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The Mark Norman firing mystery: This doesn’t happen in the U.S.

Four days after Canada’s No. 2 military commander was fired, Canadians still don’t know why. We should take a lesson from American transparency on this.


 
Royal Canadian Navy Vice-Admiral Mark Norman (left) speaks with Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd during a change of command ceremony, Thursday, June 23, 2016 in Ottawa. Norman, one of the military's highest ranking officers, has been temporarily removed from his post. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Royal Canadian Navy Vice-Admiral Mark Norman (left) speaks with Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd during a change of command ceremony, Thursday, June 23, 2016 in Ottawa. Norman, one of the military’s highest ranking officers, has been temporarily removed from his post. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

When the director of the CIA David Petraeus resigned on Nov. 9, 2012, the CIA published his letter of resignation the same day. Americans learned the details in Petraeus’s own words: “Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign … After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair.”

By contrast, four days after the Canadian Forces fired its second-most powerful military commander, vice-chief of the Defence staff Mark Norman, Canadians are still waiting to find out why. The public only learned of Norman’s situation when a senior official leaked a letter signed by Gen. Jonathan Vance, explaining Norman would be temporarily replaced. No official in the Forces or RCMP, nor the defence minister or Prime Minister, have cared to elaborate. While Americans regularly get information about high-profile resignations straight from their government, Canadians have, once again, received nothing but official, systematic silence.

Faced with questions about Norman, officials are beating around the bureaucratic bush. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan offered nothing except a word of support for the decision. The RCMP has not said if Norman is or isn’t subject to an investigation, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been equally unhelpful. The Forces only told journalists that Norman “will not be carrying out the functions” of his former post. Since Jan. 13, the military have released no statements other than an irrelevant academic article and a welcome-home message to a ship returning to Halifax.

Firing Norman was a startling move. A former commander of the Navy, Norman was promoted to second-in-command of the Forces last summer and was at one point considered a candidate for the chief of the Defence staff. On the day before his dismissal, the Forces published a playful interview with him at the Carling campus, the future home of the Defence headquarters. Asked how he would move his office supplies, he joked, “Segway, come on, I get a Segway, I’m the vice.”

Not anymore, but the reasons are camouflaged. Canadians are left to rely on an anonymous source that told the Globe and Mail Norman is under investigation for leaking “high-level secret documents” while sources told the National Post Tuesday that Norman’s firing stems from the leak of shipbuilding plans. As Conservative defence critic James Bezan said in a statement, “when a decision of this magnitude is made, Canadians deserve to be informed.”

Yet secrecy and a lack of transparency have long been hallmarks of Canadian officialdom, which stands in stark contrast to the U.S. standards for disclosure. When top U.S. military commanders have made similar so-longs, Americans have been kept in the loop. On June 23, 2010, commander of the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, resigned, after a journalist for Rolling Stone published conversations between McChrystal and his aides in which he bashed President Barack Obama. On the day that McChrystal gave his resignation letter to the President, Obama spoke to the press in the Rose Garden, directly referencing the “recently published article.”

McChrystal’s successor was David Petraeus, who resigned on Nov. 9, 2012, after leaking documents to his lover and biographer, Paula Broadwell. When the CIA released his resignation letter to the public, White House press secretary Jay Carney was in the middle of giving a press conference. A journalist piped up, “Hey, Jay, Petraeus has resigned. Do you have a statement?” Later that day, Obama accepted the resignation in a press conference four hours later.

As Norman is replaced by Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, Canadians would like their government, please and thanks, to reveal more. Norman may have been leaking classified documents, but nothing is confirmed. For all we know, his dismissal could have had something to do with a Segway.


 

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