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OTTAWA — After getting bogged down in delay, miscommunication, procedural wrangling and political attacks, it appears the Senate defence committee’s investigation of the Vice-Admiral Mark Norman prosecution is going to end without calling in a single witness to testify.
The committee voted on May 28 to launch a study into the Norman case and to invite Norman and other key witnesses to speak in public testimony. But with the Senate expected to break for the summer on Friday, the committee can’t hold meetings after that unless Senate leaders agree to it or the full Senate chamber votes in favour. As of Thursday afternoon, it looks unlikely either will happen.
Conservative Sen. Jean-Guy Dagenais, whose motion had launched the study back in May, sent a media release on Thursday saying the study will have to end. “The (committee) will be unable to hear witnesses and shed light on what has become known as the Norman Affair,” the release said.
It marks the second time this week that Dagenais has declared the study dead. On the weekend, he emailed the committee’s chair to say he intended to withdraw his motion because there wasn’t enough time to hear from witnesses before the motion’s deadline on June 20. But then the committee met on Monday and agreed to extend the deadline until Aug. 1. That extension, however, is meaningless without permission to continue holding meetings.
Dagenais puts the blame on Sen. Peter Harder, the Liberal government’s representative in the Senate. He says Harder informed the Conservatives this week that he would not agree to summer committee sittings.
Harder’s office, meanwhile, says it hasn’t even received a formal request from the committee to extend the meetings. “Senator Harder is unable to comment because he hasn’t seen the contents of the letter and would wish to consult with other senators,” said a spokesperson. But Dagenais did say Harder directly told him last week that no permission was forthcoming.
Dagenais is also declining to ask the full Senate chamber to vote on it, saying he is sure he would lose. The Senate’s majority is made up of independents appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Dagenais argued they would support the government — despite the fact his motion only passed in the first place because two independent senators on the committee voted in favour.
“I don’t like to lose my time, and we don’t have a chance,” Dagenais said in an interview.
The study, then, appears set to die after a month of infighting and miscommunication in the Senate. That means it’s very unlikely that Norman or anyone else involved in the affair will be testifying in public anytime soon.
The committee had a list of more than 20 witnesses it was interested in calling, including defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, former Liberal cabinet minister Scott Brison, and former Conservative cabinet ministers Peter MacKay and Jason Kenney (who’s now Alberta’s Premier).
But all of that was waiting for an answer on whether Norman would testify. The National Post reported on Sunday that Norman’s lawyers hadn’t been receiving the emailed invitations from the committee, which were sent to a general law firm inbox rather than directly to Norman’s lawyers.
Even if Norman had been receiving the invitations, it was far from clear that he would agree to testify. On the weekend, Norman’s lawyer Marie Henein told the committee clerk in correspondence that she had concerns over the terms of the committee’s study.
“Given that I have spent two and a half years on this matter, I am not sure how a meaningful inquiry can proceed without a detailed review of the case and documents,” she said in an email obtained by the Post. “(Oral) testimony in response to questions asked by individuals who have not reviewed the extensive record as to how these charges came to be laid and how the case proceeded in my view will not be of assistance to the Canadian public.”
Given the events of this week, it seems the whole question is now moot. “We will advise the lawyers for Norman, don’t worry, we won’t have any meetings during July or August, it’s finished,” Dagenais said on Thursday.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019