Several leading government figures at the center of the criminal case against Vice Admiral Mark Norman did not search their e-mails and personal phones for correspondence relevant to the case, despite instructions from court subpoenas.
Zita Astravas, who serves as chief of staff to Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan, was called to testify on Thursday at a preliminary hearing in the case of a breach of trust against Norman.
She said the advice she received from National Defense lawyers was that she was required to deliver communications only from her BlackBerry phone, provided by the job.
Norman's defense team, led by Toronto lawyer Marie Henein, has been fighting in court over the release of thousands of federal government documents – and has accused the federal government of conducting a random, selective search for those documents.
In testimony Wednesday, Defense Chief of Staff Jonathan Vance acknowledged that he had not researched anything in his personal email or on his iPhone that might be related to the case. General Vance insisted that he does not conduct any work-related business on his non-governmental devices.
Earlier this week, lawyers for Cabinet Federal Attorney General Scott Brison handed in court personal e-mails relevant to the case, separate from their government accounts.
Norman, a former Navy commander, has been charged with a breach of trust and is accused of leaking cabinet secrets relating to a $ 668 million contract to lease a Navy supply ship. He was suspended as the second in command of the military in January 2017.
Astravas was director of issue management at the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau between November 2015 and August 2017 – the period in which the criminal investigation involving Norman became public. She would have been the civil servant in charge of informing the prime minister on important issues and daily crises.
Astravas testified that he did not know whether his old e-mail account had been searched in response to a subpoena issued by Norman's lawyers.
Robert MacKinnon, the federal record-keeping attorney, told the court that the instruction given to all departments was that all devices should be searched. He said that the instruction will be repeated.
The preliminary hearing concentrated mainly on the collection and production of communications relevant to the case. The actual trial is scheduled to begin in August, just a few months before the federal election.
Henein asked Astravas if she was aware of any communication within the government about the timing of the case.
"Do you remember having any communication about the postponement of this judgment or about the time of judgment?" she asked.
"I do not remember," replied Astravas.
Fishing expedition & # 39;
On Tuesday, the defense team produced a list of words used in the documentation to refer to Norman that he had obtained through Access to Information. They include Kracken, MN3, C34 and The Boss.
Vance said the military routinely uses jargon, acronyms and pseudonyms and he saw nothing on the list that he thought would qualify as a "codename".
The list released to the defense team through the request for access did not include any term used in Sajjan's office, which claimed a ministerial exemption from the request.
Astravas said that after receiving a subpoena to appear in court Wednesday night, she asked her team to make "best efforts" to see if other aliases of Norman were used. She said they did not come with additional terms.
Henein asked if Astravas knew of the terms "the certain naval officer", "a certain naval companion" or a "naval colleague" being used, but Astravas said he could not remember.
Norman's defense team has been involved in legal disputes with government lawyers over releasing documents deemed relevant to the case.
Henein described the situation as "extraordinary," with the government stating the cabinet's reliance on certain documents and the defense instituting subpoenas to obtain those documents.
Crown attorney Barbara Mercier has suggested that the defense is trying to prolong the process of "coming to the kingdom."
"I have a strong impression that this has been a great fishing expedition," she said.