Vice-Admiral Mark Norman inspects a guard of honour in 2013. (Cpl. Michael Bastien/Department of National Defence)
A story that made big headlines this week relates to the mysterious case of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, who until earlier this year was the deputy commander of Canada’s military. The Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, a childhood friend of Vice-Adm. Norman, decided based on information presented to him that the vice-admiral no longer enjoyed his confidence. As a result he was removed from office.
But why had Gen. Vance lost confidence in his vice-admiral?
Absent official answers and amid growing concern that Vice-Adm. Norman, who has never been charged with a crime, faced undue process, reporters at this news organization worked full-time to prise out answers. We discovered the RCMP was investigating Vice-Adm. Norman. Again, though, we didn’t know why. We spoke to the Defence Department, the police, the government, Vice-Adm. Norman’s friends and acquaintances, and nothing of much use was forthcoming. But, like water, information has a way of making its way out.
When police seek a warrant, they go before a court, swearing they have reason to believe an investigation is necessary and requesting court approval to intrude. This is known as an ITO, or Information to Obtain. To preserve the integrity of the investigation, such procedures are often sealed, held in secret by order of the court. Which court and which judge are two handy answers that few people were prepared to give us.
Our journey to turn the darkness of the sealing order into light began in late February. It is now late April. Where to start? We knew there was a sealing order applied to the ITO. But we didn’t know who the issuing judge was, and we could only guess at the city or the town.
We met with many people. Some had answers, but they wouldn’t provide them to us, while others had scraps of information. That’s the way our work goes. On one occasion, a helpful court member was honest: I can’t help you, we were told. You don’t have enough information to allow me to locate the order. There’s nothing in the date range you are asking for. Anyway, even if it is sealed and you find it, you need to get a judge’s order to unseal it.
It was as if Franz Kafka had passed the baton. The sealing order was itself sealed, and the information we needed for the clerk to locate it was part of what we were expecting the sealing order to reveal.
In the end we earned a victory by admitting defeat and writing to the Chief Federal Prosecutor of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. In time, a Crown lawyer was paid to find the sealed material, and this allowed us to begin the next stage – getting the information unsealed and making the arguments as to why the ITOs should be released publicly.
After two solid rounds in court, our arguments were successful. The Globe and Mail accepted redactions to information that enjoyed cabinet privilege. We also successfully argued, yet again, that the right to inform the public is central to the fundamental tenet that justice will be seen to be done. More than 100 years ago, in Scott v. Scott, it was said: “Publicity is the very soul of justice.”
The stories you read this week, with all the ease of digital sharing, remains an incomplete one, but it is more than a start.
On this occasion, we have also decided to give you a little more information about the cost to us. Not just the hours in court involving staff and counsel, but a legal bill in the order of $50,000. It should have been largely unnecessary. But it was worthwhile. And other media organizations asked to join our fight. We don’t believe the second-in-command of the Canadian Forces should be removed without the public’s fullest understanding, and that is our commitment to you.
On the legal bill, we shall put the costs against the accounting entry: Junius’s rigmarole.
To you all, journalism matters.