OTTAWA — Seeking to rebut an allegation that they're operating in concert with the top levels of the federal government, Crown prosecutors in the case of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman gave his defence lawyers a set of notes from a meeting they say was an ordinary part of preparing the case.
They'd previously handed over an edited version of the notes covering a session between them and the Privy Council Office, the department that supports Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The notes' contents have attracted attention from the judge, and a promise from the defence to examine them closely as the case goes on.
Norman was suspended as the military's second-in-command in 2017 and charged last March with one count of breach of trust. He's accused of leaking government secrets to undermine cabinet's decision-making process on a major shipbuilding deal. He denies any wrongdoing.
His legal team raised concerns earlier in the week about the independence of the federal prosecution service after learning about several discussions between prosecutors and lawyers from the Privy Council Office.
In particular, the defence team highlighted an email from lead prosecutor Barbara Mercier to Norman's lawyer Christine Mainville. In the email, which was filed in court Monday, Mercier explained that some of the handwritten notes from the meetings between the Crown and lawyers from the Privy Council Office were redacted because they dealt with "trial strategy."
Mainville raised the idea that the prosecution service appeared to be devising its strategy with the body that reports to and executes the directions of the Prime Minister's Office.
On Friday, prosecutor John MacFarlane rejected any idea of high-level political interference, which he called "serious allegations of Crown misconduct."
"The Privy Council Office is not involved in devising trial strategy with the (Public Prosecution Service of Canada), there's no direction from the Privy Council Office to the PPSC on how to run its case, there's no direction or input from the Prime Minister's Office to our office on how to run its case," MacFarlane told the court.
"We have and we will continue to prosecute this matter independently and free from all political or other outside influences."
On Tuesday, the PPSC released a statement insisting it never sought or received instructions from the government about the Norman case.
MacFarlane argued Friday that there was nothing untoward about the discussions between the Crown and Privy Council Office lawyers. He insisted the talks were about finding a witness for the trial because the office is responsible for handling cabinet confidences, whose sanctity is at the heart of the case.
He also informed the court that the prosecution decided to waive its claim of privilege over the notes. He agreed to provide Norman's lawyers with unredacted copies.
The move, he added, was meant to show "complete transparency."
The judge raised an eyebrow Friday about one line in the notes that she said was attributed to Paul Shuttle, who is the top counsel to the clerk of the Privy Council.
"How about comments from Paul Shuttle like: 'Is there a way to engineer the issues at stake?' " Judge Heather Perkins-McVey asked as she read from the partially redacted version of the notes.
In the notes, which were presented in court Monday, the same line attributed to Shuttle continued with: "Have them framed?"
"You wonder what that's about and that's the difficulty with notes," Perkins-McVey said Friday. "We don't know the context, we don't know exactly what they were speaking about."
Mainville argued that some passages in the notes have nothing to do with the selection of a Privy Council Office witness.
"Indeed, a lot of it remains a bit ambiguous" she said.
She added that Norman's team "certainly" intends to return to the issue, likely during proceedings scheduled for next month.
"The redactions and the fact that, from our perspective, they should never have been made means that we all have to take a close look at anything ... if this is how the prosecution has approached those issues," she said.
On Monday, Mainville said the discussions between the Crown and Privy Council Office were "more concerning" than allegations the Prime Minister's Office tried to intervene in the criminal case against engineering and construction giant SNC-Lavalin.
Trudeau's office is accused of trying to pressure former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to direct federal prosecutors to negotiate a remediation deal with the Quebec-based company rather than move ahead with criminal prosecution.
Norman's case will be back before the judge next Friday for another date in his pre-trial process, which has already spent 10 days in court.
His trial is scheduled to start in August.
Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press