Canada’s top general says the military routinely uses a wide variety of jargon, acronyms and pseudonyms, but he was not aware of the use of codenames to suppress the release of documents.
Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance took the stand today at a pre-trial hearing for his second-in-command, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.
The former navy commander has been charged with one count of breach of trust and is accused of leaking cabinet secrets related to a $668 million contract to lease a supply ship for the navy.
Today, Vance was grilled by Norman’s lawyer, Marie Heinen, who is battling the government to get documents relevant to her client’s defence.
Responding to earlier testimony that suggested the military deliberately uses codenames to thwart the release of documents, Vance drew a sharp distinction between the widespread use of military parlance and the deliberate use of words in an “underhanded” way to avoid key word searches.
“If there’s a sinister effort by some to use something completely unassociated with the normal vernacular to try and bury communications, that would be very serious and would be a problem in terms of access,” he said.
On Tuesday, the defence team produced a list of words used in documentation to reference Norman, including Kracken, MN3, C34 and The Boss. Vance said he didn’t see anything on the list that would qualify as a codeword.
“These would be very much the norm,” he said.
Vance denied the use of codewords in an interview with CBC News in December 2018, when he said he was shocked by the suggestion the military was using them to deliberately withhold documents. That Dec. 21, 2018 article, where he said he would be “disgusted” if it were true, was entered as an exhibit in court.
After the testimony Vance said he relayed his concern to his deputy minister. When he saw the list of names potentially used in documents, he asked that the document search be retasked to fulfill the defence team’s request for full documentation.
Quick call with PM
Earlier, Vance told the court that he spoke just once — and only for seconds — to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about Norman’s breach of trust case.
The brief call came after the top general met with RCMP officials about the case. Vance said he also met with Trudeau’s principal secretary and chief of staff to brief the office on what he had learned from the RCMP on Jan. 9, 2017.
Vance is testifying at the pre-trial hearing for his second-in-command, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.
He said all his communications with Trudeau and his staff were verbal and that he took no notes on the conversations.
“I have no record,” he told the court.
The Crown alleges Norman, the former navy commander, leaked information about the results of a Liberal cabinet decision to put the leasing project on hold in November 2015, shortly after the Liberals took office.
The government eventually went ahead with the leasing arrangement but launched a police investigation of the leaks.
Paper trail focus
The pre-trial hearing is focused on the paper trail around the case, and Norman’s defence lawyers have accused the government of withholding records pertinent to the case.
Today, boxes of records were brought into the court, with multiple copies of each document: one copy redacted, a second marked for redaction and a third copy left clean.
On Tuesday, Norman’s defence lawyers presented a list of aliases they say defence officials used in documents related to the case so that certain documents would not be captured in key word searches.
Lawyers for former cabinet minister Scott Brison also took part in the hearing, bringing a new set of emails from the Nova Scotia MP’s private account that had not yet been produced for the court.
The pre-trial hearing also heard from Patsy Bradley, who outlined the laborious process to identify and collect thousands of documents related to the case while protecting solicitor-client privilege and personal privacy.
She denied the suggestion that the use of codewords would serve to conceal relevant documents, insisting that the search terms were broad enough to capture the necessary documents.