Military police investigated allegations that a general tried to hide documents related to the Mark Norman affair but couldn’t find enough evidence to lay any type of charge.
But how the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service came to its conclusion can’t be explained as the organization refuses to provide even basic details, such as how long the investigation took or how many officers were assigned to the case.
But this newspaper has confirmed through various sources that the CFNIS never talked to Vice Adm. Mark Norman, who was at the heart of the case.
Caroline Maynard, the federal government’s information watchdog, revealed two weeks ago that the results of her own investigation into the matter, which involved a brigadier general’s boasting about how the Canadian military hid records related to Norman, showed evidence of the possible commission of an offence under the Access to Information law.
The Ontario Provincial Police has been asked to investigate.
The CFNIS was called in to do its investigation after a pre-trial hearing for Norman heard testimony in December 2018 that a brigadier general had come up with a scheme to hide records concerning the naval officer. Norman, once second-in-command of the Canadian Forces, 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, the court heard from a Canadian Forces major who 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. At the time Norman and his legal team were in a battle with the federal government to get the release of documents that might help his case.
That courtroom bombshell further fuelled concerns among Norman’s supporters who alleged the Liberal government and senior military officers were trying to railroad the vice admiral.
As a result of the embarrassing public testimony, the office of deputy minister Jody Thomas asked the CFNIS to investigate the allegations.
The CFNIS was involved in 2017 in another investigation looking into allegations that senior military staff tried to hide documents requested under the access law.
Three military staff members in the office of Judge Advocate General Commodore Geneviève Bernatchez had come forward with concerns the Canadian Forces had claimed that a report, requested under the access law, didn’t exist when it actually did.
At one point, one of the officers acknowledged the attempt might be discovered by the information watchdog while another pointed out what was being done was “unlawful” and “possibly criminal.”
But the RCMP inspector assigned to the CFNIS determined there was no “malicious intent” and the issue was linked to “a misapplication of the Access to Information Act,” according to the DND. Instead, the department put much of the blame on an unnamed clerk in the DND Access to Information branch who hadn’t challenged the Judge Advocate General’s office when it claimed the report didn’t exist.
But the 2019 investigation by the CFNIS, which includes a senior RCMP officer in its organization, “did not reveal sufficient evidence to pursue criminal or service offence charges in the matter,” according to a recent statement from the DND and the Canadian Forces.
The CFNIS refused to release any other details and stated that if this newspaper or the public wanted further details, they would have to file a request under the Access to Information law, a process that can take years.
This newspaper had already filed such a request on Feb. 4, but the Department of National Defence will not release the CFNIS investigation and related documents, a violation of the access law.
The allegations made in the Norman pre-trial hearing about the Canadian military plan to circumvent the access law were supposed to be the subject of another police investigation.
But this newspaper revealed on Tuesday that investigation, referred to the RCMP more than a year ago, was never started because of an “administrative error” and changes in senior staff, according to the federal police force.
The RCMP has determined it cannot investigate because it would be a conflict of interest as it had originally charged Norman. It has now asked the Ontario Provincial Police to conduct the investigation.
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.