A former RCMP intelligence director on trial for allegedly sharing secrets with the targets of international police probes testified that he “absolutely” did not betray the national police force.
Cameron Ortis, who faces six charges, including four for allegedly breaching the Security of Information Act, began testifying before a 12-member jury in the Superior Court of Justice a week ago.
However, some of his comments were only released for the first time late Thursday in a transcript distributed by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.
Mr. Ortis has been testifying in camera pursuant to a court order, meaning that members of the public, including journalists, were excluded from the courtroom. A consortium of media organizations opposed being excluded.
According to the transcript of his first remarks to jurors, Mr. Ortis was asked during an examination-in-chief by one of his lawyers, Mark Ertel, if he acted in a criminal way at some point, to which he replied, “I did not.”
“Did you betray the RCMP?” Mr. Ertel asked.
“Absolutely not,” Mr. Ortis said.
Mr. Ortis, 51, has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
One of the charges Mr. Ortis faces relates to allegedly sharing information in 2015 with a man named Vincent Ramos, who was the chief executive officer of a company called Phantom Secure. The company produced encrypted communications devices used by criminal organizations.
Prosecutors also allege that Mr. Ortis secretly sent information to individuals in the Greater Toronto Area who were considered of interest to police in an international money-laundering investigation.
The Crown, which has finished presenting its case to jurors, has said Mr. Ortis did not have the authority to take the actions that he did. Prosecutors have also pointed to the fact that Mr. Ortis was on French-language training in early 2015, at the time when he allegedly committed the offences.
As well, the Crown says he is permanently bound to secrecy and there was no operational plan or policy in place that allowed for communication with targets of investigations in any way.
In his testimony, Mr. Ortis said the mission that he was given included meeting “threats to the security of Canada head-on.”
When Mr. Ertel asked whether he had regrets about actions that he took, Mr. Ortis said, “I don’t make decisions based on my career or career prospects, but I couldn’t have envisioned or imagined that all of this would transpire.” He also said that what he did “was not wrong.”
Mr. Ortis’s arrest in September, 2019, garnered considerable attention both domestically and internationally because of the highly classified information that he had access to. At the time, Mr. Ortis was the director-general of the RCMP National Intelligence Co-ordination Centre. He is no longer employed by the force.
Since his arrest, Mr. Ortis said he has lost his pension and all of his possessions. His reputation, he added, has been “completely destroyed.”
“Family stood by me,” he said. “Friends did not.”
Mr. Ortis joined the RCMP as a civilian member in 2007. He was appointed as the “officer in charge” of a unit focused on national security, known as operations research (OR), in September, 2012, and was promoted to director of the unit in April, 2013.
Mr. Ortis told jurors that the unit, which was first created with the approval of then-assistant commissioner Bob Paulson, was aware of “money laundering that was threatening the integrity and the fabric of the Canadian financial system.”
“And was it perceived by you that the Canadian banking system itself was in jeopardy by this money laundering?” Mr. Ertel asked.
“It was,” Mr. Ortis replied.
Mr. Ortis also said that an “extraordinary amount of money that was being laundered through Canada and its closest partners” involved “state actors, hostile state actors, high-level transnational organized-crime individuals, and compromises to financial institutions in three of the Five Eyes countries.”
Five Eyes is an intelligence pact among Canada, Britain, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
“The nexus or the big piece of that threat as I read it, was here in Canada, and operating in Canada,” Mr. Ortis said.
He said the phrase “hostile state actor” sometimes is used to describe enemies of the Western world and, in particular, Five Eyes countries. “Hostile state actors could include – well, should I be saying this? Iran, Russia, China, and several other countries.”
Mr. Ortis testified about how he put together an infographic and shared it with senior RCMP members to strengthen their “situational awareness.”
“This was right on the RCMP’s mandate in terms of high-level organized crime carrying out money laundering that, at least in my experience, had a scale and scope that I had never seen before,” he said. “OR had the authority to choose its targets and do its own targeting. I wanted to bring awareness to my immediate chain of command about what was happening.”
Mr. Ertel asked if Mr. Ortis was left with the impression by the RCMP’s assistant commissioner, deputy commissioner and commissioner if this was something they wanted him to continue to pursue.
“That’s correct,” Mr. Ortis said. “I was told, I can paraphrase … get on this.”