OTTAWA — On Wednesday night the Senate national defence committee voted to launch a study into the case of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, and to invite key figures to testify — including Norman himself.The study became possible because of the unusual nature of the Senate these days, with its mix of independent, Conservative and former Liberal senators. Two independent senators voted with the Conservatives on the committee to pass the motion.The motion authorizes the committee to “examine and report on the circumstances that led the RCMP to lay, now stayed, criminal charges against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, including the scope and nature of the involvement in that process by any other persons.” The criminal charge against Norman — one count of breach of trust, stemming from allegations he leaked confidential information about the government’s disposition towards a project to procure a supply ship for the Royal Canadian Navy — was stayed earlier this month. The report is due June 20, 2019, but first the committee will have to decide how to structure its study and who to invite as witnesses. Norman, meanwhile, will have to decide whether public testimony is a good idea or not.Here are a few of the big questions about what happens next.Who will get invited to testify?The motion specifically named three people to invite: Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance, and Norman. But it also authorized the committee to invite anyone else it chooses.During debate, senators raised the possibility of inviting RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki, former Conservative ministers such as Peter MacKay and Jason Kenney, and former Liberal minister Scott Brison.The committee’s steering group will decide on invitations. That group is made up of independent Sen. Gwen Boniface, Conservative Sen. Jean-Guy Dagenais, and Liberal Sen. Terry Mercer.Mercer told the committee he saw the motion as a Conservative ploy to embarrass the Trudeau government, and warned he’d be looking to grill former Conservatives about their own roles in the case.“Be careful what you ask for in this business,” Mercer said. “Because once you start peeling the onion, you gotta go all the levels down.”Dagenais, however, said he welcomed the idea of former Conservative ministers coming to testify, saying all sides should be heard.Can Norman decline his invitation?Yes. The committee is issuing an invitation, not a summons that, if ignored, could result in someone being held in contempt of parliament. Most people come when invited by a Senate committee, but sometimes even government ministers ignore such invitations.Dagenais, the senator who put forward the motion, said it’s very possible Norman would decide not to come. “The purpose of this motion is to give Vice-Admiral Norman an opportunity to speak his mind,” he said in French. “As we do with all witnesses, we invite them to appear, and should they decide to turn down our invitation, it’s as they see fit.”Some senators expressed misgivings about inviting Norman without knowing first whether he’d be receptive. Others argued it was fine to simply offer the chance to testify.“I’d be quite amazed if he showed up,” said Conservative Sen. Thomas McInnis, pointing to the fact Norman’s legal proceedings are not necessarily over — particularly if he files a lawsuit in the wake of his legal ordeal. “Having said that, there’s no harm in us asking at all.”Is it a good idea for Norman to testify?This is the trickiest question. Norman’s testimony would be covered by parliamentary privilege, meaning it can’t be used against him in a court proceeding. But he may still decide it’s a bad idea to speak publicly about sensitive legal matters.There is another obstacle, however, which is that Norman is an active member of the Canadian Forces. He’s even said he wants to return to his old job of vice-chief of the defence staff, the position from which Vance suspended him in January 2017.Military members are covered by the Queen’s Regulations and Orders. The regulations forbid members from making public comments which might discredit the Canadian Forces, said Michel Drapeau, a lawyer and former Canadian Forces member with expertise in military law.
Vice Admiral Mark Norman arrives at court in Ottawa on April 16, 2019.
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
But Drapeau said parliamentary sovereignty trumps those regulations, and he believes a Canadian Forces member has a positive duty to respond to a Senate committee invitation.“What considerations he would have to weigh if it comes to testifying is, however, a more complex question which can be summed up by two words: ‘prudence’ and ‘moderation,’” Drapeau said.Drapeau said that even aside from the legal considerations, he thinks Norman’s senior military rank means he should follow a certain “duty of reserve,” especially if he wants to return as vice-chief.“Given his current (and expected continued) subordination to both civil and military superiors … Norman would also have to exercise self-restraint and professional discretion during his testimony so as to not bring discredit to any government institutions and their leaders,” Drapeau said. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: btaplatt