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Crown says former RCMP intelligence official improperly disclosed secrets

Cameron Jay Ortis had access to some of the country’s most closely held information
Cameron Ortis, a senior intelligence official at the RCMP, leaves the courthouse in Ottawa after being granted bail on October 22, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Former intelligence official Cameron Jay Ortis violated Canada’s secrets law by sending sensitive information to several individuals who were investigative targets of the police, a federal lawyer said Tuesday.

In an opening statement, Crown prosecutor Judy Kliewer sketched out the case against Ortis as a multi-week judge and jury trial got underway Tuesday in Ontario Superior Court.

As a senior RCMP intelligence official, Ortis had access to some of the country’s most closely held information.

He is charged with violating the Security of Information Act by allegedly revealing secrets to three individuals in 2015 and trying to do so in a fourth instance, as well as breach of trust and a computer-related offence.

Ortis, 51, has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

READ MORE: Former RCMP intelligence director pleads not guilty to disclosing secrets

He was taken into custody in Ottawa in September 2019 — an arrest that deeply shocked the national police force.

Kliewer gave the jury a sense of how the case began, noting an RCMP effort known as Project Saturation revealed that members of criminal organizations were known to use the encrypted communication devices of a British Columbia-based company, Phantom Secure Communications.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Phantom Secure’s chief executive officer, Vincent Ramos, in March 2018. In October of that year he pleaded guilty to using his Phantom Secure devices to help facilitate the distribution of drugs including cocaine to Canada, the United States and other countries.

In examining seized files, the RCMP came across “strange and alarming” information — an email to Ramos from an unknown sender with portions of 10 RCMP documents, Kliewer said. The sender offered to provide Ramos with the full documents in exchange for $20,000.

Further inquiries, including analysis of an encrypted memory key, would eventually lead the RCMP to conclude that Ortis had communicated secrets to Ramos, Kliewer told the court.

The Crown is also expected to argue that Ortis provided secrets to individuals who were being investigated for alleged ties to an international money laundering operation.

Kliewer said Ortis lacked the authority to do so, adding there was no indication he had passed along the information as some sort of undercover operation.

The charges against Ortis claim he communicated “special operational information” without authority while designated as a person “permanently bound to secrecy” — a category that includes numerous officials in the Canadian security and intelligence community.

At the time, Ortis was away on language training after serving as director of an operations research unit staffed by analysts. Upon his return in 2016, he became director general of the RCMP’s National Intelligence Co-ordination Centre.

The Crown suggested Tuesday that RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme and former Mountie boss Bob Paulson could be witnesses at the trial.

Jury selection went swiftly, allowing opening remarks in the case to begin in the afternoon.

Ortis is out on bail under strict conditions, but has spent many months locked away in an Ottawa jail.

The case inched along while parallel proceedings played out in Federal Court concerning sensitive information.

Ortis’s original defence lawyer was named a judge last year, prompting a change in counsel that also delayed matters.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press