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Vice-Admiral Norman’s lawyer blasts Justice Dept for ‘inaccurate’ statements

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OTTAWA — Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s lawyer Marie Henein has called out Justice Canada for making what she says are “inaccurate” public statements about her client’s high-profile case while conceding a delay in her attempts to get it tossed.

The statements she criticized came earlier this month in the form of several Twitter posts and a public fact-sheet in which the department said it wanted to “clarify” Henein’s requests for internal records held by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other top officials.

They appeared aimed at rebutting Henein’s allegations that the government has been dragging its feet in producing those records and thousands of other documents related to Norman’s breach-of-trust charge.

Directed at a journalist and Trudeau’s former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, the tweets from March 6 asserted at one point that “the government is providing documents to the judge for her review at the pace directed by her and will continue to do so.”

A similar comment was contained in the fact-sheet, which was posted to the Justice Department’s website and sent to other journalists.

Except Justice Heather Perkins-McVey has previously questioned why it is taking the government so long to gather the requested documents, which she must review before deciding whether they should be released to Norman’s lawyers.

The tweets, copies of which were provided by Henein’s office to The Canadian Press, have since been deleted and Henein told the court during a brief pre-trial hearing Monday that the department changed the fact-sheets after complaints from her office.

Copies provided by Henein’s office showed that the amendments included removing the comment about Perkins-McVey directing the department to produce the documents at a certain pace.

Henein nonetheless questioned why Justice Canada officials felt the need to comment publicly on the case, adding that the department has been posting statements that “we take the position are inaccurate.”

“We’ve made our position known in writing to the Department of Justice as to the propriety of that sort of behaviour,” she said. “We take issue with a number of the statements that they posted.”

Justice Canada spokesman Ian McLeod said Monday that tweets were sent to two journalists “as media relations outreach.”

“We later removed the tweets, and are providing clarifications to media directly via e-mail,” he said.

The court also heard that an abuse-of-process hearing scheduled for next week, in which Norman’s lawyers were to argue that the case against him should be tossed, will be delayed because they still don’t have the requested documents.

Norman’s team has been fighting since October for internal communications from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office about the case, which included issuing subpoenas last month for emails, BlackBerry messages and other records.

Subpoenas were issued for Trudeau, Butts, Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford and Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick, among others, as Henein tries to find records to prove political interference in Norman’s case and have the charges dismissed.

Justice Canada lawyer Robert McKinnon told the court most of the subpoenaed material had been delivered to Perkins-McVey for her review.

But Henein, who has accused the government of trying to delay Norman’s actual trial, which is scheduled to start in August and run through most of the election, said she still hadn’t seen any of the material.

As a result, she said, she wouldn’t be able to make her abuse-of-process case next week.

The court will now aim to hold the five-day hearing in April.

McKinnon also indicated it could take another two to four weeks for the government to finish handing over some encrypted information and records involving former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Norman, who previously served as the military’s second-in-command, was charged last year with breach of trust for allegedly leaking government secrets to help a Quebec shipyard with a $700-million naval contract.

He has denied any wrongdoing and his lawyers have accused him of having been a victim of political games and interference by the Trudeau government.

— Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


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Five Things to watch for as PM meets Trump, congressional leaders in Washington

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WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is spending the day in Washington for a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House and face time with congressional leaders from the Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. Here are five things to watch for:

1. Working towards certainty on continental trade uncertainty

Trump foisted an acrimonious renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement on Canada and Mexico, and after more than year of hard-fought bargaining, everyone survived. The leaders of the three countries signed the deal late last year, but final legal ratification remains a significant hurdle — especially in the U.S. Trump has insulted House Leader Nancy Pelosi, who essentially holds the cards on ratification. But Trump’s trade czar Robert Lighthizer has been repeatedly complimentary of her efforts to find solutions. Trudeau will likely seek to persuade Pelosi that if the deal is good enough for Liberals in Canada, perhaps the Democrats in the U.S. can swallow it too. We likely won’t know for weeks how successful Trudeau will be. But one test will be whether the matter moves through Congress before the end of July, when it adjourns for the summer.

