Procurement official suspended days after his name went public, Vice-Admiral Norman's pre-trial hears
Norman's defence is pushing the argument that the shipbuilding project was tainted by politics
The federal procurement official named in court proceedings against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman was suspended without pay only days after his name went public in the case, Crown lawyers revealed on Friday.
Matthew Matchett, who works at Public Services and Procurement Canada, was identified in a court filing by Norman's defence team on Oct. 12, 2018.
Two days later — and without naming anyone — the RCMP told CBC News an investigation into the leaking of cabinet secrets did not stop with Norman and was still ongoing.
Matchett has not been charged with a criminal offence and the court records that name him have not been proven in court, nor entered as evidence.
Norman is accused of leaking cabinet secrets on 12 occasions to the Davie Shipyard, in Levis, Que., and to a CBC journalist in November 2015, regarding a government plan to lease from Davie a supply ship for the navy.
His trial on a single charge of breach of trust is slated to take place next August, just as the next federal election kicks off.
Crown lawyers prosecuting Norman, the former commander of the navy and the military's former second-in-command, revealed in information given to the defence on Friday that Matchett was suspended on Oct. 17, 2018.
Security clearance withdrawn
Up to today, federal officials had been refusing to discuss when and under what circumstances Matchett was suspended.
The Crown also revealed that Matchett's security clearance was withdrawn by federal officials more than a year earlier, on June 27, 2017.
These latest revelations are bound to raise even more questions about the RCMP's investigation and the Liberal government's handling of the case.
In her court filing asking for the disclosure of thousands of federal documents, Norman's lead defence counsel, Marie Henein, wrote:
"The RCMP's investigation discovered that a government employee, Matthew Matchett, gave a lobbyist then working for Davie the classified Memorandum to Cabinet ('MC') and slide deck relating to the Liberal Government's November 19, 2015 iAOR Cabinet committee meeting."
Opposition Conservatives have asked in the House of Commons why no charges have been laid against Matchett — something the government says it cannot answer because of an ongoing investigation.
Norman was suspended with pay by Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance days after the RCMP raided the admiral's home in January 2017. He has remained in career limbo ever since.
Matchett was working at the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency at the time of the alleged cabinet leaks and later moved to Public Services.
It's not clear what administrative action, if any, was taken against him prior to the withdrawal of his security clearance and why his case appears to have been treated differently than that of Norman.
Lead Crown Attorney Mark Covan argued that many of the documents being sought by the defence at the pre-trial hearing are irrelevant to the central question of whether Norman is guilty of leaking information.
He repeated a point made in his written submission last week — that the vice-admiral had not been authorized to communicate with the Davie shipyard or a CBC reporter about the internal deliberations involving the supply ship lease.
If Norman disagreed with government decisions, Covan said, he had other options to pursue that did not involve breaking the law.
"Even if Mr. Norman, or other individuals, thought this ship was the absolute best thing for Canada, absolute best thing for the navy, you can't commit a crime to get that," he said.
He cited the breach of trust case against Senator Mike Duffy and said that — unlike the Senate expense scandal, where the spending rules were a matter of conjecture — the regulations governing cabinet confidence and the protection of secrets are black and white.
In the Duffy case — which was argued in the same Ottawa courtroom where Norman's pretrial hearings are taking place — the Crown failed to obtain a conviction.
Also today, Henein said the Liberal government has been closely watching Norman's breach of trust case with an eye to how it will affect next year's federal election.
She made the assertion while arguing for access to federal government notes and briefing documents prepared by officials at the Privy Council Office (PCO), the bureaucratic wing that supports the Prime Minister's Office.
A very political trial
"We want to know what has been communicated, what are the communications about this case with the prime minister and his office," Henein said.
"We have a variety of information that would suggest that there are explicit discussions between the PCO and the PMO office about the timing of this trial as it affects the next federal election."
She pointed to two occasions when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated — before Norman was charged — that the case likely would end up before the courts.
"We do not believe this is the end of it. We believe this is the tip of the iceberg," said Henein. She also has alleged, in written court submissions, that there was political interference in the shipbuilding project at the heart of the Crown's case.
The case, she said, is politically charged and pointed to former prime minister Stephen Harper recent statement on Twitter that he had "indicated no objection to the release of any document relevant to the Norman case."
"I can think of no circumstance where the current prime minister and the former prime minister are actually weighing in on a criminal prosecution before the court," she said.
Henein said the documents are also relevant because it was PCO that initiated the RCMP investigation of Norman.
"They're not just an objective observer here," she said. "The PCO has individuals that will be testifying very much at the heart of this case."
Lawyers for the federal government also were put on the spot Friday over the question of what sort of permission they have obtained from Harper for the release of secret cabinet records in the Norman case.
In court documents filed earlier in the case, a senior Privy Council Office official, Paul Shuttle, indicated that Harper's permission was required to waive secrecy provisions related to the former Conservative government's discussion of the plan to lease a supply ship from Davie.
Harper's tweet suggested that he had no objections to waiving those provisions. But it's not clear that the PCO has actually spoken to the former prime minister.
Government lawyer Robert MacKinnon said he has not been privy to the "sausage-making" of the consultations.