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Government officials claimed Ontario police were investigating military efforts to allegedly hide documents in Mark Norman case — that turned out to be false

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman leaves court in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. Errol McGihon/Postmedia
Vice-Admiral Mark Norman leaves court in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. Errol McGihon/Postmedia

An Ontario police investigation into allegations the Canadian military tried to hide documents in the Mark Norman affair never happened despite official federal government claims to the contrary, this newspaper has confirmed.

The investigation was supposed to have been turned over by the RCMP to the Ontario Provincial Police more than a year ago but that was only done on Sunday — four days after this newspaper began questioning whether an investigation had actually been done.

The alleged attempts to hide the documents, requested from the defence department and Canadian Forces under the Access to Information law, was revealed in December 2018 pre-trial proceedings in the case of Vice Adm. Norman.

That bombshell further fuelled concerns among Norman’s supporters who alleged the Liberal government and senior military officers were trying to railroad the vice admiral, who was once the second in command of the Canadian Forces. Norman had been charged by the RCMP with one count of breach of trust for allegedly revealing information about Liberal government plans to derail a supply ship project. But the case against Norman collapsed in May 2019, with the vice admiral exonerated and a large financial settlement paid by the federal government to the naval officer.

During pre-trial proceedings in the Norman case, a military officer testified that his boss, a brigadier general, bragged that Norman’s name was deliberately not used in internal military and Department of National Defence files — meaning any search for records under the Access to Information law about Norman would come up empty.

The testimony was enough to prompt Caroline Maynard, the federal government’s information watchdog, to begin an investigation into the Canadian Forces and DND’s handling of access requests in the Norman case. She revealed two weeks ago that the results of her initial investigation into the matter showed evidence of the possible commission of an offence under the access law and she had referred the issue to the Attorney General of Canada back in February 2019 for further investigation.

In response to Maynard’s statement from two weeks ago, officials with the federal government as well as the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, which prosecuted Norman, claimed the concerns raised by the information watchdog were referred first to the RCMP and then from there to the Ontario Provincial Police.

But an investigation by this newspaper has found those claims were false. The OPP confirmed they had never been contacted to investigate the allegations that documents were hidden in the Norman case.

The RCMP was indeed contacted by the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions on March 19, 2019 about the concerns raised by Maynard. The RCMP, however, determined it was in a conflict of interest due to its investigation of Norman and it had planned to refer the case to the OPP.

“However, due to an administrative error and changes in senior staff at the time, it appears we never made that referral,” RCMP spokesman Daniel Brien said in response to questions from this newspaper. “We sincerely regret this oversight and have taken immediate steps to correct the situation.”

Brien said on Aug. 2 – four days after this newspaper began questioning whether an investigation had actually been done — the RCMP “made a formal request to the OPP to consider an investigation into these allegations.”

He also noted at the same time the RCMP advised the Office of the Information Commissioner about the development. Maynard had never followed up on whether an investigation had started into her concerns the access law had been broken.

The access law allows members of the public to pay $5 to try to access federal documents. But the process can take years and there is much criticism about how it operates.

In Norman’s pre-trial hearing, a military officer testified he was processing an access-to-information request about the vice admiral in 2017 that returned no results. When he sought clarification, the witness testified that his boss, a brigadier general smiled and told him: “Don’t worry, this isn’t our first rodeo. We made sure we never used his name. Send back the nil return.”

“He seemed proud to provide that response,” the witness, a major in the Canadian Forces, told the court. The witness did not know Norman but came forward because of his concerns that the actions being taken were not proper.

The details during Norman’s pre-trial hearing about efforts within the Canadian Forces to circumvent the access law raised significant questions about whether the naval officer could get a fair trial. The judge was concerned enough about the testimony that a publication ban was used to keep the name of the military witness out of the public domain as there were concerns he would face retribution by the Canadian Forces’ leadership for revealing methods used to circumvent the access law.

Norman’s pre-trial also heard allegations of close co-operation between prosecutors and the government organization which supports the Prime Minister’s Office. The Public Prosecution Service of Canada denied that was the case.

The prosecution service and the RCMP were also accused of bungling the Norman case when it was revealed that basic information that would eventually exonerate the vice admiral wasn’t even examined.

Asked why the Public Prosecution Service of Canada provided misleading information to this newspaper that the investigation was being handled by the OPP, and whether the Prime Minister’s Office or Privy Council Office was involved in that, spokesperson Nathalie Houle responded: “As a non-partisan, independent organization, the PPSC does not consult with PCO or PMO on our media responses. Approval for PPSC media responses always come from within the organization. The PPSC has no further information to provide.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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