2. Helping two Canadians in big trouble in China

Two Canadian men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, have been languishing behind bars in China for more than six months. Their arrest is widely viewed as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on an American extradition warrant. Chinese leaders have snubbed Trudeau and his cabinet ministers, but Trump has been playing hardball with the People’s Republic in an escalating trade war that is rocking the global economy. During a visit to Ottawa last month, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence said Trump will push Chinese President Xi Jinping for their release at the G20 leaders’ summit in Japan next week. Will Trump tip his hand about doing Trudeau a favour?

3. Winning in the eyes of Canadians

Managing relations with the United States, Canada’s largest trading partner, neighbour, close friend and ally is arguably one of the most important jobs of a prime minister. Trudeau has had a rough time with Trump, to put it mildly. Trump insulted him over Twitter after leaving the G7 in Quebec last year, and he imposed punishing steel and aluminum tariffs on Canadian imports as a bargaining chip in the NAFTA talks. All of that would seem to be history. The subtexts, the body language the words, each interaction between the two men will be under scrutiny when they shake hands and trade remarks in the Oval Office. What matters for Trudeau — and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer — is how Canadians interpret that when they go to the polls in October.

4. Huawei, or not Huawei

The Trump administration is clear: the Chinese telecom giant is a national security threat and won’t be supplying any of the equipment for America’s next generation 5G network. The Trump administration doesn’t want Canada or its allies using Huawei either. The Trudeau government is taking its time deciding. Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale have repeatedly said they will make an evidence-based decision on the advice of their national security experts. That likely won’t come before the October election, however. Trump will push the issue with Trudeau when they talk in private. In public, expect nothing to change.

5. That’s the way the basketball bounces

In addition to trying to work to salvage the North American economy, protect jobs and bring certainty back to big business planning, Trudeau will have the opportunity to gloat with Pelosi for winning his bet on the NBA Finals that saw the Toronto Raptors defeat her home-state Golden State Warriors. Will Trudeau pop the cork on the nice bottle of California wine he is likely to receive? More importantly, perhaps, will Trump give any hint that he plans to invite the champions to the White House, in keeping with what is now an often-controversial tradition?

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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Trade, China sure to surface as Trudeau meets Trump, congressional leaders

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WASHINGTON — Justin Trudeau is headed back to the White House today in what could prove to be a pivotal visit to the U.S. capital not only for North American trade and Canada’s strained relationship with China, but for the campaign-bound prime minister himself.

An earnest end to the tensions between Trudeau and President Donald Trump, which erupted into full view following last year’s G7 summit in Quebec, could prove useful to his governing Liberals when Canadians head to the polls this fall.

The Oval Office meeting, Trudeau’s third since Trump was elected in 2016, is aimed primarily at pushing the new North American trade deal over the finish line in both countries.

But Trudeau will also be looking to the U.S. president to speak out against the detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have been languishing behind bars in China since shortly after Canada arrested high-tech executive Meng Wanzhou late last year at the behest of U.S. authorities. 

Canada has been caught in the crossfire after detaining Meng last December in Vancouver, where she awaits extradition south of the border to face allegations of fraud in violating Iran sanctions.

Trudeau is hoping Trump will go to bat for Kovrig and Spavor when he meets China’s President Xi Jinping at next week’s G20 leaders’ summit in Japan.

Vice-President Mike Pence has promised Trump would do just that, but Trudeau will find out today whether the mercurial president plans to follow through.

And then there’s the new NAFTA.

Trump needs to persuade his Democratic opponents in the House of Representatives — in particular Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with whom Trudeau is scheduled to meet later in the day — to allow the actual start of the ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Lawmakers in Mexico voted Wednesday in a landslide to ratify the deal.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer called that “a crucial step forward” towards finalizing the deal.

“The USMCA is the strongest and most advanced trade agreement ever negotiated. It is good for the United States, Mexico, and Canada in a way that truly benefits our workers, farmers, and businesses,” he said in a statement.

Pelosi and her fellow Democrats want stronger enforcement mechanisms for the deal’s new labour and environmental provisions — and Trudeau’s visit might be just the thing needed to pry loose her support.

Canada, meanwhile, has been building strong support for the new NAFTA and open borders within the U.S. and it has many American business allies who remain active.

Lighthizer told the powerful House ways and means committee Wednesday that he’s willing to co-operate with Democrats to move forward on the new trade bill.

“Getting this done sooner rather than later is in everybody’s interest,” he said. “It saves jobs, it helps the economy, it gets certainty in place.”

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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