Mark Norman: What of those without the Resources to Defend their case?

(403) 452-8018

Mark Norman: What of those without the Resources to Defend their case?

the concern is broader than the treatment of mark norman

Yes, there was a lot of shock over the treatment of Vice-Admiral, Mark Norman.

However, as a practicing criminal lawyer in Calgary, I have broader concerns over the treatment by Government of person’s accused of crime.  My concerns go beyond the “Mark Normans’ of the world to ordinary people, without the same resources to fully defend against a potentially malicious or false prosecution.

about vice-admiral, mark norman

Mark Norman was a Royal Canadian Naval Officer who in 2016 was appointed “vice chief of the defence” in Canada. In 2017 Mr. Norman was accused of leaking Cabinet secrets and was permanently removed from his post in 2018.  Not surprisingly, the allegations, combined with the threat of prosecution took a great “personal toll” on Mr. Norman who declared that in the early-stages of what appears to be a Government witch-hunt he was “presumed guilty”.   Of course, the golden thread of criminal justice is that all persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The statement “presumed innocent” is in the minds of some people -- remarkably even those who practice in criminal justice: police, prosecutors, judges and even defence counsel -- more a term of art than a term of real application.   This is reflected in Mr. Norman’s words: 

The alarming and protracted perceived bias of guilt across the senior levels of government has been quite damaging.

I spoke about a bias. I didn't speak directly about the leadership. My comments were directed at a systematic bias that developed over the early days of this investigation and subsequently through the last two years. How that bias occurred. Why? Who was involved? Those are all conversations for another day.

the norman conversation

Though these may be conversations for another day in the Norman case, this is a conversation we should be having about criminal justice in general for all cases.  For unlike Mr. Norman who was able to secure the services of a renowned criminal defence lawyer from Toronto, most people charged with crime do not have the same resources.  In fact, in Alberta, many accused cannot afford a lawyer at all.  In this Province, not only can many accused not afford a lawyer, they don’t even qualify for legal assistance from the Legal Aid Society of Alberta. Legal Aid has set the financial eligibility requirements for funding so low that many persons living in relative poverty cannot afford any help at all.  Sadly, not only are these people deprived of legal aid, they cannot afford to pay a private criminal defence lawyer.

It doesn’t take a particularly active imagination to visualize the spectrum of accused in criminal justice.  On one end is the person all alone, on the other, persons of means -- in between a multitude of people, many of which sit closer to the side of loneliness than support. 

My point is, former vice-admiral Mark Norman has gained notoriety for arguably being maliciously prosecuted; but what about the thousands of people who are not Mark Norman?  The great personal toll of a criminal prosecution applies to most accused, many who are in jail awaiting their case to conclude. Did you know that in Alberta, a whopping 70% of those in prison are presumptively innocent people incarcerated in Remand while their case meanders through the Court system?

Many persons looking out at criminal justice from behind bars have been stripped of their ability to earn a living and thus stripped of their ability to fund legal representation.  Of course, even if they could fund a lawyer, the likelihood of affording a proven and experienced defence lawyer may still be out of their budget and certainly the vast majority of Canadians do not have the resources or media coverage to expose corruption in Government the way Mr. Norman did. 

Also, unless an accused happens to be a high profile target of a malicious prosecution, the likelihood of any ordinary accused receiving any compensation for a wrongful prosecution borders on non-existent.  

What does the Government Action against Mark Norman tell ordinary Canadians?

As Canadians we need to have a deep memory and the ability to reflect upon the actions of our Government (including its employees) critically.  Remember, Crown Prosecutors are quasi ministers of justice. 

If the Government was able and prepared to vilify its own Vice-Admiral, what is it prepared to do to ordinary people?  This is not a hyperbolic question.  It’s a frightening thought. 

The fact is there were probably a lot of well-intended folks employed by the Government responsible for the persecution of Mark Norman.  Mixed into this lot, were likely a few noble-cause-corrupted people, whose tunnel vision resulted in the persecution of an innocent man.  These people were apparently prepared to carry out their duties to the detriment of Mr. Norman’s career, financial well being and reputation. Is this an isolated incident?  When thinking about this remember the thousands of Government lawyers employed across this Country -- many whose experience began with the Government right out of law school.  

In Canada, our system functions on the necessary illusion of fairness. Criminal justice is laden with high sounding principles that are often ignored or mis-applied to achieve an end not consistent with the presumption of innocence, proof beyond a reasonable doubt or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  

In my opinion, anybody can be targeted.  The Government has resources, manpower and in the right circumstances, the will.  For this Calgary criminal lawyer, this is a frightening thought. 

In closing, however, I want to make clear that though situations like Mr. Norman are relatively rare, the fact is they regularly occur.  Even if these situations comprise an exceptionally small number of prosecutions, those small numbers are of little comfort to the human beings suffering the personal toll.


David G. Chow

Calgary Criminal Lawyer

Call for a free telephone consultation: 403.452.8018