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Former RCMP intelligence official, convicted of breaking secrets law, to be sentenced

OTTAWA — A former RCMP intelligence official is slated to learn his fate today after being convicted of breaching Canada’s secrets law.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger is set to hand a sentence to Cameron Jay Ortis, found guilty in November of violating the Security of Information Act.

Ortis, 51, led the RCMP’s Operations Research group, which assembled classified information on cybercriminals, terror cells and transnational criminal networks.

Crown prosecutor Judy Kliewer argued at a January hearing that Ortis should be sentenced to decades behind bars.

Jon Doody, a lawyer for Ortis, said his client should simply be sentenced to the time he has already served since his September 2019 arrest.

In November, jurors declared Ortis guilty of three counts of violating the Security of Information Act and one count of attempting to do so.

Each of these counts is punishable by a maximum of 14 years in prison.  

The Crown has argued for maximum, consecutive sentences on the first two counts of breaching the secrets law, amounting 28 years in prison. It wants sentences that would be served concurrently for the remaining two secrets law offences.  

The jury also found Ortis guilty of breach of trust and fraudulent use of a computer system. The Crown is requesting concurrent sentences for these offences as well.  

Because the Crown seeks an overall sentence for multiple offences, the “principle of totality” would require the judge to ensure the resulting punishment is not excessive.  

The Crown said a sentence for Ortis in the range of 22 to 25 years would be appropriate, when this principle is considered.

At Ortis’s trial, a picture emerged of an intense, deftly intelligent man — an avid runner who kept his private life to himself.

Ortis pleaded not guilty in court to all charges, including breaking the secrets law by revealing classified information to three individuals of interest to police in 2015 and trying to do so in a fourth instance.  

Ortis testified he did not betray the RCMP. Rather, he said he offered secret material to targets in a bid to get them to use an online encryption service set up by an allied intelligence agency to spy on adversaries.  

The Crown could not pinpoint a motive, but argued Ortis had no authority to disclose classified material and that he was not doing so as part of a legitimate undercover operation.  

Ortis deserves a sentence that will show the public and Canada’s international partners that the system intended to protect sensitive information “has teeth,” Kliewer told the January hearing.  

Ortis was released briefly on bail following his arrest in late 2019, only to be returned to an Ottawa jail for more than three years. He was again granted bail under strict conditions in December 2022 as he awaited a trial that took place last fall.  

Applying pre-sentence rules, the Crown says Ortis should be credited with five years and four months.  

At the January hearing, Doody recounted the unusual hardships Ortis endured in custody, and came up with a rather different number.  

He said Ortis spent years alone in protective custody, contracted COVID-19 and was repeatedly strip-searched and X-rayed in the course of viewing documentation related to his case at a secure, off-site facility.  

Doody argued for a sentence of seven years and two months — the amount of time he said Ortis should be credited with having served.

Among the more than two dozen letters of support filed by the defence is one from University of British Columbia professor emeritus Paul Evans, who helped supervise Ortis’s dissertation and hired him to assist with training and research programs.

“We are all perplexed by some of the choices he made,” Evans wrote, adding that suggestions of financial gain or a desire to undermine colleagues don’t ring true.

“The penchant for flying solo and his immense self-confidence in his unique analytical capacities may be a part of the story,” Evans’s letter said.

“Those of us who know him best will stand by and support him in constructing a life and career focused on his remarkable intelligence and generous soul.”

Ortis’s sister Kim wrote that her brother has only his family and a few close friends who have chosen to stand by him.

“He is a man with nothing, who simply wants to come home, be with his family, look after his parents in what little time they have left and try to move forward.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2024.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press


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