A former RCMP civilian who was once regarded as a star in the national police force will get his day in court after a four-year wait with his multiweek criminal trial set to begin on Tuesday.
Cameron Ortis, 51, will face a trial by jury at the Superior Court of Justice in Ottawa. He faces six charges: four related to allegedly violating the Security of Information Act by sharing secrets, as well as a computer-related charge and another alleging breach of trust.
Mr. Ortis was charged in September, 2019, sending shock waves through the national-security and intelligence community.
He worked as the civilian director-general of the RCMP National Intelligence Co-ordination Centre at the time, which was a position that afforded him access to sensitive, highly classified information.
It is clear that Mr. Ortis had very high-level access not only to Canadian government systems but also to the systems of allies, said Wesley Wark, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation who specializes in national security and intelligence.
Mr. Wark said that charges under the Security of Information Act are “extremely rare.”
The act is an updated version of older legislation and was amended in 2001, he said, adding that there have been some earlier high-profile cases involving the act, such as that of a Canadian naval officer who provided intelligence to the Russians, Jeffrey Delisle.
Mr. Delisle, who pleaded guilty to spying, sold secrets to the Russian military for about $3,000 a month. He volunteered his services to Moscow when he walked into the Russian embassy in Ottawa in 2007.
Countries belonging to the Five Eyes – an intelligence pact among Canada, Britain, the United States, Australia and New Zealand – were briefed by Ottawa on what was known about Mr. Ortis’s case, Mr. Wark said.
“All of the Five Eyes countries are trying to deal with cybercriminality and are busy sharing intelligence among themselves about cybercrime and its challenges,” he said.
“Some of the Five Eyes partners have had great success in pursuing organized crime using cyber techniques and it’s a very valuable tool for all the Five Eyes members.”
When there is an insider threat of the kind that Mr. Ortis allegedly posed, it causes all members to go back to their own case files to examine what may have been shared that might now have been given away, Mr. Wark said.
Ahead of the court proceedings, one of Mr. Ortis’s lawyers, Mark Ertel, said his client is charged with acting without authority but the defence believes it will be “able to establish that he did have authority to do everything he did.”
Mr. Ertel also said that the past four years have been “terrible” for Mr. Ortis, including the conditions in jail where he was held before being granted bail.
“Now he’s on house arrest and he’s being followed and surveilled and spied on,” Mr. Ertel said. “It’s been terrible.”
Mr. Ortis’s other lawyer, Jon Doody, has said Mr. Ortis believes he has a “compelling story to tell” and that he intended to testify during the trial.
The defence is confident “the jury will be interested to hear what he has to say and will find him not guilty,” Mr. Doody added.
Mr. Ortis was previously represented by another lawyer, Ian Carter, who was appointed to be a judge with the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario in June, 2022.
The change in representation caused a year-long delay in the trial. Proceedings were originally set to begin in September, 2022, but the Public Prosecution Service of Canada said the trial was adjourned at the request of Mr. Doody.
Mr. Ortis, who was born in Abbotsford, B.C., was first hired by the RCMP in 2007 and held positions in operations research and national-security criminal investigations.
At the time of Mr. Ortis’s arrest, then-RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki said the news had “shaken many people” throughout the force “particularly in federal policing as well as the broader domestic and international security and intelligence communities who worked with Mr. Ortis.”
She also said the RCMP was supporting an FBI investigation when it uncovered “possible internal corruptions” and it took “immediate action and launched an investigation into the alleged activities.”
The force was aware of potential risk to operations of partner agencies in Canada and abroad, Ms. Lucki added.
“I want to emphasize that the alleged actions of Mr. Ortis are by no means reflective of the important work carried out by employees of the RCMP – regardless of rank or category of employee – on a daily basis,” she said in a statement at the time.
With a report from The Canadian Press