The Crown announced Thursday that it is dropping the case against Matthew Matchett, a former civil servant with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, more than three years after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) accused him of abuse of trust.
This surprise turnaround came on the fourth day of what was expected to be a four-week trial.
The Crown has reassessed its position and is asking for a stay of proceedings on the grounds that it does not believe there is a real possibility that you will convict the accusedsaid Judge Hugh McLean.
This announcement recalls the last moments of the Mark Norman case, when Crown prosecutors concluded that they had no reasonable chance of convicting the former vice-admiral of the Royal Canadian Navy.
Both men had been charged with unlawfully disclosing government information to unauthorized parties. In this case, the decision of the new Liberal government of Justin Trudeau, in November 2015, to review a contract negotiated by the previous Conservative government with the Lévis shipyard.
The deal involved Davie leasing a converted civilian container ship to the Navy for five years, with an option for another five years. The Liberals finally approved the contract and the MV Asterix was delivered by Davie in January 2018.
secret note impossible to trace
In the case of Vice-Admiral Norman, the Crown relied on new evidence presented by the defense to seek a stay of proceedings. But in the case of civil servant Matchett, the Crown’s case fell apart as soon as its first witness appeared this week.
Veteran lobbyist Brian Mersereau told jurors he did receive a package of documents after speaking with Mr. Matchett in November 2015 about the Liberals’ plan to review the Davie contract.
But the president of the international public relations firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies repeatedly said he did not recall whether Mr Matchett had given him a secret memo to the Cabinet regarding the deal. This failure to establish a firm link between Mr. Matchett and the secret note proved fatal to the prosecution’s case.
As he left the courthouse on Thursday, a visibly relieved Mr Matchett thanked his defense team and family and friends for their support over the years.
I am very, very gratefulsaid Mr. Matchett, who was suspended in October 2018 by his last federal employer, the Department of Supply.
At his side, his lawyer, Michael Johnston, argued that the official had acted
without malicious or devious purpose in that case.
His interest was to ensure that information was available so that decision makers could fully appreciate the impact this contract would have on jobs in Atlantic Canada.he said.
We were therefore certain, given this truth, that sooner or later the battleship of the Crown would be sunk.
The collapse of the Crown’s case against the official therefore comes just over three years after Mr. Norman left the same Ottawa courthouse in May 2019 after a stay of proceedings.
The high-profile case had sparked political and media interest for years, beginning with then-Chief of Staff Jonathan Vance’s surprising decision to suspend the former Navy vice admiral from duty. second in command of the armies in January 2017. He was formally charged with breach of trust in March 2018, 14 months later.
During the preliminary hearings in Mr. Norman’s trial, his lawyer, Marie Henein, as well as the official opposition Conservatives had repeatedly accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers of having politically interfered in this file.
The work of the RCMP
Investigators from the RCMPhad previously stated in court documents that they believed two government officials, acting independently of each other, leaked government secrets in November 2015.
Mr Matchett’s name eventually appeared in the court records of Vice Admiral Norman’s defense team in October 2018, by which time the official had moved from the Opportunities Agency to Public Services and Procurement. Two days later, he was suspended without pay, and four months later, in February 2019, the RCMPaccused him of one count of breach of trust.
The collapse of the Crown’s case against Mr. Norman, a proceeding that cost more than $1.4 million, raised questions at the time about the quality of the investigation by the RCMP. Federal police insisted that their work on the case was thorough, independent and highly professional. But the abandonment of the procedures followed a similar failure in the case of Senator Mike Duffy, accused of fraud, breach of trust and corruption.
The RCMPinstead highlighted the successes of other sensitive and high-profile investigations – from the conviction of former Stephen Harper aide Bruce Carson for influence peddling to the jailing of a Royal Canadian Mint employee for stealing $190,000 gold.
Following the stay of proceedings, Mr Norman said he wanted to return to his duties, but he and the government eventually instead reached a financial settlement, the details of which have not been made public, before the vice admiral did not retire last year.