OTTAWA — Former prime minister Stephen Harper could be dragged into the criminal case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, as the suspended military officer’s lawyers seek access to thousands of secret government documents.
Last month, Norman’s lawyers gave the court a list of records they say are needed to ensure their client receives a fair trial, even as they accused the government of having “cherry-picked” the disclosure of information.
The Opposition Conservatives subsequently picked up on the demand for more information by repeatedly calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to provide the documents, which government lawyers have said includes about 135,000 files.
But many of the records that Norman’s lawyers requested — including many deemed cabinet secrets or “confidences” — were created while Harper was prime minister, and federal officials say he is the only one who can authorize their release.
In a document filed with the court, Paul Shuttle an adviser to the clerk of the Privy Council, the government’s top bureaucrat, stated: “For documents from the Harper ministry, PM Harper would have to approve of their disclosure.” The Privy Council Office reiterated that position in an email to The Canadian Press this week.
While the disclosure of evidence is a key tenet of Canada’s legal system, and courts can normally compel the release of such information, the Canada Evidence Act lets the government refuse requests for cabinet confidences. Usually prepared for ministers to aid government deliberations and decision-making, documents marked as cabinet confidences hold closely guarded political secrets and are legally protected from unauthorized release.