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Cameron Ortis arrives for his trial at an Ottawa courthouse on Nov. 16, 2023.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Michael Kovrig, the former Canadian diplomat whose long detention in China strained relations between Ottawa and Beijing, has written a letter of support for Cameron Ortis, an ex-RCMP intelligence director who now faces sentencing after being found guilty of illegally leaking secrets to the targets of international criminal probes.

Mr. Kovrig’s letter was filed Thursday at Mr. Ortis’s sentencing hearing. It will be considered by a judge, along with similar letters from more than two dozen other people and submissions from defence counsel and the Crown, as the Ontario Superior Court determines the severity of Mr. Ortis’s penalty.

In November, a jury found Mr. Ortis, 51, guilty of four counts of violating the country’s secrets law. He was also found guilty of breach of trust and unauthorized use of a computer. The Crown is seeking two consecutive sentences of 14 years, which would mean a 28-year prison term.

Mr. Kovrig’s letter says he and Mr. Ortis were professional acquaintances while Mr. Kovrig was in Ottawa, working for the Department of Global Affairs. When Mr. Kovrig first learned of the criminal case against Mr. Ortis, the letter continues, he was shocked and surprised.

“I have no information related to those charges and can take no position on the question of their validity,” the letter says. “I am writing only with regard to the extent of his sentencing.”

The letter adds that Mr. Ortis is not a “violent or dangerous offender.” It says the government educated, hired and trained him because he had skill, talent, knowledge and a work ethic that made him valuable to the country.

“The scale of the challenges we face are such that we can’t afford to waste his talent and energy,” Mr. Kovrig says. “We need his hard work, and he needs our mercy.”

Mr. Kovrig was a diplomat with the Global Affairs Department’s Global Security Reporting Program. China detained him, as well as another Canadian, Michael Spavor, on spying charges in December, 2018 – a move widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant. Ms. Meng, an executive at the Chinese tech company Huawei, was released in 2021, and both men were freed at roughly the same time.

Mr. Spavor has since alleged that China arrested and imprisoned him and Mr. Kovrig because he unwittingly provided information to Mr. Kovrig that was shared with Canadian and other Western spy services.

In the letter of support, Mr. Kovrig describes his time in solitary confinement at a Chinese detention centre. He says he can attest to how “viscerally awful confinement of any kind is for any human being.”

“The mental awfulness is even more acute for an individual such as Cameron, blessed as he is with high intelligence and a curious mind – someone used to doing relevant, impactful, intellectually demanding work,” the letter says.

Crown prosecutor Judy Kliewer, in her submissions on Thursday to the presiding judge, Justice Robert Maranger, said Mr. Ortis betrayed Canada and its partners in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, and jeopardized the safety of Canadians. (The Five Eyes consists of Canada, the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.)

Ms. Kliewer said Mr. Ortis must be sentenced in a fashion that sends a message to the Canadian public and Canada’s international partners about the importance of protecting and safeguarding sensitive information. She added that Mr. Ortis knew what he was doing and what the consequences would be.

Ms. Kliewer said that if the court finds the Crown’s proposed 28 years to be too long, it would be appropriate to set Mr. Ortis’s sentence at 22 to 25 years. Whatever sentence is imposed, she said, it should be reduced to credit Mr. Ortis for his time already spent in custody. The Crown says this reduction should be five years and four months.

During his criminal trial, Mr. Ortis was out on bail, with strict conditions, including that he wear an ankle bracelet that tracked his location. He is currently in custody at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. In court on Thursday, he could be seen in the prisoner’s box, wearing a white dress shirt and grey blazer.

Mr. Ortis had a top security clearance and access to sensitive, highly classified information as a civilian member of the RCMP. At the time of his arrest, in September, 2019, he was working as the civilian director-general for the RCMP National Intelligence Co-ordination Centre. Prior to that, he led a specialized national-security unit in the force, called Operations Research.

Ms. Kliewer said Thursday that Mr. Ortis was trusted by the RCMP, and that this trust had afforded him access to the highest levels of classified information. She said Mr. Ortis had “abused his position” by leaking information to police targets believed to be involved in money laundering, and in the distribution of encrypted communication devices that were facilitating crimes around the world.

One of the people Mr. Ortis provided with classified information was Vincent Ramos, who was the chief executive officer of a British Columbia-based encrypted communications company called Phantom Secure.

In 2015, Mr. Ortis told Mr. Ramos that he was a target of an international police investigation and gave him the identity of an undercover operator, Ms. Kliewer said.

Mr. Ramos was charged in the U.S. with racketeering and conspiring to distribute narcotics, and was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Mr. Ortis was also found guilty of communicating with Salim Henareh and Muhammad Ashraf, two Toronto-area businessmen, and of attempting to communicate with another person, Farzam Mehdizadeh.

An agreed statement of facts filed in court says Mr. Henareh, Mr. Ashraf, Mr. Mehdizadeh and their companies were targets of police investigation in Canada.

Ms. Kliewer told Justice Maranger that Mr. Ortis had shared information that undermined investigative efforts, including some focused on Canada-based money service businesses believed to be connected to Altaf Khanani, a Dubai-based businessman and head of an international money-laundering network.

In October, 2015, Mr. Khanani pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and was sentenced to 68 months in U.S. prison.

At his trial, Mr. Ortis maintained his innocence and testified in his own defence. Members of the public, including journalists, were not granted access to an Ottawa courtroom where he was testifying. They have instead had to rely on transcripts, with some redactions.

According to those transcripts, Mr. Ortis said he was contacted in the fall of 2014 by a counterpart at a foreign agency, which he said he could not name, about a plan to trick criminal targets into using an encrypted e-mail service called Tutanota. He said the plan was for the e-mail provider to secretly feed information to the Five Eyes and the RCMP.

Tutanota, now known as Tuta, has denied Mr. Ortis’s claims, and the jury ultimately agreed with the Crown’s position that no such operation existed.

Mr. Ortis’s lawyers say their client has already served enough time in custody and that he has suffered hardships, including days spent in lockdown at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre and time in protective custody.

Defence counsel Jon Doody said Mr. Ortis does not have a criminal record and should be treated as a first-time offender.

Mr. Doody said additional considerations during sentencing should include the extent to which Mr. Ortis’s case received national and international media attention. Mr. Ortis’s actions, Mr. Doody said, will follow him for the rest of his life.

Mr. Ortis has exhausted his savings, has no assets and will likely have a very difficult time finding employment after his release, Mr. Doody said.

Justice Maranger is expected to deliver Mr. Ortis’s sentence on Feb. 7.

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