More than four years after Cameron Jay Ortis was charged with breaching Canada’s secrets law, the former RCMP intelligence director is about to get his day in court.
Ortis was taken into custody in Ottawa on Sept. 12, 2019 — an arrest that deeply shocked the national police force.
As the head of the RCMP’s National Intelligence Co-ordination Centre, Ortis had access to some of the country’s most closely held information.
Ortis, 51, is charged with violating the Security of Information Act by allegedly revealing secrets to three individuals and trying to do so in a fourth instance, as well as breach of trust and a computer-related offence.
A multi-week trial is slated to get underway in Ontario Superior Court on Tuesday with the selection of a jury.
Jon Doody, co-counsel for Ortis, says he plans to plead not guilty to all charges.
“He intends to take the stand in his own defence. He is eager to have his side of the story told,” Doody said.
“He feels it’s a compelling story — I do as well, and one that I think will resonate with the jury.”
Ortis is out on bail under strict conditions, but spent many months locked away in an Ottawa jail.
The case inched along while parallel proceedings played out in Federal Court concerning sensitive details. Ortis’s original defence lawyer was named a judge last year, prompting a change in counsel that further delayed matters.
Portions of court documents filed in support of warrant applications have been unsealed, providing a glimpse into the origins of the case in 2014, when the RCMP was involved in an investigation known as Project Oryx.
Days after the dramatic 2019 arrest of Ortis, then-RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki told a news conference that investigators came across documents during a probe with the FBI that led the Mounties to believe there could be some kind of “internal corruption.”
Lucki said the allegations against Ortis had left many shaken, noting his access to information from allies of the force in Canada and abroad.
A memo from Canada’s cybersecurity agency, released through the Access to Information Act, said Ortis had access to material designated Top Secret Special Intelligence, or SI. He was also allowed to use the Canadian Top Secret Network, which holds a range of data including SI.
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.
Lawyer Mark Ertel, who is helping defend Ortis, said he and Doody will argue their client had authority to take the actions he did.
No matter the outcome of the trial, the case has spurred changes at the RCMP to bolster internal security.
The Mounties say they have introduced mandatory security awareness training for employees and made it easier to report security vulnerabilities.
The RCMP has also boosted the profile of departmental security operations and made strides toward creating a program to reduce the risk of personnel spilling secrets.