Mark Norman lawyers protest 'strategy' talks between Crown, federal lawyers

OTTAWA — Vice-Admiral Mark Norman's legal team has raised questions about the independence of federal prosecutors after the Crown and lawyers from the department that supports Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke several times last year about "trial strategy."

Partially censored copies of notes taken by the Crown during those talks with lawyers from the Privy Council Office were submitted in court Monday, as Norman's lawyers resumed their fight for access to thousands of government documents.

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In an email also filed in court, lead prosecutor Barbara Mercier explained to Norman's lawyer Christine Mainville that the handwritten notes were redacted because they dealt with "trial strategy."

"As I recall, the portions of the attached documents which have been redacted deal with trial strategy, not witness preparation or discussion about their evidence," Mercier wrote.

But Mainville told the court Monday that prosecutors should not talk strategy with the Privy Council Office, which she called the "right arm" to the Prime Minister's Office. The PCO first launched the investigation that ended with Norman being charged.

"The PCO supports the prime minister. They implement what the prime minister's office wants. They execute on behalf of the Prime Minister's Office," Mainville said.

"So it seems what we are being told is the prosecution service is devising their trial strategy with ... the body that reports to and executes the directions of the Prime Minister's Office."

She went on to say the discussions between the Crown and PCO were "more concerning" than allegations the Prime Minister's Office tried to intervene in the criminal case against SNC-Lavalin.

Trudeau's office is accused of trying to pressure former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to direct federal prosecutors to negotiate a "remediation deal" with the Quebec company rather than move ahead with criminal prosecution.

"By all appearances, this is a more direct influencing of the prosecution," Mainville said.

"The attorney general is entirely bypassed. The Prime Minister's Office, via its right arm the PCO, is dealing directly with the (Public Prosecution Service of Canada). And the prosecution service is allowing this to happen."

"So much for the independence of the PPSC," quipped Justice Heather Perkins-McVey, who ordered the Crown to deliver to her an uncensored copy of the notes, to be held under seal, before the case resumes Friday.

Norman was suspended as the military's second-in-command in January 2017 and charged last March with one count of breach of trust for allegedly leaking government secrets to undermine cabinet's decision-making process on a major shipbuilding deal.

The $700-million contract, in which a Quebec shipyard was asked to convert a civilian container ship into a temporary support vessel for the navy, was negotiated by Stephen Harper's Conservative government and finalized by Trudeau's Liberals in 2015.

Norman has denied any wrongdoing and his politically charged trial is scheduled to start in August. Monday represented the ninth day of a pre-trial hearing that began in December over what government documents Norman's lawyers are allowed to see.

His team wants access to potentially thousands of government documents about the contract, including records held by Trudeau's office, to prove their client was supporting the Tories in obtaining the ship before falling victim to Liberal political games.

However, much of the proceedings have revolved around whether the government has tried to hide key documents, prevent access to witnesses, cherry-picked what information is made public or otherwise interfered in the case.

Among the documents Norman's lawyers want to see are emails and other internal correspondence about their client and the case from officials in Trudeau's office as well as the Privy Council Office.

Norman's lawyers will attempt to get the case thrown out entirely next month during what's called an abuse of process hearing by arguing there is no legitimate reason for the charge against him.

— Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.

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