An RCMP employee charged with breaching Canada’s official-secrets law has been granted bail.
Cameron Ortis, 47, was released from custody Tuesday morning at the Ottawa Courthouse after Justice of the Peace Serge Legault announced his decision.
Security experts were taken aback by the decision to grant bail to someone accused of violating Canada’s Security of Information Act. Wesley Wark, an intelligence expert who teaches at the University of Ottawa, described the decision as “mind-boggling.”
“I am terrifically surprised,” he said.
Mr. Ortis is accused of violating three sections of the act, as well as two Criminal Code provisions, including breach of trust.
According to court documents, the RCMP allege that Mr. Ortis communicated special operational information and prepared information for the purpose of communicating with a foreign entity or terrorist group.
Tuesday’s hearing is covered by a publication ban, which severely restricts what can be reported, including evidence given in court and information related to the proceedings.
Among the conditions of his bail, Mr. Ortis is forbidden from using equipment capable of connecting to the internet. He is required to reside at his parents’ home in Abbotsford, B.C., and can only leave under their supervision. He was required to relinquish his passport to authorities and must report to the Mission, B.C., detachment of the RCMP every Monday starting next week.
His next court appearance is Nov. 5.
The accused’s lawyer offered a brief statement Tuesday.
“Mr. Ortis is very pleased with the decision. He’s looking forward to being released from custody and to moving on to the next stage, which is defending himself against the charges,” Ian Carter told reporters.
Mr. Ortis left court with Mr. Carter and did not respond to questions.
Prof. Wark said the potential for flight risk and an accused’s proficiency with computers are factors that need to be weighed when granting bail in a case such as this.
He added that in the 2012 case in which navy officer Jeffrey Delisle was ultimately convicted of spying for the Russians, the court did not grant bail. “The only other Security of Information Act prosecution that’s taken place in Canada was the Delisle case, and he was not granted bail even though there was similar circumstances around his family offering surety.”
Prof. Wark said flight risk is always a serious concern.
“That has to be a concern with anyone who has a pedigree in the intelligence community and may have access to secret knowledge and experience about how to move across borders and cover one’s tracks.”
In addition, Prof. Wark said, it seems Mr. Ortis is highly proficient with computers.
“What we know about Mr. Ortis’s history and PhD thesis, his work on cybersecurity and cybercrime issues, it seems clear to me that he would have the technological capacity to potentially elude any controls placed on his internet use and could get around those in ways that might harm either the Crown’s case against him or could facilitate the possibility he could escape from Canadian justice."
He said he’s taken aback that there was no provision for electronic monitoring of Mr. Ortis.
“It’s also surprising there was no requirement imposed on him for round-the-clock electronic monitoring of his movements or activities.”
Ward Elcock, a former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said he’s also surprised that Mr. Ortis was granted bail.
“It strikes me as being a serious case,” Mr. Elcock said of the charges.
He added, however, that he could see how someone might at first glance consider the Delisle case more serious. “What Delisle had access to was in some respects bigger than what Ortis had access to,” he said. “It may well be to the judge this appeared not quite the same thing.”
A native of Abbotsford, Mr. Ortis graduated from the University of British Columbia with a doctorate in political science and a keen interest in security in the digital age.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has confirmed that Mr. Ortis, a civilian member of the national police force, had access to high-level intelligence from Canadian and foreign agencies.
Before his arrest, he was director-general of the RCMP’s National Intelligence Coordination Centre, a role that gave him broad access to both Canadian and allied intelligence.
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