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Naval spy to be first Canadian punished under Security of Information Act

Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle will be the first Canadian sentenced under the Security of Information Act.


Jeffrey Delisle's supervisor urged that the sub-lieutenant be jailed for life after learning that he was selling secrets to Russia.

"I have no compassion for traitors," the officer told an RCMP interrogator, according to a transcript of an hour-long interview just a day after the spy's arrest in January, 2012. "I would like to see him get the maximum sentence if he did do it, because there's no excuse."

The senior officer at the Trinity naval intelligence centre inside CFB Halifax, where SLt. Delisle worked, raises a key issue facing Crown prosecutor Lyne Décarie and defence lawyer Mike Taylor as they prepare for SLt. Delisle's two-day sentencing hearing, which begins on Thursday – the length of time he should serve in prison.

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No one in Canada has ever been charged or convicted under the Security of Information Act. The 41-year-old intelligence officer pleaded guilty in October to two charges under the act of "communicating with a foreign entity."

Nova Scotia's Chief Judge of the Provincial Court, Patrick Curran, is expected to consider the sentencing submissions for a couple of weeks – and when he gives his decision, SLt. Delisle will become the first Canadian sentenced under the law created a decade ago in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

With no precedents in Canada, Ms. Décarie and Mr. Taylor have been searching legal textbooks and data bases from around the world to make their case for the navy spy's sentence.

Although Ms. Decarie will not comment, Mr. Taylor expects she will ask for "significant" time in prison but not a life sentence. The maximum sentence for a person convicted on these charges is life.

In an interview on Monday, he said that she will emphasize at the sentencing hearing the level of damage that SLt. Delisle did to the national interest by selling military secrets to the Russians.

She is expected to call three expert witnesses to give the assessments, he said.

For example, an "injury assessment" from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that was released after the navy spy's bail hearing last fall concluded "[SLt.] Delisle's unauthorized disclosure to the Russians since 2007 has caused severe and irreparable damage to Canadian interests."

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Mr. Taylor, meanwhile, would not say what length of sentence he will ask for. He has said that he and the Crown are "certainly at odds."

He would not confirm speculation that he will call SLt. Delisle to testify. "That issue is something I don't want to reveal before the hearing. Sorry," wrote in an email on Tuesday.

He has suggested that the information his client leaked "in no way at any point jeopardized the lives or safety of any of the men or women operating with the Canadian Armed Forces."

In addition, he will make "an issue" of the fact that his client pleaded guilty, which he says saved the government a "tremendous amount of embarrassment and potential for information to get into the public domain that they perhaps would not want to."

Avoiding a lengthy preliminary hearing and trial also saved a lot of expense for taxpayers. "You can imagine how many people are involved at various levels," he said, referring to the work the Crown had to undertake on this case. "This would create a tremendous amount of work for these people … there is a significant financial saving. I wouldn't even hazard a guess, but it's huge."

In determining the length of sentence, former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler, an international human-rights lawyer and a Quebec MP, believes the Crown will look to case law in Britain and the United States. He mentioned the case of Jonathan Pollard, an intelligence analyst working for the U.S. navy who was convicted in the 1980s of passing classified information to a foreign country. However, Mr. Cotler noted that the foreign entity was not an enemy power but a U.S. ally, Israel.

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Mr. Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment, while "other cases in the U.S. involving similar charges, even to an enemy power, resulted in far lower sentences," Mr. Cotler wrote in an e-mail.

Geoffrey O'Brian, a former legal expert for CSIS, said he believes SLt. Delisle is in for a stiff sentence. He is basing his view on the 1989 case of Hungarian-Canadian Stephen Ratkai, who received a nine-year sentence after being caught in a sting spying on a Newfoundland naval base.

He believes SLt. Delisle will be punished more severely, given that his crime was not a one-off or the result of a sting.

But Mr. Ratkai was not a naval officer; he was a civilian and tried under different legislation.

SLt. Delisle's supervisor, meanwhile, feared that the spy's treachery "could destroy everything I've done here."

"I have no pity if he did it," he told the RCMP interviewer, adding his biggest concern was "what's going to happen and what do we do?"

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