RCMP intelligence official charged under national secrets act

   
Published Sept. 13, 2019 12:23 p.m. ET
Updated Sept. 13, 2019 9:32 p.m. ET
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TORONTO -- The director general of the RCMP’s intelligence unit at the force’s headquarters in Ottawa has been arrested and charged under the Security of Information Act.

The act is a national security law that addresses security concerns, including threats of espionage by foreign powers. 

In an emailed statement to CTV News, an RCMP spokesperson said that Cameron Ortis was charged under three parts of the Security of Information Act and two parts of the Criminal Code of Canada.

“The charges stem from activities alleged to have occurred during his tenure as an RCMP employee,” the statement says, adding that as the investigation is ongoing, the RCMP will not be making further comments at this time.

The 47-year-old, who does not yet have a lawyer, appeared via video link in an Ottawa court Friday afternoon.

“In broad strokes, the allegations are that he obtained, stored, processed sensitive information, we believe with the intent to communicate it to people that he shouldn't be communicating it to," said prosecutor John MacFarlane after the court hearing.

A total of seven counts against Ortis are listed on the charge sheet, according to The Canadian Press. Two of the seven counts date back to January 2015 through to his arrest on Thursday.

He is accused of accessing classified information and possessing a device used for secret communications. His two criminal charges relate to an alleged breach of trust and unauthorized access of a computer. 

CTV News has also learned that Ortis was a close advisor of former RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson, who retired from the force in 2017 to focus on his family.

Ortis speaks Mandarin and has written extensively in academic journals about national security and critical infrastructure. His doctorate, obtained more than 10 years ago, was about online threats and cybersecurity in east Asia, including China. 

None of the allegations against him have been proven in court.

A spokesperson for the office of the Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale said in a statement emailed to CTV News that “Canadians can continue to have confidence in their security and intelligence agencies to protect our safety and rights.”

WHAT THE CHARGES MEAN

The former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) said this case could potentially impact a number of departments and maybe other countries. 

“This isn’t regular intelligence. This is about how we acquire intelligence,” Richard Fadden told Don Martin on CTV’s Power Play. “It is about who is involved and who our informants are.”

CTV News legal analyst Ed Prutschi said the charges levied against Ortis are anti-spy related.

“[Ortis] is a civilian cyber security guy in the RCMP and the combination of charges implies he’s accused of either hacking or just plain out stealing sensitive info through digital networks presumably and passing it along,” Prutschi said.

Stephanie Carvin, a former national security analyst, said the charges are very serious.

“It suggests this person may have tried or succeeded in communicating details about the way the RCMP may have been trying to go about a criminal investigation,” she said.

“This person had access to a lot of information,” Carvin added.

HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO OTHER CASES?

Fadden said that this case is “potentially more serious” than the Canadian navy officer who pleaded guilty to selling secret intelligence to Russia. 

In 2012, Sub-Lt. Jeffrey Paul Delisle was convicted under the Security of Information Act for transmitting sensitive data to Russian agents for about five years before his arrest.

“Delisle’s intelligence had a beginning and an end,” said Fadden.

“This stuff could endanger some of our informants and some of the people who were managing the acquisition of that information,” he added. “All of this is far worse than a particular piece of intelligence being passed to an advisory.”  

REACTION FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau commented on the case while on the campaign trail on Friday.

“I was of course made aware of the arrest,” Trudeau said to reporters. “I can assure you the authorities are taking this extremely seriously.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh expressed his concerns while speaking to reporters in Toronto.

“This is something we have to take seriously,” he said. “It puts a lot of interests at risk. Given that we don't know the nature of what's been shared, it could impact the other investigations.” 

In a post on Twitter, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said “this is another reminder of the threats we face from foreign actors.”

Scheer added that, if elected as prime minister, he would “not hesitate to identify these threats and act accordingly.”

Ortis will remain in custody until his next court date on Sept. 20.

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