OTTAWA - One of the Canadian Forces' most senior officers has been charged with breach of trust following a two-year criminal investigation into the leaking of classified government information to a Quebec shipyard.
The RCMP laid the charge Friday against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, who previously served as the military's second-in-command and was widely considered a potential successor to Gen. Jonathan Vance as chief of the defence staff.
Norman has denied any wrongdoing. His lawyer, Marie Henein, released a strongly worded statement denouncing the RCMP's decision to charge her client and promising to fight the allegation in court.
"Vice-Admiral Norman has devoted his entire career to serving Canada and our military," Henein wrote.
"This is a very sad day for an extraordinary Canadian who we should be celebrating rather than prosecuting. Our public resources should be put to better use."
Norman is scheduled to appear in court April 10. Anyone found guilty of breach of trust can be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison.
The case revolves around the newly elected Liberal government's decision in November 2015 to reconsider a $700-million contract the Harper Conservatives had awarded to Quebec-based Davie Shipbuilding.
The contract was to convert a civilian vessel, the MV Asterix, into a temporary resupply ship that would be leased for five years, with another five-year option, until permanent replacements could be built in Vancouver.
While the plan to revisit the contract was supposed to remain secret, court documents released last year show the RCMP suspected Norman of being upset with the decision and worried the government would cancel the project.
Norman was commander of the navy at the time and, according to the documents, allegedly worked with Davie to try to pressure the government to stick with the project.
None of the allegations against Norman have been tested in court.
The Liberals ultimately decided to proceed with the project; the MV Asterix was delivered to the navy this week and Davie is currently in talks with the Liberal government for the provision of icebreakers to the Canadian Coast Guard.
The RCMP quietly launched their investigation in December 2015 in response to a complaint from the government about the decision to revisit the MV Asterix project being reported in the media.
The investigation saw the Mounties seize documents and emails from two lobbying firms in Ottawa as well as Davie's head office in Levis, Que. It also involved assistance from U.S. authorities, the RCMP said Friday.
The first hint of an investigation came in January 2017 when Norman was suspended as vice-chief of defence staff.
Even then, the government refused to say why Norman had been relieved of his duties until several media organizations successfully fought in April 2017 to access to court documents laying out the RCMP's case.
The case has since gained a high-profile; critics had recently started questioning the length of the investigation, with some calling for Norman's reinstatement as vice-chief of the defence staff given the lack of charges.
Defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance announced last week that Lt.-Gen. Paul Wynnyk will take over from Lt.-Gen. Alain Parent as acting vice-chief of defence when Parent retires later this year.
The official Opposition Conservatives also accused the Liberals of political interference after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau predicted in April 2017 that the case would end up in court, even though Norman hadn't been charged.
Trudeau sparked another uproar last month when he suggested the case would "inevitably" lead to "court processes," though his office later said he was referring to police and prosecutors deciding whether to lay charges.
— Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.