Yet the fact Trudeau was absent when it took place, despite having been there just minutes earlier for question period, gave political fodder to the Conservatives
OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office says Trudeau supports a House of Commons motion that apologized to Vice-Admiral Mark Norman for his legal ordeal, despite the fact Trudeau himself wasn’t there when the motion was adopted.
Conservatives, however, are still on the hunt for a Prime Ministerial apology to Norman, pointing out Trudeau left the Commons chamber shortly before the motion took place. Trudeau’s office says he had to leave in order to get to an event in Hamilton less than three hours later (an event scheduled on his official itinerary).
“Yes, the PM specifically supports the motion,” said a statement on Wednesday from spokesperson Matt Pascuzzo. “The PM went to Hamilton along with the President of Croatia for an event with the Croatian community.”
The motion adopted on Tuesday, which was put forward by Conservative MP Lisa Raitt, recognized Norman’s decades of service to Canada, expressed regret for “the personal and professional hardships he endured as a result of his failed prosecution,” and apologized to Norman and his family “for what they experienced during their legal conflict with the government.”
The motion is essentially symbolic, an expression of the opinion of the House of Commons, and does not constitute an official government apology. The fact it was adopted unanimously means it represents all Members of Parliament. It did not even technically have a vote. Instead, MPs shouted in unison to allow the motion to be moved, and nobody subsequently voiced an objection to it being adopted by unanimous consent. There was no recording of any individual votes.
Yet the fact Trudeau was absent when this took place, despite having been there just minutes earlier for question period, gave political fodder to the Conservatives.
In Wednesday’s question period, Raitt had to phrase her line of attack carefully, as convention in the Commons dictates MPs don’t remark on the absences of other members.
“It was reported by some media this morning that unfortunately the Prime Minister wasn’t present in the House for that apology, and I’m wondering if he would like to take the opportunity now to apologize himself for the treatment of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman,” Raitt said.
Yes, the PM specifically supports the motion
She was lightly chastised by Speaker Geoff Regan for commenting on Trudeau’s absence, but she wasn’t going to get an answer from Trudeau anyway; he’s now away on a trip to France to meet with other world leaders. Instead the response came from Arif Virani, the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister.
Virani thanked Raitt for “raising that unanimous consent motion in the House.” He pointed out, in reference to Trudeau, that when a motion is “endorsed by this House, it’s endorsed by every member of this House.”
Norman went through a two-and-a-half year legal fight after he was suspended in January 2017 from his duties as vice-chief of the defence staff. He was charged in March 2018 with a single count of breach of trust over an allegation he systematically leaked confidential info about a $700-million navy supply ship project.
That case collapsed last week after prosecutors acknowledged they had no reasonable prospect of conviction. Prosecutors said they came to their decision after Norman’s defence team provided them with new information. The information hasn’t been divulged, but sources say it dates from the Conservative government of Stephen Harper and was never fully pursued by the RCMP.
Trudeau has not personally apologized for what happened to Norman. On Tuesday, facing calls for an apology in question period, he pointed out that it was Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance who decided to suspend Norman in 2017.
“Measures were brought forward against the vice-admiral at the direction of the chief of the defence staff,” Trudeau said. “That is known by everyone.”
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was also absent for the adoption of the motion on Tuesday, though his office pointed out he wasn’t in question period either.
“Minister Sajjan supports this motion,” said a statement. “The Minister was not on Parliament Hill yesterday afternoon due to a previously scheduled engagement.”