Good morning. Wendy Cox here.
Cameron Ortis was always the guy at the party who didn’t have an answer to the social question: “So what do you do?”
Canada’s intelligence services are now trying to figure that out too.
Mr. Ortis, a 47-year-old raised and educated in British Columbia, was charged Friday with breaching the federal secrets act and Criminal Code.
He’s accused of having “obtained, stored, processed sensitive information,” John MacFarlane, a senior counsel with the Public Prosecution Service, said at Mr. Ortis’s court appearance in Ottawa. “The Crown believes that he intended to communicate that information to people he shouldn’t be communicating to.”
Colleagues in Ottawa, including former RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson, were shocked. So were friends, though one of them said it was clear that Mr. Ortis’s work was highly sensitive.
“He was the most interesting guy I’ve ever met, yet he said the least,” said Christopher Parry, who met Mr. Ortis in the early 2000s through friends.
“Trying to corner him into revealing what government department he was working for, or what security company was offering a blank cheque to work for them, was a party game. You never got anything out of him other than the occasional few sentences, but they revealed he was living in a world we couldn’t handle.”
B.C. reporters Andrea Woo, Ian Bailey and Wendy Stueck worked Friday to pull together a clearer picture of a man whose job it was to be opaque.
Mr. Ortis grew up in Abbotsford, in B.C.’s Fraser Valley. His parents still live there, with his shaken father telling Wendy: “It’s a nightmare.” Mr. Ortis studied at the University of Northern B.C., McMaster University and the University of B.C., graduating from UBC in 2006 with a PhD in political science. He speaks Mandarin, according to his LinkedIn profile.
His specialty appears to have been cyber security. His thesis, still available online and running more than 200 pages, was entitled Bowing to Quirinus: Compromised Nodes and Cyber Security in East Asia. Quirinus, says Wikipedia, was an early god of the Roman state.
Brian Job, a professor of political science at UBC, was Mr. Ortis’s PhD adviser and post-doctoral fellowship supervisor. He said Mr. Ortis’s work focused on the potential impact of the Internet on societies and their relationships with their government. Prof. Job said at the start of the work – it was in the early 2000s – common wisdom was that the Internet would offer greater freedom of communication with little interference from states.
Mr. Ortis’s work was prescient.
“Throughout the course of his research, Cameron came to suspect what we have certainly found to be the case, which is that efficient governments have a great capacity to control the Internet, control the communications of the members of their societies, to shut others out and so on,” Prof. Job said.
Mr. Ortis appears as a speaker or contributor to academic papers and conferences on topics including cybersecurity.
In August of 2013, he is credited with helping to establish a web home at the University of British Columbia for CanKor, which is “concerned with seeking rational North Korea policy.” The organization’s web site says it is based on the premise that there is a “crucial role” to be played in northeast Asia by “second-tier, middle powers” such as Canada, Australia and the European Union.
Mr. Ortis’s arrest is expected to have significant ripple effects on Canada’s reputation with its allies, prompting questions about what information was leaked to whom and whether any investigations were compromised.
None of the charges have been proved in court.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West
MANITOBA ELECTION: Manitoba’s re-elected premier says the province can expect his government’s focus on fiscal restraint to continue as he focuses on slashing taxes and cutting government spending. Premier Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservatives won this week’s election, three years after defeating the NDP to form the government. Mr. Pallister told reporters that he’ll inform his new ministers next week where they need to look for cuts, as he singled out Manitoba Hydro and school boards as areas he feels are too bureaucratic.
SALMON: A rock slide along British Columbia’s Fraser River has prompted fisheries officials to mobilize this summer on a complex rescue mission to ensure wild salmon could complete their migration to spawn. Wendy Stueck reports on the work to save the salmon, and the threat the landslide has posed to stocks that are already in trouble.
RED TAPE: Alberta’s red-tape-reduction website has seen a flood of submissions from the public, ranging from legitimate attempts to identify needless regulation, larger complaints about government policy, and in some cases obvious pranks. Carrie Tait combed through a month of submissions to see what Albertans have been telling their government.
RIDE HAILING: The B.C. government says cities such as Surrey do not have the authority to prevent ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft from operating. Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum had pledged to deny business licences to such operators, but the province’s Transportation Ministry says that power belongs to the province’s Passenger Transportation Board.
HOUSING: A tax imposed by the B.C. government designed to curb speculation by targeting empty homes and out-of-province owners has brought in $115-million since it took effect last year. The provincial government says foreign owners and satellite families account for two-thirds of those paying the tax. Meanwhile, Kerry Gold reports that sagging sales in the province have prompted developers to use creative incentives to lure buyers.
ENERGY: A major conference in Calgary next week will bring together renewable-energy experts, tech startups and the oil sector to imagine the future of the energy industry – a future that many of the speakers will argue must be one without fossil fuels. The Energy Disruptors conference, now in its second year, will feature speakers including author Malcolm Gladwell, education and creativity guru Sir Ken Robinson and executives from Suncor and Shell. Organizer Graeme Edge says it’s a chance to bring an array of expertise together to confront the significant shift facing the industry.
ROBERT DZIEKANSKI OPERA: A Canadian opera that retells the story of Robert Dziekanski, the Polish immigrant who died after he was stunned by an RCMP Taser at Vancouver’s airport, has made its U.S. debut. I will fly like a bird first premiered in concert at the Scotia Festival of Music in Halifax in 2012 and then a stage version premiered, also in Halifax, three years later. It’s now opening the Thompson Street Opera Company’s season in Chicago.
FOOD: Vancouver food writer Alexandra Gill uses her column this week to mark 15 years since the city’s Chambar restaurant opened. She calls the restaurant “the most influential restaurant of my generation” – and, as it turns out, the first restaurant she wrote about for The Globe and Mail. In Alberta, Dan Clapson reviews Calgary’s Comery Block, where the atmosphere recreates the energy of Nashville but where the food falls short.
DISTRACTED DRIVING: A B.C. driver has to swallow a $2,000 fine after she was caught “shovelling” food into her mouth with chopsticks while behind the wheel.
Gary Mason on Jason Kenney’s fight with environmentalists: “The Premier misses another important point: It’s not just Greenpeace or the Sierra Club or Stand.earth that believe there should be no more pipelines – many everyday Canadians believe it, too.”
Jeffrey Jones on Alberta’s public inquiry into environmental charities: “A publicly funded investigation, driven by a government that has said what it believes the conclusions are, conducted without public scrutiny – that’s not just anti-democratic. It’s anti-Albertan.”
John Carpay on a babysitting human-rights case: “To prohibit parents from asking probing questions of potential babysitters is to prohibit parents from making the best decisions about the care and protection of their own vulnerable children. Nobody inherently has a legal right to babysit another’s child.”
Adrienne Tanner on Vancouver’s homeless encampment: “The sad truth is, there isn’t enough decent housing to go around. All sides, including the activists who would rather see tents in the park all winter than any half-measure, are playing politics. And that’s a shame.”
Rob Carrick on government help for home buyers: “What politicians can do is work at all levels to get more rental housing built and allow more urban densification through the construction of condos, townhouses.”