Opinion

Editorial: Military must drop or disclose secret probe

Postmedia Network 

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman. (File photo)

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman. (File photo)

A little more than a year ago, the second in command of the Canadian Forces, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, was removed from his job by Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance. The reasons were kept secret, even as the RCMP was removing laptops, phones and records — including many of his wife’s personal files — from Norman’s home.

Today, while a few details of the investigation have leaked out, Norman still has not been charged, and has never had an opportunity to defend himself in any official capacity.

Instead, although he still receives his salary under suspension, he spends most of his time at home, awaiting some progress on ending his state of legal limbo.

As the Citizen’s David Pugliese pointed out in an investigative report this past weekend, Norman has never even been officially given the reasons for his suspension; there has been no military hearing and no independent examination of the evidence. Whatever case the RCMP amassed, it has been sitting with a federal prosecutor for months.

According to Pugliese’s reporting — based on legal records, access to information documents and DND sources — the probe centres on plans for the replacement of two old naval supply ships. The RCMP alleged Norman had leaked information and broken cabinet confidences in communicating with a private player involved in the project.

But though several search warrants have been granted against various parties, and police have interviewed more than 30 people, there still have been no charges laid.

Indeed, when media organizations, including ours, asked a judge to unseal the search warrant on Norman’s home, that judge indicated the case against the vice-admiral was far from solid.

It is, of course, impossible to know how grave this situation truly is, though Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has said it “is not an issue of national security.” The government-imposed blackout on sharing details over the past year has served no one; it has merely led to a slow drip-drip-drip of facts as journalists meticulously extract details all Canadians should automatically be entitled to.

We said a year ago the Trudeau government needed to be more transparent about why the second in command of Canada’s military had been bounced from his job.

Today, it’s also evident that Norman himself is being treated unfairly. He is entitled to face the accusations against him.

Federal prosecutors should air the case they have, or drop it swiftly if it is insufficient. Our military faces enough problems around procurement without prolonging this needless secrecy.