Cameron Ortis, a former RCMP intelligence official, has been found guilty of breaching Canada’s Security of Information Act by leaking secret information to targets of international criminal investigations.
A jury found Mr. Ortis guilty of six charges, including four counts of violating the secrets law, as well as breach of trust and fraudulent use of a computer. He was placed in handcuffs by Ottawa Police shortly after the verdict was delivered in Ontario’s Superior Court. He had been out on bail, with strict restrictions, during the trial.
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, he worked 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.
Mr. Ortis’s case garnered significant attention because of the national-security and intelligence communities with which he was involved. It also marked the first time that charges under the Security of Information Act have gone to trial.
He pleaded not guilty to all six charges. The case hinged on the question of authority: The 51-year-old said he had authority to share highly classified information with law-enforcement targets, but the Crown rejected that claim, arguing Mr. Ortis was not communicating with the targets for RCMP purposes and acted without anyone in the national force knowing.
One of those targets was Vincent Ramos, who owned a B.C.-based company that produced encrypted cellphones used by organized crime. Mr. Ramos was later charged in the U.S. with conspiring to distribute narcotics and racketeering, and was sentenced to nine years in prison.
He also was found guilty for communicating with Salim Henareh and Muhammad Ashraf, two Greater Toronto Area businessmen, and for attempting to communicate with another individual, Farzam Mehdizadeh.
An agreed statement of facts said Mr. Henareh, Mr. Ashraf and Mr. Mehdizadeh and their companies were subjects of investigation in Canada.
Mr. Ortis testified for more than four days, but his testimony to the jury took place behind closed doors. A consortium of media outlets, including The Globe and Mail, opposed this exclusion.
According to transcripts of his testimony, which were partially redacted for national-security reasons, Mr. Ortis said he was contacted in the fall of 2014 by a counterpart at a foreign agency, which he could not name, about a plan to use an encrypted e-mail service to have targets feed information to the Five Eyes and the RCMP.
The Five Eyes is an intelligence alliance that includes Canada, Britain, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
The e-mail provider named by Mr. Ortis in court, Tutanota, which is now known as Tuta, denied Mr. Ortis’s claims. In a statement, the company said, “the allegation that we have created any backdoor access for intelligence agencies made by Mr. Ortis is a complete and utter lie.”
The Crown also rejected the story put forward by Mr. Ortis. In her closing arguments, prosecutor Judy Kliewer said Mr. Ortis had no authority to communicate the highly classified information.
“The story that he told you about why he did what he did doesn’t have the slightest ring of truth,” she told jurors.
Sharing classified information with the subjects of a police investigation could allow them to evade efforts made by law-enforcement officers, the Crown argued.
The agreed statement of facts in the Ortis trial said that from least 2014, the RCMP, along with Five Eyes law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, investigated money-laundering activities conducted by entities believed to be associated with Altaf Khanani.
Mr. Khanani, a Dubai-based owner of money-services businesses and head of an international money-laundering network, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering in October, 2015, and was sentenced to 68 months in U.S. prison.
Mr. Ortis will have a sentencing hearing in January. Until then, he will remain in custody at the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre.
Ms. Kliewer said the Crown will be asking for a sentence of 20 years or more. The Crown’s position is nothing less than a “very severe” sentence would be appropriate, she said.
Ms. Kliewer said outside the courthouse on Wednesday the legal proceedings show it is possible to have a public trial that ensures rights of the accused are respected while sensitive information at the core of a case can be protected. The Ortis trial has been “very tricky,” she said, adding it felt like walking on eggshells all times because of the national-security issues involved.
Mark Ertel, one of Mr. Ortis’s lawyers, told reporters outside the courthouse that he was shocked and extremely disappointed at the verdict. He said Mr. Ortis’s legal team will file an appeal.
“I think an innocent man has just been found guilty of six serious offences,” Mr. Ertel said.
In his closing remarks to jurors, Jon Doody, Mr. Ortis’s other defence lawyer, said his client is “quite possibly the first Canadian required to testify in their own defence without the ability to tell the jury” the full story.
Mr. Ortis did not betray the country or the national police force that he worked for, Mr. Doody said. Mr. Ortis had been alerted to a grave threat, but he could not tell jurors “the content of that threat,” Mr. Doody said.
“Cam is not allowed to tell you the identity of the foreign agency that provided him with the information.”