The RCMP have laid a single charge of breach of trust against the country’s second-highest military commander, CBC News has confirmed.
The charge against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman was laid Friday in an Ottawa court. He is scheduled to appear in court April 10.
It came just weeks after a senior federal prosecutor in Halifax was put in charge of the case, say several sources with knowledge of the file.
Those multiple sources also say the scope of the investigation has been expanded beyond claims that Norman was the source of unauthorized disclosures to the media shortly after the Liberal government was elected in the fall of 2015.
Investigators are now digging back further in time.
They have been looking into how alleged information leaks to the defence industry shaped the former Conservative government’s bid to secure a contract for a leased naval supply ship with Federal Fleet Services Inc., which operates the Chantier-Davie shipyard in Levis, Que.
Court records, unsealed last year, show Norman only became involved in a back-channel dialogue with a senior executive in the summer of 2015, after the government of then-prime minister Stephen Harper announced it had secured a preliminary deal.
The RCMP focused on those email exchanges with Spencer Fraser, a former navy officer who was a senior executive with the company.
The Mounties were looking for evidence Norman leaked the outcome of a November 2015 cabinet meeting during which the Liberal government, newly elected at the time, decided to put the supply ship project on hold.
The media and political storm that followed made senior members of cabinet furious.
The government relented and the MV Asterix was delivered recently to the navy to begin operations.
The RCMP handed their investigation report over to the Crown in Ottawa last summer.
Norman was summarily suspended from his duties but not relieved from his post as vice chief of the defence staff.
Search warrants used by the RCMP say they suspected not only Norman, but one other senior government official who works at Public Services and Procurement.
In unsealing those warrants last year, Ontario Superior Court justice Kevin Phillips said the emails were “by no means a smoking gun.”
The judge went further and suggested Norman might not have done anything criminal and that his exchanges with Fraser were “meant to keep a contractual relationship together.”
That raised the bar for police and the Crown.
The case recently was handed to a more senior prosecutor in the regulatory and economic prosecutions branch, said sources with knowledge of the case.
The act of moving the file and the case review to Halifax was significant on a number of levels.
It reflects the political stakes for the Crown and the RCMP after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly said — on more than one occasion — that he expects the case against Norman to end up in court.
Investigators recently returned to speak with a handful of the over 30 witnesses that have been interviewed.