OTTAWA — New court documents have pulled back the curtains on one of the military's most closely guarded secrets: why its second highest-ranking officer was suspended in January.
An affidavit released by an Ottawa court and obtained by the Globe and Mail indicates that the RCMP suspect Vice-Adm. Mark Norman of allegedly leaking secret government documents.
The documents are linked to a $700-million project to convert a civilian ship into an interim resupply vessel for the navy, after its previous two resupply ships were forced into early retirement.
Royal Canadian Navy Vice-Admiral Mark Norman (left) speaks with Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd during a change of command ceremony, June 23, 2016 in Ottawa. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
No charges have been laid against Norman, who was suspended without explanation in January by defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance.
The government has also refused to say anything except that the matter was not related to national security.
Norman's lawyer, Marie Henein, has denied her client did anything wrong.
She said Norman has been caught in a "bureaucratic crossfire," and his sole objective was "advancing the national interest and the protection of Canada."
Liberals quietly put project on hold
The Conservative government awarded the interim supply ship project to Quebec City shipyard Chantier Davie without a competition in 2015, citing the need to fill an urgent gap in the navy's capabilities.
Two new, permanent resupply ships are being built by Vancouver-based Seaspan at a cost of $2.6 billion, though the first isn't expected until at least 2021.
But the Liberals quietly put the interim project on hold after taking power a few months later amid what appears to have been pressure from Halifax-based Irving Shipbuilding Inc. to cancel the contract.
Vice Admiral Mark Norman, left, greets officers at a change of command ceremony in Halifax on July 12, 2013. (Photo: Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)
Irving president Kevin McCoy confirmed in a statement Thursday that the company wrote to the new Liberal government in November 2015 "with our concerns related to the interim refuelling ship project."
Irving had submitted its own proposal to build an interim resupply vessel in October 2014.
"At the time of the letter," McCoy said, "we understood that no final contract had been awarded and we wanted to ensure that the new government had all relevant information prior to making a final decision."
Norman talked about resigning
But the Liberals decided to leave the project with Davie after documents leaked to the media revealed that the government would have to pay Quebec City shipyard $89 million if it was cancelled.
One of the first journalists to report on the decision to put the project on hold, then-CBC reporter James Cudmore, now works in Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan's office.
Personal emails leaked to several media outlets this week indicate Norman was extremely frustrated in November about the way the government and bureaucracy were handling the project.
Norman, who was head of the Royal Canadian Navy at the time, even talked about resigning over the issue, but instead stayed on and took over as vice-chief of defence staff in August 2016.