Federal government official at centre of Mark Norman case charged for allegedly leaking information

A federal official at the centre of the case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman has been charged with breach of trust for allegedly disclosing government information to unauthorized individuals.

Matthew Matchett is expected to appear in the Ontario Court of Justice on March 5 after RCMP charged him Wednesday.

It is alleged that Matchett unlawfully disclosed government information to unauthorized parties, according to an RCMP news release. “This concludes an extensive criminal investigation which first began in December 2015, when the RCMP received a complaint alleging that cabinet confidence information about a Canadian naval supply ship contract had been leaked.”

Norman is himself charged with one count of breach of trust for allegedly leaking information that the Liberal government planned to pause a project to acquire a new naval supply ship from Quebec-based Davie Shipbuilding. Norman was the second-highest officer in Canada’s military when he was suspended from duty in January 2017. He was criminally charged a year later. He maintains his innocence, and his lawyers have argued that the leak — specifically a leak to CBC reporter James Cudmore — came not from Norman but from Matchett, through a prominent Ottawa lobbyist.

Details about Matchett’s alleged role in leaking information were first outlined in a pre-trial hearing for Norman in November 2018. It came in RCMP records filed in court by Norman’s defence team as they tried to gather more information about Matchett, who worked for the federal Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency at the time of the alleged leak, and why he had not been charged.

Among the records was an email from Matchett’s account sent on Nov. 17, 2015 to lobbyist Brian Mersereau of the firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

“I got everything — the motherload,” said the email from Matchett’s account. But it also said his BlackBerry phone was “caput,” and he needed to know where to drop off the material.

One minute later came the response: “Here if ok,” wrote Mersereau, whose firm had Davie as a major client. “Just leave it at front. Lots of funny folks wandering around.”

“I figured that’s why I asked,” Matchett’s account replied less than a minute later.

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance arrives at the courthouse to appear as a witness in the trial for his former second-in-command, suspended Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, in Ottawa, Tuesday January 29, 2019.

Mersereau would later tell an RCMP investigator that when he arrived the next day at his Metcalfe Street office, a package in a brown envelope was waiting for him. Inside were documents that were to be presented at a meeting on Nov. 19, 2015, where a federal cabinet committee would debate the future of the $700-million supply ship project. The RCMP would seize the documents, including a PowerPoint presentation deck and a memorandum to cabinet, in a raid of Mersereau’s office six months later.

The Nov. 19 meeting is at the centre of the RCMP’s case against Norman. That meeting saw Liberal ministers decide to delay the project while they sought more information. Word of their decision immediately leaked to the media and, amid the resulting public scrutiny, the government soon reversed course. Furious over the leak, the government launched an internal probe; when that failed to turn up answers, it referred the file to the RCMP for a criminal investigation.

Postmedia has made numerous attempts over the course of several months to contact Matchett by email and phone, but he has not responded to requests for comment.

As the months stretched on without charges against Matchett, Norman’s supporters question whether a double-standard was at work, even as Crown prosecutors sought to downplay Matchett’s role and his impact on the case.

In December 2018 Barbara Mercier, a Crown prosecutor in the Norman case, told a judge that whatever leaks of cabinet information that Matchett might have orchestrated, they shouldn’t be considered in the same league as what Norman is alleged to have done.

“We submit that we’re talking about apples and oranges here,” Mercier told the judge during a pre-trial hearing on the release of documents for Norman’s legal team. “Mr. Matchett was an analyst at ACOA. He wasn’t a commander in the navy.”

Norman’s defence team had at the time asked for document disclosure related to any investigation into Matchett’s activities. In court filings, they argued the information would help reveal “the standard of conduct in Ottawa, the differing treatment of leaks in Ottawa, and the motivation for charging VAdm Norman.”

But Mercier said that, even if Matchett had already leaked some of the same cabinet material that Norman is accused of leaking, it wouldn’t change the fact that its alleged release by Norman was illegal. “In our submission, it doesn’t take us anywhere,” Mercier told Justice Heather Perkins-McVey.

The Crown disclosed for the first time in late December  2018 that Matchett had been suspended without pay from his current job at Public Service and Procurement Canada only since Oct. 17, 2018 — days after Norman’s defence team publicly named Matchett as an alleged source of leaks based on information the RCMP investigation had uncovered.

Matchett’s security clearance, however, had been lifted June 22, 2017 — more than a year before his suspension.

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