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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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    Soldiers deploying to flood-prone areas as water levels rise in New Brunswick



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  • FREDERICTON — About 120 Canadian soldiers will soon be deployed in western New Brunswick to help residents threatened by rising floodwaters.

    The soldiers from Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in southern New Brunswick have been tasked with helping fill sandbags and assisting with evacuating homes, if necessary.

    Lt.-Col. Sean French, commander of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, says the soldiers are also prepared to conduct “wellness checks” in various communities, using heavy vehicles that can move through deep water.

    Water levels in the Saint John River Basin are expected to rise significantly over the next few days, reaching or passing flood stage in several areas.

    With heavy rain expected to continue through the day, particularly in northern New Brunswick, residents of 15 communities have been warned to remain on high alert.

    Greg MacCallum, director of New Brunswick’s Emergency Measures Organization, says the rising waters are sure to lead to road closures in several areas, particularly in the Fredericton area and communities farther south.


    The Canadian Press

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    Rain, wind equals no 4-20 blow out for Parliament Hill, but West Coast shines



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  • OTTAWA — It was a blow out, man, the kind that’s a total drag.

    Protesters dotted one half of Parliament Hill’s front lawn on a blustery, rainy Saturday at the climax the first 4-20 “Weed Day” demonstration since Canada legalized recreational marijuana.

    The turnout disappointed organizers who expected thousands more, but a festive atmosphere prevailed as the Peace Tower clock struck 4:20 p.m., sparking simultaneous smart phone photography and the lighting of joints, bongs and pipes.

    “The weather didn’t co-operate. It kind of shut us down,” Shawn Mac, a program director for 4-20 Ottawa, said moments earlier. “Coming and going, we’ve probably seen about 3,000, but right now, probably about a thousand.”

    A bout of blowing rain earlier in the afternoon meant the shutdown of a public address system, and a made for a sparse gathering of perhaps several dozen people, most huddled under plastic ponchos or tarps.

    Sara Bakir, 29, of Ottawa was one of early arrivals, dressed in a dark hoodie under a black umbrella.

    “It’s still nice to be out with a few like-minded people,” she said laughing, and casting her eyes at the empty and soaked brownish yellow lawn. 

    Organizers learned a tough lesson even before the rain started falling — new freedoms bring great bureaucracy.

    Mac said his group is encountering more red tape Saturday than on past April 20 protests.

    Organizers can’t use the steps to the now-closed Centre Block, which means spectators will need a front row position on the lawn to see or hear — something Mac calls a “huge letdown.” 

    “Hearing is already a problem so not being able to see is a crushing blow,” he said.

    Organizers have also been told to limit musical performers to just two, Mac said, adding that isn’t in the rules of how to hold a public event on the Hill. 

    New limits on auto access also meant organizers had to haul equipment and material by hand up to the lawn from Wellington Street, he added.

    “It’s frustrating because legalization was supposed to … make things easier and not more complicated,” he said.

    Lingering post-legalization concerns are sustaining a sense of protest among 4-20 event organizers across the country.

    They include concerns over the government’s decision to tax medicinal marijuana, slow progress on legislation to expedite pardons for people previously convicted of simple pot possession, and the fact that provincial and municipal governments are grappling with retail sales and land-use laws for growing pot.

    The federal government also has yet to legalize edible marijuana products and has six more months to set rules to do so. 

    “Everything about legalization has made things harder, which is the opposite of what is was supposed to be,” said Mac.

    Others were more upbeat and saw Saturday’s event as an inspiration to the world.

    “Again, the world is watching, and I’m very proud of Canada today and Canadians,” said Kelly Coulter, a cannabis policy adviser based in British Columbia.

    She said Canada is helping change global attitudes and policies as the first G7 nation to legalize pot, and she expected people from Germany and Britain to take part in Saturday’s festivities on the Hill.

    It was a far cry from Ottawa’s subdued festivities on the West Coast, as hoards of people crowded Vancouver’s Sunset Beach to mark the city’s 25th annual 4-20 event warmed by rays of glorious spring sunshine amid a low lying marijuana haze.

    A much smaller crowd gathered at the front lawn of British Columbia’s legislature in Victoria, but the mood was equally celebratory and defiant.

    “Today, in many ways, is bittersweet for us,” said long-time marijuana activist Ted Smith, who led the countdown chant to 4:20 p.m. in Victoria. “We’re happy it’s legalized, sure, but there’s a lot of things to protest.”

    Smith, in between puffs from a large joint, said the current marijuana rules are biased against entrepreneurs who want to sell their products in much the same way as craft brewers and winemakers.

    And a downpour didn’t dampen the festivities at Woodbine Park in Toronto’s east end, where revellers trampled through the muddy grass to the steady thrum of house music.

    Cannabis artisans sold their wares at tarp-covered stands, many expressing hope that they could one day emerge from the “grey market” to set up shop at brick-and-mortar storefronts.

    Justin Loizos, owner of the Just Compassion marijuana dispensary in Toronto, said the mood Saturday was more celebratory than in past 4-20 gatherings, which felt more like protests.

    The current regime may not be the “legalization people asked for,” Loizos said, but the cannabis community should take heart in just how far Canada has come.

    “I see a lot of people complaining, whatever — don’t,” he said. “We’re just going to celebrate here and enjoy the day.”

    — with files from Adina Bresge and Dirk Meissner.

    Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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