Many readers will recall that in May of this year I wrote a column here about the case of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, who was charged with a breach of public trust early this year, 13 months after the RCMP had executed a search warrant on his home. The background of the case was the long neglect of the requirements of the Royal Canadian Navy by the Chrétien and Harper governments, culminating in the failure of our two ocean supply vessels. These ships are necessary to enable a fleet to function outside coastal waters without relying on foreign navies to provide the fuel and provisions warships need for extensive ocean cruising. One of our maintenance vessels, the Preserver, was withdrawn from service after it was determined that corrosion was such that she was no longer seaworthy, in 2014. In the following year, a fire aboard the other, Protecteur, required that she be towed more than 600 kilometres across the Pacific by U.S. Navy tugs, to Pearl Harbor. Protecteur was not judged appropriate for recommissioning, and we were left with effectively a coastal force, enfeebled by a good deal of obsolescence.
Mark Norman had become the commander of the Royal Canadian Navy in 2013 after 33 years in that service. As commander, he naturally wished his fleet to possess as much flexibility and capability as possible. He apparently played some role, in co-operation with the Harper government, in expediting the replacement of the maintenance ships by supporting a scheme of Davie Shipbuilding in Lévis, Que., to adapt a civilian tanker to military needs, and it was ready for service at the start of this year. The shipyards that had been entrusted with the construction of new maintenance vessels, Irving in New Brunswick and Seaspan in British Columbia, had expected to complete new fleet maintenance ships by 2021 and were considerably and vocally annoyed when the temporary plan was invoked by the Harper government as the excuse to delay building permanent replacements ships until 2023.
The case cannot be tried in the media, but Vice-Admiral Norman is unusually deserving of the presumption of innocence, and although he has been the victim of a good deal of leaking of misleading information, including the unexplained indiscretion that the RCMP has searched his house, an unusual development in the life of a Canadian navy commander, it is difficult to imagine how a case of breach of trust can be proved. His duty was to have as fit and serviceable a navy as possible. While his enemies have released tainting information, they have not to date allowed any hint of a basis for their case to be known to the media, which have generally, and unusually for accused people, been quite favourable to the vice-admiral.
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