Historic Trial for Ex RCMP Officer Accused of National Security Breach Begins Tuesday


In a case that will set significant legal precedent, the trial of Cameron Ortis, an erstwhile senior officer within the intelligence ranks of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), is scheduled to commence on Tuesday. Ortis stands accused of unauthorized dissemination of top-secret information pertaining to national security to a quartet of unidentified individuals.

Notably, this trial will mark the first occasion a Canadian is prosecuted for offenses under the Security of Information Act. Prior to his arrest in September 2019, Ortis served as the director general of the National Intelligence Coordination Centre within the RCMP. His high-ranking position granted him access to a wealth of classified domestic and international information.

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Dan Stanton, a onetime executive manager at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada’s paramount national spy agency, has expressed significant interest in viewing the country’s approach to punishing data leaks. The case against Ortis originated from allegations dating back to 2015.

Ortis faces a total of six charges, including four under Section 14 of the Security Information Act. He stands accused of “intentionally and without authority” communicating special information related to operations to unknown parties. Additionally, he is charged with illegitimately accessing a computer service and breach of trust.

Ortis vehemently negates the claims against him and is expected to plead not guilty in his defense. Jon Doody, Ortis’ legal representative, conveys his client’s anticipation of articulating his side of the story to a jury consisting of his peers after awaiting this opportunity for years.

Ortis recently flew into Ottawa to prepare for the trial, under the watchful gaze of RCMP officers. Despite being on bail after more than three years in custody, strict surveillance measures are maintained, including GPS tracking anklets and police surveillance outside his accommodation.

As a former director within the RCMP’s Intelligence Unit, Ortis had privileged access to intelligence shared by the ‘Five Eyes’, an international security network of five English-speaking nations – Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. Consequently, the trial’s proceedings will be keenly followed by these countries as Canada’s ability to handle charges of espionage and information leaks can significantly impact international relations.

Stanton, the current director of the national security program at the University of Ottawa, raised concerns about Canada’s past failures in espionage prosecutions and the implications it might have on the nation’s reputation among its Five Eyes partners.

Only five individuals have been charged under Canada’s Security of Information Act (SOIA). Particularly noteworthy is Jeffrey Delisle, a naval officer, who confessed to selling secrets to Russia and was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in 2012. He was subsequently granted full parole in 2019. While Ortis’ case might be the first to go to trial, two other cases under SOIA are currently awaiting trial.

Given the trial involves classified national security information, it will be intermittently conducted in-camera, limiting media access. Human rights lawyer Julian Falconer, also renowned for representing Maher Arar, urges close scrutiny upon the judiciary’s navigation of transparency, public knowledge, and maintaining national security. He believes the handling of these sensitive security act violations is instrumental in Canada’s international perception.

Falconer reckons that the orthodoxy of handling such cases in the Canadian justice system will significantly affect its global standing in terms of security matters.