OTTAWA — When Vice-Admiral Mark Norman was suspended last year as the military's second-in-command because of an RCMP investigation, some suggested the respected officer was being left out in the cold.
But internal emails show Norman has kept in regular contact with chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance and that Vance even sought Norman's advice on more than occasion as the two struggled with what remains a delicate situation.
The emails, obtained by The Canadian Press through access to information, provide a rare window into the relationship between Canada's top military officers and emerge as the criminal case against Norman moves through the legal system.
Norman remains suspended with pay after being charged by the RCMP last month with one count of breach of trust for the alleged leaking of sensitive information to a Quebec shipyard, which he has vowed to fight in court.
The case is due back in Ottawa court on May 15.
The emails, many of which include seasonal greetings and other personal touches, show that days after Norman was suspended as vice-chief of the defence staff in January 2017, he agreed to check in with Vance once a week.
Such contacts between commanding officers and suspended subordinates are common practice in the military, said one defence source who asked not to be quoted because the case is before the courts.
Vance "is still responsible for Vice-Admiral Norman as a serving member of the Canadian Armed Forces," the source said. "He's one of his people. Anybody would be checking in with their commanding officer if they're not at work."
Much of the correspondence sees Norman simply writing "Ops Normal," which he notes in one email is how submariners traditionally report that they are fine, followed by the acronym "NSTR," meaning Nothing Significant to Report.
But there are other exchanges, as when Vance asks in February 2017 whether they can talk by the phone or meet in person to discuss "the way ahead in the short term," and again that April to discuss a series of upcoming military promotions.
It's unclear in the emails whether the two senior officers ever met or talked by phone after Norman's suspension.
Vance does indicate that they crossed paths at a funeral in May 2017, but a few weeks later repeats his previous desire to meet with Norman, writing: "I will move ahead on this, ensuring utmost privacy and respect."
Norman's lawyer, Marie Henein, said in an email Thursday that she would not comment on Vance's "repeated attempts to communicate with my client at this time."
Not that the correspondence was all one-sided; Norman at one point congratulates Vance on the rollout of the government's new defence policy and asks in another email for a copy of an internal review of the Royal Military College.
Norman was overseeing the review before he was suspended.
There are also several seemingly longer exchanges redacted in the documents, while Norman warns Vance in March 2017 about media attempts to unseal a search warrant executed by the RCMP against his house.
Those documents would later reveal that the Mounties suspected Norman of having leaked government secrets to Quebec-based Davie Shipyards in November 2015 over fears the Liberals would cancel a key shipbuilding project.
The Mounties alleged Norman was upset that the new Trudeau government was reconsidering the interim supply ship contract and that he worked with Davie to pressure the Liberals into staying the course.
The government ultimately decided to proceed with the project, and the supply ship is now being used by the navy.
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Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press