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Vice-Admiral Mark Norman gets an apology and Conrad Black gets a pardon

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Vice-Admiral Mark Norman hands over a plaque to the commander of the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations (Photo: Julianne F. Metzger/U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons).

Remember this important fact: none of us knows whether Vice-Admiral Mark Norman is guilty of the crime with which he was charged.

Well, Vice-Admiral Norman knows, presumably, and his legal team would have a pretty good idea, as would a few Crown prosecutors and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

As for the rest of us Canadians, though -- including the members of Parliament who made this murky saga even weirder by voting unanimously on Tuesday to apologize to the vice-admiral and his family "for what they endured over the course of his breach of trust case, which collapsed last week," as The Globe and Mail put it -- all we have are opinions, most of them uninformed.

On the part of the Liberal government's Opposition in Parliament, all of the mainstream media, and the usual suspects on the Trudeau-hating right, these opinions are strongly held -- so just stating the obvious truth is likely to spark outrage.

Nevertheless, it is unavoidable. The breach of trust charge against Vice-Admiral Norman was stayed last week. And, according to LawFacts.ca, a legal resource website published by Legal Aid Ontario, luckily not an institution of which the vice-admiral needed to avail himself, "the decision by the Crown to stay or withdraw charges means they discontinue the prosecution."

"However, there is one important difference," LawFacts.ca explained. "Stayed charges can be 'brought back to life' within one year of the day they are stayed. While this tends to be rare, you should know that if you're charged with new offences during the one-year period after you've had charges stayed, the stayed charges could be brought back and the Crown could prosecute you on those same charges again."

Even when charges are withdrawn, meaning they cannot be brought back again, this simply means that prosecutors have reached the conclusion they cannot get a conviction from a court in a legal system that operates from a presumption of innocence requiring the state to prove all charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

In a confusing situation like this, when much of the essential information is either a military or cabinet secret, this imperfect result is more akin to the famous Scotch verdict, discussed in this space before: Not proven.

This is not to say Vice-Admiral Norman is not the victim of an injustice. He may well be. Only that we don't really know, and will likely never be allowed to know.

It must be noted that, had the accused had been a poor person, a person of colour, or a member of a minority religion, many of the same people who donated to Vice-Admiral Norman's GoFundMe account with the encouragement of Conrad Black, would now be screeching that he "got off on a technicality."

And if he were an accused terrorist railroaded by a foreign country's drumhead kangaroo court with the active assistance of Canadian officials who ignored the accused's constitutional rights, the din would be almost unbearable, I imagine.

In this regard, the whole affair reminds me of the scene from the movie Being There, in which Louise, Chance the gardener's former housekeeper, observes, "It's for sure a white man's world in America. … Yes, sir, all you've gotta be is white in America, to get whatever you want."

In fairness, Louise also observed in this scene that "I raised that boy since he was the size of a piss-ant. And I'll say right now, he never learned to read and write. No, sir. Had no brains at all. Was stuffed with rice pudding between the ears. Shortchanged by the Lord, and dumb as a jackass. Look at him now!" This is a description that may be more fittingly applied to Justin Trudeau or Andrew Scheer than Vice-Admiral Norman.

It must also be noted that, had this been a normal case involving a normal citizen instead of a senior naval officer comfortable in elite society, the MLAs who ran screaming to the press during the trial would have mumbled that they couldn't comment about a matter that was before the courts. However, when powerful men are involved, apparently the normal law of political gravity is repealed.

Which brings us to the topic of Jason Kenney, the former federal minister of defence now premier of Alberta, who we are told took supposedly exculpatory evidence to Vice-Admiral Norman's lawyers at the very last moment, thereby allowing him to take credit for the circumstances under which the vice-admiral was able to skate.

Wouldn't it have been less expensive for taxpayers and much easier on Vice-Admiral Norman and his family, who had to endure so much, if Kenney had gone to the RCMP or the prosecutors immediately with his exculpatory memories? It's hard to imagine they wouldn't have returned a call from a former minister of defence on such a topic.

Failing that, Kenney certainly could have just phoned one of his friends at Postmedia and dominated the front pages of their newspapers for a few days.

I wonder why he didn't? Surely, it couldn't have been because by withholding the information until the last minute he was able to cause maximum damage to the government of the prime minister whose job he covets.

So I wonder, now that we're in an apologetic frame of mind, if Kenney could also be persuaded to apologize to Vice-Admiral Norman for causing him unnecessary pain by delaying?

And I wonder if Parliament will be passing any more unanimous votes of apology in the event charges are dropped against other Canadians, let alone if cases come to light in which less-well-connected citizens appear to have been railroaded by police and the courts into undeserved prison sentences.

How likely do you think that is?

Pardoned by the president, Lord Black may now exit the Dominion at last

Speaking of Lord Black of Crosshabour, known lately for rambling hagiographies polishing the tarnished reputation of the current U.S. president in both a turgid doorstopper and his apparently unedited column in the National Post, I see U.S. President Donald Trump has at last returned the favour and expunged the former newspaper magnate's 2007 criminal convictions south of the Medicine Line.

In a letter yesterday from the White House, a symbolically appropriate venue under the circumstances, Trump heaped encomia on the former Canadian citizen still resident in this country and pardoned His Lordship for the three counts of fraud and one of obstruction of justice for which he served three and a half years in a federal prison in Florida.

It seems churlish to suggest this is another example of the phenomenon described by Louise the housekeeper in the passage above, yet the conclusion is inescapable.

Well, it may turn out to be an event unique in recorded history: the first time a convicted felon has been granted a full pardon by a future convicted felon.

At any rate, Lord Black is now free to travel to the great republic to the south and, as another famous American president might have put it, fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray that he will do so soon.

Here's your hat, m'Lord, don't let the door hit you on the way out!

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: Julianne F. Metzger/U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons

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