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Trudeau sought RCMP probe of cabinet leaks on navy supply ship

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, left, greets officers at a change of command ceremony in Halifax on July 12, 2013.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pushed for the RCMP to investigate leaks of classified cabinet deliberations regarding a $667-million naval supply ship project that eventually led the police to accuse Vice-Admiral Mark Norman of breach of trust, according to an insider.

The decision to ask the Mounties to probe the matter was made at the highest level of the government after an internal investigation by Security Operations at the Privy Council Office failed to discover the source of the cabinet leaks.

It is common for confidential information to be leaked in Ottawa, and it is unusual for a Prime Minister to get involved in summoning the RCMP to investigate. This sends a powerful message throughout the government and may account for the energy and effort the RCMP has invested over the past 17 months that now centres on Vice-Adm. Norman.

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Read more: Judge lifts publication ban on RCMP case against Vice-Admiral Norman

The insider told The Globe and Mail that Mr. Trudeau and Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick were frustrated and angry that information about a cabinet decision in November, 2015, to delay approval for the project with Quebec's Chantier Davie Canada Inc. shipyard was leaked to CBC reporter James Cudmore, who is now a senior adviser to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

"The Prime Minister and the Clerk were furious and ordered the RCMP to investigate once the PCO [Privy Council Office] said they couldn't find out who was leaking," the insider said. "There was a lot of anger because cabinet decisions were revealed."

Mr. Cudmore had reported in detail on a Nov. 19, 2015, cabinet decision to delay the sole-source contract to Chantier Davie that the former Conservative government had awarded before the October general election. The Liberals, who had just taken power, had pressed pause on the matter while they fielded complaints about how the Tories had handled it.

CBC reported that James Irving, chief executive of Irving Shipbuilding Inc., had allegedly "meddled in the decision by sending letters to several cabinet ministers about the deal," saying his firm could deliver the supply ship at a lower cost.

A heavily redacted RCMP affidavit used to obtain a warrant to search Vice-Adm. Norman's Ottawa home on Jan. 9 demonstrated the level of concern within the Trudeau cabinet about the leaks. The affidavit included material from interviews the Mounties did with a number of cabinet ministers.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison told RCMP the leaks prevented cabinet from doing its job to properly analyze the Chantier Davie project as political pressure mounted in Quebec City for Ottawa to keep the contract in place.

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"The rendering of this [classified information] into the public domain did an awful lot to limit our ability to what we'd intended to do, and that is more due diligence on this," Mr. Brison is quoted in the affidavit as saying.

The Liberal government, facing protests from the Quebec government and the union for the Chantier Davie shipyard, eventually approved the project.

The Prime Minister's Office did not respond to a request for comment from The Globe regarding Mr. Trudeau's role in initiating the RCMP probe.

A government official later provided a statement, saying the Clerk of the Privy Council, who is Canada's top bureaucrat, "may ask for the involvement" of the RCMP after an internal investigation.

"The RCMP will then determine if there are sufficient grounds to investigate," said Raymond Rivet, spokesman for the Privy Council Office. "PMO does not direct investigations and we cannot comment further as the matter is currently under investigation. The Government of Canada takes the issues of leaks very seriously."

The Mounties have alleged Vice-Adm. Norman violated the Criminal Code by leaking cabinet secrets. The investigation into the leaks – called Project Anchor – has so far spanned 17 months without laying any charges against the high-ranking naval officer.

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A Chantier Davie executive who spoke on background to The Globe said the cabinet delay of the project was no surprise and that the company learned about it from two senior civil servants the day of the decision and not from Vice-Adm. Norman.

"We were told that straight after the cabinet meeting by the bureaucrats … so how did everybody find out there was going to be a delay in cabinet? The whole of Ottawa knew," the executive said.

The details of the RCMP allegations against Vice-Adm. Norman remain secret because large segments of the affidavit are redacted.

However, Ontario Superior Court judge Kevin Phillips issued a ruling on Friday to lift the publication ban and unseal 76 of 123 paragraphs in the affidavit – about 60 per cent of the document.

Justice Phillips' decision was stayed until this Friday to allow Vice-Adm. Norman's legal team to consider filing an appeal to a higher court. The Globe and Mail, later joined by CBC, CTV and National Post, had gone to court to get access to the RCMP document.

On Monday, Vice-Adm. Norman's lawyer said her client will not appeal Justice Phillips' ruling.

In his ruling, Justice Phillips said the "potential allegation against Vice-Admiral Norman is that he was trying to keep a contractual relationship together so that the country might get itself a badly needed supply ship." He went on to say "nowhere is there any suggestion that the man was even thinking of trying to line his own pockets."

The unredacted parts of the RCMP court documents suggest Chantier Davie and a sister company, Federal Fleet Services, were attempting to press the Trudeau cabinet to stick with the contract. Two weeks after the leaks, the Liberal government approved the project to transform a cargo vessel into a temporary navy supply ship.

As part of the investigation, the RCMP obtained search warrants in the last two months of 2016 to seize the contents of Vice-Adm. Norman's mobile devices as well as e-mails from Spencer Fraser, CEO of Federal Fleet Services.

The Mounties also raided the offices of Mr. Fraser and three Chantier Davie executives and their Ottawa lobbyists.

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Ottawa Bureau Chief

Robert Fife is The Globe and Mail's Ottawa Bureau Chief and the host of CTV's "Question Period with The Globe and Mail's Robert Fife." He uncovered the Senate expense scandal, setting the course for an RCMP investigation, audits and reform of Senate expense rules. In 2012, he exposed the E. More

Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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