A lawyer for Cameron Ortis, a former high-ranking RCMP intelligence director who faces allegations of leaking secrets to the targets of criminal investigations, told a jury Thursday that his client acted on information from a “foreign agency.”
During his remarks to jurors on Thursday, attorney Mark Ertel said Mr. Ortis is not an “enemy” of the country, nor did he act “at any time without authority or lose sight of his mission.”
Mr. Ortis testified later Thursday. A court order restricts the media and members of the public from being in the courtroom to hear Mr. Ortis’s testimony. Reporters will have to rely on transcripts that will be released after he testifies. A consortium of media organizations had opposed the exclusion.
Mr. Ertel said the former civilian member of the RCMP is limited in what he can share with the jury because his actions were the result of secret information communicated to him by a “foreign agency.” He said Mr. Ortis is forbidden from testifying either about the information or the foreign agency.
“He protected Canada from serious and imminent threats,” Mr. Ertel said, adding that Mr. Ortis is not “hiding behind the right to remain silent.”
At the start of his trial in early October, Mr. Ortis, 51, pleaded not guilty to six charges: four relate to allegations of breaching the Security of Information Act, one is a computer-related charge and the other alleges breach of trust.
Ahead of his testimony, Mr. Ortis could be seen sitting at a desk in the courtroom wearing a navy suit and tie, along with an ankle bracelet, which he has to wear at all times while he is out on bail to monitor his whereabouts.
Mr. Ertel told the jury that they have already heard from witnesses within the RCMP who spoke to the fact that Mr. Ortis built up a unit known as operations research, which was focused on national security and was the “pride of RCMP intelligence.”
Earlier this week, Mr. Ortis’s former boss, assistant commissioner Todd Shean, told jurors that Mr. Ortis reported directly to him and that he was a fan of his work.
As he was shown e-mails that the Crown said were sent by Mr. Ortis, which are contained in an agreed statement of facts, Mr. Shean described what he saw as “so reckless” and “so criminal.”
“I’m shaking because it’s just the irreparable harm that I expect this has done to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and our reputation amongst our partners,” he said, adding he expects it will take many years before “we will be that trusted partner again.”
Mr. Shean also said that when information of this nature is released “you have no idea you’re disclosing potential hints on potential police operations, hints on potential police operations that are being run by partners that could have undercover officers in play.”
“So, you’re putting their lives at risk,” he said.
In her opening remarks early last month, Crown prosecutor Judy Kliewer said Mr. Ortis, who was arrested in September, 2019, did not have the authority to take the actions that he did. She also said Mr. Ortis was on French-language training in early 2015, at the time when he allegedly committed the offences.
Ms. Kliewer said Mr. Ortis is permanently bound to secrecy and there was no operational plan or policy in place that allowed for communication of targets of investigations in any way.
In a package of exhibits related to an agreed statement of facts, there are e-mails that the Crown says were sent by Mr. Ortis to a man named Vincent Ramos.
Mr. Ramos ran a company called Phantom Secure that produced encrypted phones. The e-mail exchanges culminate in a request in May, 2015, for $20,000 for full copies of classified documents. The jury previously heard that the RCMP found no evidence of a payment to Mr. Ortis.
One of the charges Mr. Ortis faces for allegedly breaching the Security of Information Act relates to communication with Mr. Ramos.
Mr. Ramos pleaded guilty in the U.S. to providing Phantom Secure devices to assist in the distribution of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine to Canada, the U.S., Australia, Mexico, Thailand and Europe. He was sentenced to nine years imprisonment.
Mr. Ortis also faces charges for communicating with Greater Toronto Area businessmen Salim Henareh and Muhammad Ashraf and attempting to communicate with another individual, Farzam Mehdizadeh. The agreed statement of facts in Mr. Ortis’s case said Mr. Henareh, Mr. Ashraf and Mr. Mehdizadeh and their companies were subjects of the investigation in Canada.
During Mr. Ortis’s trial, the jury has heard about an investigation called Project Oryx that investigated money-services businesses (MSBs) in the GTA.
The statement of facts said that from at least 2014, the RCMP, along with multiple Five Eyes law enforcement and intelligence agencies, investigated money-laundering activities conducted by various entities believed to be associated with Altaf Khanani.
On Oct. 27, 2015, Mr. Khanani, a Dubai-based MSBs owner and the head of an international money-laundering network, pleaded guilty in the United States to conspiracy to commit money laundering and was sentenced to 68 months in prison.