Liberals block parliamentary inquiry into Mark Norman case, reject invitation to have him testify

'This is very disappointing, to know Norman has put in over 30 years in service to his country in uniform, and the Liberals won't even give him three minutes'

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OTTAWA — Liberal MPs have blocked an attempt by the opposition parties to hold a parliamentary inquiry into whether there was political interference in the Vice-Admiral Mark Norman criminal case.

The Liberals also voted against inviting Norman to testify at the House of Commons national defence committee and tell his side of the story.

The Conservatives and NDP had brought a motion to the defence committee to launch a study of the Norman case, but the Liberals used their majority on the committee to vote it down on Thursday afternoon.

“This is very disappointing, to know that Vice-Admiral Norman has put in over 30 years in service to his country in uniform, and the Liberals won’t even give him three minutes,” said Conservative MP James Bezan after the meeting ended.

Liberal MPs argued the committee wouldn’t be the right forum for Norman to speak in, describing the atmosphere as “hyper-partisan.”

“Vice-Admiral Norman is one of our highest-ranking military officers, it’s a question about political interference, optically we should not insert him into a politically-charged forum to make the case that he needs to make,” said Liberal MP Sven Spengemann.

The Liberals suggested the media might be a better place to tell his story, but the Conservatives argued he should have the protection of parliamentary privilege, which shields him from liability over what he says.

Later, Spengemann appeared to leave the door open for Norman to come speak. “If he were to write to us and ask to testify, that would be a different scenario,” he said. “We’re not facing that scenario.”

But Conservative MP Erin O’Toole — a former air force officer — said he doesn’t think active members of the military should be seeking to testify, and that it would have been more appropriate for the committee to invite Norman.

“Rather than the Liberals turning themselves into pretzels to try to find ways not to do this…if the majority is going to be used to crush it, just come out and say that,” O’Toole said. A few minutes later, the Liberals voted against the invitation to Norman.

Norman was charged in March 2018 with a single count of breach of trust over an allegation he systematically leaked confidential info about a $700-million navy supply ship project. The case collapsed last week after prosecutors acknowledged they had no reasonable prospect of conviction.

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman at his home in Ottawa. Tony Caldwell/Postmedia

The original motion put forward by the opposition would have seen many witnesses called to testify, including Norman, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, and various other senior government figures. It would have also invited Liberal MP Andrew Leslie (who offered testify on Norman’s behalf) and former CBC reporter James Cudmore (who received some of the alleged leaks, and is now a Liberal staffer).

It was NDP MP Randall Garrison who tried to find a compromise by amending the motion to only call on Norman as a witness.

“I remain concerned that he says he has more to say, and that he be given a forum to do that where he can be protected from prosecution,” Garrison said.

Speaking after the meeting, Garrison said he had no confidence the Liberals were serious when they said maybe Norman could testify if he requested to.

Other Liberal MPs on the committee said they don’t see any evidence of political interference in the case. Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen called such allegations “hearsay,” and said the Conservatives were pushing that narrative to avoid talking about the country’s economy.

“I too believe that this is a bit of a fabricated, partisan exercise,” said Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz. She said it’s a distraction from the “key issues of the day,” and said her Toronto constituents are more concerned about climate change, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and the success of the arts community.

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