Many readers will recall that in May of this year I wrote a column here about the case of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, who was charged with a breach of public trust early this year, 13 months after the RCMP had executed a search warrant on his home. The background of the case was the long neglect of the requirements of the Royal Canadian Navy by the Chrétien and Harper governments, culminating in the failure of our two ocean supply vessels. These ships are necessary to enable a fleet to function outside coastal waters without relying on foreign navies to provide the fuel and provisions warships need for extensive ocean cruising. One of our maintenance vessels, the Preserver, was withdrawn from service after it was determined that corrosion was such that she was no longer seaworthy, in 2014. In the following year, a fire aboard the other, Protecteur, required that she be towed more than 600 kilometres across the Pacific by U.S. Navy tugs, to Pearl Harbor. Protecteur was not judged appropriate for recommissioning, and we were left with effectively a coastal force, enfeebled by a good deal of obsolescence.
The background of the case was the long neglect of the requirements of the Royal Canadian Navy
Mark Norman had become the commander of the Royal Canadian Navy in 2013 after 33 years in that service. As commander, he naturally wished his fleet to possess as much flexibility and capability as possible. He apparently played some role, in co-operation with the Harper government, in expediting the replacement of the maintenance ships by supporting a scheme of Davie Shipbuilding in Lévis, Que., to adapt a civilian tanker to military needs, and it was ready for service at the start of this year. The shipyards that had been entrusted with the construction of new maintenance vessels, Irving in New Brunswick and Seaspan in British Columbia, had expected to complete new fleet maintenance ships by 2021 and were considerably and vocally annoyed when the temporary plan was invoked by the Harper government as the excuse to delay building permanent replacements ships until 2023.
The case cannot be tried in the media, but Vice-Admiral Norman is unusually deserving of the presumption of innocence, and although he has been the victim of a good deal of leaking of misleading information, including the unexplained indiscretion that the RCMP has searched his house, an unusual development in the life of a Canadian navy commander, it is difficult to imagine how a case of breach of trust can be proved. His duty was to have as fit and serviceable a navy as possible. While his enemies have released tainting information, they have not to date allowed any hint of a basis for their case to be known to the media, which have generally, and unusually for accused people, been quite favourable to the vice-admiral.
Vice-Admiral Norman is unusually deserving of the presumption of innocence
In addition to whatever the official role may have been in trying to poison the public relations well, the government has withdrawn from Vice-Admiral Norman the benefit of its program of assisting federal government employees with the cost of legal problems. This assistance must be repaid if the individual is not upheld in the legal process, but in this case federal officials have accused Norman of “disclosing confidential government information (about a) procurement initiative.” Thus they have taken unto themselves what only the court has the right to determine in what can only be seen as a flagrant attempt to financially starve Norman into submission. He has retained the distinguished barrister Marie Henein, who has scaled down her normal fee structure in deference to the limits of her client’s means, imposed by his life of naval service. But her costs will vastly exceed the vice-admiral’s ability to pay.
This is another tawdry aspect to the proceedings that has obliged this proud and distinguished officer to seek assistance to defend his honour and reputation. More than $100,000 has already, without any solicitation, been contributed by well-wishers, but a good deal more will be needed to dispose of the government’s dilatory motions and procedures and to get the issue fairly tried. The main purpose of this column is to urge readers to join in assisting this dedicated career sailor and much-admired naval officer who has devoted his entire career to this country, so that he may benefit from the presumption of innocence. The practical utility of that presumption has been negated by the malicious and despotic instincts of those who are prosecuting him and denying Vice-Admiral Norman the benefit of a program to assist government employees with legal problems. His is precisely the sort of case that admirable program is designed to assist. Whatever the verdict of this case, the government’s conduct of it has been unjust. What we are facing is not only a dubious prosecution but a shameful and self-serving effort to deprive the former commander of our navy from defending himself, an elemental right in all civilized countries.
Whatever the verdict of this case, the government’s conduct of it has been unjust
The Norman case is made even more odious by the fact that in one measure or another, the admiral’s alleged offence was to do his best to prevent our navy from deteriorating completely into the unserviceable relic that the Chrétien and Harper governments allowed to become an imminent possibility. This is not the place and I trust there is no need to expatiate at length on the admirable naval tradition of Canada. We were absolutely vital in winning the Battle of the Atlantic, and were at least equal victors in that prolonged struggle with German submarines for the survival of the United Kingdom, with the Royal Navy itself, and latterly with the United States Navy also. The Royal Canadian Navy was the third largest navy in the world at the end of the Second World War, after the terrible damage done to the Japanese, French, Italian, German, and Soviet navies in the war. Our record was one of unblemished bravery and distinction.
The value of the navy today should be obvious to anyone who wants Canada to pull its weight in the Western Alliance and have any right to be heard by greater military powers, especially the United States, and that should have been obvious to former prime minister Stephen Harper when he rightly denounced the conduct of the Russian government and rightly defended the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. It should be obvious to anyone who values Canada’s potential as a peacemaker in troubled areas. It should even be obvious to those who think our military should be confined to assisting the distressed in countries afflicted by such natural disasters as tropical storms, earthquakes and tsunamis.
The value of the navy today should be obvious to anyone who wants Canada to pull its weight in the Western Alliance
These are all legitimate and desirable national activities. But our navy will die from budgetary impoverishment if it is not funded, and it will die from the demoralization of betrayal if its leaders are falsely prosecuted, as has probably happened with Vice-Admiral Norman. And all our worthwhile institutions will wither if our government not only turns on its most distinguished servants, but attempts also to deny them the means of self-defence.
I take the liberty of urging anyone who cares about justice in this country, and especially those who wish also to honour our armed forces, to contribute to Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s defence fund. This can be done privately through Fredrick Schumann at Stockwoods LLP in Toronto (email firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-593-2490). It can be done publicly or anonymously at the crowdsourcing website GOFUNDME at Gofundme.com/51lc5d4.
Every cent will be certified as contributing to his legal defence. The shabby attempt to deny this distinguished man a fair trial must not be allowed to succeed.