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Military vice-chief’s silence could signal he sees future with forces after suspension: analyst

By Marco Vigliotti      

Questions persist about why the popular, 'straight shooter' Vice-Admiral Mark Norman was temporarily removed from duty more than a month ago.

It's still unclear why Vice-Chief of Defence Staff Vice-Admiral Mark Norman has been temporarily removed from his duties, with the Department of National Defence remaining tight-lipped.
The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia

Suspended vice-chief of defence staff Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s persisting silence in the face of speculation as to why he’s been removed from duty suggests he’s holding out hope of being reinstated to the second-highest post in the Canadian Armed Forces, according to veteran military journalist Scott Taylor.

“He’s obviously respecting the decision, and respecting the chain of command, which would imply that he thinks he’s still coming back or that he can recover from this,” said Mr. Taylor, editor and publisher of Esprit de Corps magazine, which focuses on military issues.

“Otherwise, it’d be in his best interest to at least give his side of things, at least set the story straight.”

Vice-Admiral Norman was temporarily relieved of his senior military position in mid-January in an announcement that surprised many in the defence community.

The Department of National Defence did not at the time elaborate on the reason for Vice-Admiral Norman’s departure, nor has it done so since, citing “privacy considerations.” Navy Commander Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd has assumed the responsibilities of vice-chief of defence staff in the interim.

When pressed for details, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan (Vancouver South, B.C.) told reporters that the removal was not related to national security, though refused to elaborate further.

Vice-Admiral Norman has not commented publicly on his removal. He did not respond to an email from The Hill Times last week to his government account. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

With no word from official channels, there have been unconfirmed media reports citing unnamed sources saying that the reason for the admiral’s removal is related to an alleged leak of commercial data pertaining to the government’s shipbuilding strategy. Vice-Admiral Norman was previously commander of the Canadian Navy.

The multibillion-dollar shipbuilding program was announced in 2011 as part of an effort to develop a sustainable domestic shipbuilding industry and re-equip Canada’s navy and coast guard. The contracts for the next fleet of combat and non-combat ships were awarded to Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax and Vancouver’s Seaspan, respectively. The shipyards have been sprucing up their operations to be able to build the new vessels.

Mr. Taylor, who’s also a The Hill Times columnist, said Vice-Admiral Norman has a reputation of being a “total straight shooter,” and the rumours circulating about the reason for his suspension “don’t fit” with the person he and others had come to know.

“It has to be something serious, but at the same time, no one knows what it is, and yet none of those things that it could be would seem to match with the character that we all thought we knew,” he said.

Dave Perry, a senior analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, a think tank that specializes in defence and foreign affairs policy, described the admiral as someone who is “extremely highly regarded,” with the dozen or so people he knows who have worked for him all having “very complimentary things to say about him.”

“I have never heard anyone say anything negative about him,” he said.

When reached for comment, National Defence said it had no additional information to provide beyond what the chief of defence staff, General Jonathan Vance, had already said with regard to releasing no details due to privacy concerns. Gen. Vance last week at a military conference in Ottawa said the day he decided to remove his vice-chief from duties was “one of the hardest days of my career,” according to the CBC. He called it “the right thing to do,” and stressed that Vice-Admiral Norman “is owed the decency of silence until you know the facts.”

Rear-Admiral John Newton, commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic, told the Halifax Chronicle Herald on the weekend that Vice-Admiral Norman “deserves privacy while the allegations are investigated.”

Other members of the defence community have also been hesitant about commenting publicly or privately on his removal, citing the absence of credible information.

Mr. Taylor said that no one even broached the subject during a recent charity hockey game he organized featuring foreign defence attachés, Canadian military personnel, and reporters, which he found strange as Vice-Admiral Norman was extended an invitation to attend by one of the attachés.

“It was the elephant in the room,” he said.

When reached separately by The Hill Times for their reaction to the news, a handful of foreign defence attachés politely refused to comment because of their unfamiliarity with the situation, saying only that news of the suspension came as a total shock.

Several defence industry lobbyists and ex-military personnel also refused comment, explaining that they were not familiar with the reason the vice-chief was suspended.

Mr. Perry said he doesn’t believe many truly know the reason for the departure besides the chief of defence staff, defence minister, prime minister, and Vice-Admiral Norman himself.

“My sense is that there’s a very small list of people who know what’s going on, and they, at least publicly, have all said they can’t talk about it,” he said in an interview. “Pretty much everything else that has been said is speculative.”

If the matter related to any potential concerns on the part of Canadian allies, including nations in NATO, they would have most likely been notified by the government, he added.

mvigliotti@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times 

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