of previous times over the past year, yet this time was different: This would be the last time.

Like on all those other occasions, the military’s former second-in-command was dressed in full uniform as he approached the courthouse’s heavy glass doors with his wife Beverly and lawyers Marie Henein and Christine Mainville.

Just outside the doors, he was greeted by an unexpected supporter: outgoing Liberal MP and former lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie, who was revealed just last week as a potential defence witness.

“General,” Norman said. “Good morning. Good to see you.”

“Morning, Admiral,” Leslie replied, shaking Norman’s hand and giving him a brief embrace.

Courtroom 37 was already packed with journalists, supporters and a group of students by the time Norman and his team arrived and took their seats near the front. A few minutes later, everyone stood as Justice Heather Perkins-McVey entered.

And then federal Crown prosecutor Barbara Mercier stood and delivered a history lesson about the case.

How it all started with “obvious leaks to the media” about a cabinet decision in November 2015, delaying sole-source contract with Quebec-based Davie Shipbuilding for an interim support ship for the navy.

How those leaks “really had serious effects and it did cause concern for the government,” which prompted an internal probe, which led to an RCMP investigation that included interviews with 30 witnesses.

How the Public Prosecution Service of Canada “did a thorough analysis of the evidence and the law” and made a “considered decision to lay the charge of breach-of-trust against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman” in March 2018.

How prosecutors believed then that they had a reasonable prospect of conviction, even though the bar for proving without a reasonable doubt any crime has occurred is “rightfully high,” and is even higher with breach of trust.

And then, Mercier continued, how Norman’s lawyers came forward with “a volume of information” in March that “provided greater context to the conduct of Vice-Admiral Norman” and revealed “a number of complexities in the process.”

“Based on new information, we have come to the conclusion that given the particular situation involving Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, there is no reasonable prospect of conviction,” Mercier concluded.

“It continues to be our view that some of Vice-Admiral Norman’s actions were … secretive and inappropriate,” she added. “However, inappropriate does not mean criminal.”

Then it was Henein’s turn. This decision, to stay the proceedings, was months in the making, Henein said, and a demonstration of Crown prosecutors’ having “acted in the highest traditions of the bar.”

“There has not been a day that Vice-Admiral Norman has walked into this court that we did not have the utmost confidence that this court would be impartial,” she added, before noting that the case had been exhausting for her, for Norman and for his family.

Nonetheless, “we were prepared to fight to the end,” Henein said. “He did nothing inappropriate. He did nothing criminal.”

And then, after many months of silence, it was Norman’s turn to rise and address the court. His comments focused on thanking Perkins-McVey and the court staff.

“My only regret,” he told the judge, “is that we would have met under different circumstances.”

Perkins-McVey was the last to speak, and she reflected on how only the day before, she had received yet another package of documents from the government to review and decide whether they were relevant to the case and should be released.

“I know that all counsel have worked very hard to get to the point and that this decision was made after much reflection and consideration,” she said.

“Vice-Admiral Norman, you entered a plea of not guilty. You are presumed to be innocent and you remain so. You are free to leave.”

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2016

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