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A photo of SLt. Jeffrey Delisle from the 2008-09 Royal Military College yearbook.

Navy spy Jeffrey Delisle has pleaded guilty to charges under the Security of Information Act, the first time in Canada that someone has been charged and pleaded under this act.

In a surprise move on what was to be the first day of his preliminary hearing, Mr. Delisle, 41, entered a guilty plea to the Criminal Code offence of breach of trust and two counts of "communicating with a foreign entity" that fall under the security act.

In the brief Nova Scotia Provincial court appearance Wednesday, defence lawyer Mike Taylor said that his client was "giving up his right to trial and doing so voluntarily". He added that Mr. Delisle "understands" the consequences of what he is doing.

The navy officer, who was in court Wednesday wearing the same red and blue hoodie that he has worn for his other appearances and blue jeans, is to be sentenced during a two-day hearing in January. So far, there is no deal or even an agreed upon statement of facts between the defence and prosecution.

The navy officer stood up briefly when Provincial Chief Judge Patrick Curran asked him if he was confirming his guilty pleas. "Yes sir," he said.

After the court appearance, Mr. Taylor told reporters that the information that Mr. Delisle plead guilty to leaking "in no way at any point jeopardized the lives or safety of the men or women operating with the Canadian Armed Forces."

"It doesn't have to do with the nuts and bolts of activity in theatre," said Mr. Taylor. "There was nothing like that."

He said that his client decided about "a week or so ago" that he would plead guilty and the Crown was informed.

Mr. Taylor said that Mr. Delisle is being "realistic" and "there is no good reason to simply put on a show for the public ... when in my estimation the outcome was clear."

Mr. Delisle, he said, felt there was "no sense in dragging it out."

"Mr. Delisle is by his guilty pleas today accepting he did what he is accused of doing, obviously," said Mr. Taylor. "He acknowledged that early on but there were some issues that I won't go into now that I wanted to look at to determine whether or not that was going to be enough in law."

He said that "guilty in fact and guilty in law are sometimes two different things ..."

Mr. Taylor would not elaborate on what he meant when he said that Mr. Delisle had "acknowledged early on" his actions, fearing he could prejudice the sentencing hearing.

He noted, too, that Crown prosecutor Lyn Decarie is looking for "significant time" in a "federal institution." The criminal code charge has a five-year penalty; the other two charges have penalties of life imprisonment.

Ms. Decarie would not comment about what kind of sentence she will ask for. In a brief scrum with reporters, she picked her words carefully, noting that this is a unique case as it is the first time anyone in Canada has been charged under this act. This makes it challenging to figure out what kind of sentence to ask for.

She said she will be looking at "all mitigating factors and all aggravating factors" as well as case law in other countries.

Ms. Decarie would not say what countries she would be looking to nor would she say if she would bring in witnesses from other countries for the sentencing hearing.

Mr. Delisle, meanwhile, remains in jail until his sentencing hearing, set for two days in early January.

Queen's University and Royal Military College national security expert Christian Leuprecht believes that "no party to this case had an interest in a protracted, public court case" that could expose intelligence secrets.

"The Crown would prefer ... not to make public the extent of the damage done to Canada's national security and to safeguard the counter-espionage methods Canada deploys," Dr. Leuprecht said in a statement. "Given that the defendant appears to have pled out on all charges, the evidence against him must have been so overwhelming that his best strategy was to hope for leniency in return for pleading guilty."

SLt. Delisle was working at HMCS Trinity, a plain building near the Halifax harbour that serves as an intelligence nerve-centre for the Canadian military and its allies, when he was arrested in January. An extensive Globe and Mail investigation after his arrest showed that the career serviceman, who had only recently been bumped up to officer level, had suffered years of money and marital woes.

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