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Former RCMP official’s rationale for disclosing secrets can’t be believed: Crown

Ortis has pleaded not guilty to violating the Security of Information Act by revealing secrets
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Cameron Jay Ortis, a former RCMP intelligence official charged with breaching Canada’s secrets law, arrives for his trial at the courthouse in Ottawa, on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. A Crown prosecutor says the former RCMP official’s excuse for leaking secret information is flawed and should not be believed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

A former RCMP intelligence official’s story of why he leaked secret information is replete with flaws and should not be believed, a Crown prosecutor told jurors Friday.

During closing arguments in Ontario Superior Court, federal lawyer Judy Kliewer said Cameron Jay Ortis was not acting for the benefit of the RCMP when he disclosed classified information to investigative targets.

Ortis, 51, has testified that he offered material to people of interest in a bid to get them to use an online encryption service set up by an allied intelligence agency.

He has pleaded not guilty to violating the Security of Information Act by 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.

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

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

He said during testimony earlier this month that in September 2014 he was contacted by a counterpart at a foreign agency who advised him of a particularly serious threat.

Ortis said the counterpart told him in strict confidence about an online encryption service called Tutanota that was secretly set up to monitor the communications of adversaries.

Ortis said he then quietly devised a plan, dubbed Nudge, to entice investigative targets to sign on to the encryption service, using promises of secret material as bait.

For its part, the company, now known as Tuta, denies having ties to intelligence agencies.

The Crown argues Ortis lacked authority to disclose classified material and that he was not doing so as part of some sort of undercover operation.

Kliewer said Friday that Ortis, who was formally bound to secrecy, devised a story to account for his criminal actions. The narrative is sufficiently flawed that jurors should be satisfied “he can’t be believed,” she said.

She noted Ortis had testified there would be digital records about the Nudge project stored within the RCMP. Kliewer said searches for such records were undertaken “but they weren’t found.”

The RCMP routinely follows elaborate protocols when conducting undercover operations.

Ortis told the court he decided the covert operations policy did not apply to his secret plan because, unlike a traditional undercover assignment, there was no intention of collecting criminal evidence or intelligence.

Kliewer rejected the explanation.

“When you’re using a pretext, and you’re engaging with the target, it’s an undercover operation. And that’s what Mr. Ortis was doing.”

In an email exchange with one of the targets, Ortis offered to provide full versions of classified documents in exchange for $20,000.

Kliewer said, however, that the case does not hinge on the reasons why Ortis did what he did.

“Was there a profit motive? Maybe. It’s not something the Crown has to prove.”

When detailed questions were put to Ortis, he was evasive and “selective in his memory,” Kliewer charged.

“These excuses for having no recollection of what must have been extraordinary events were just unbelievable,” she said. “And he was overall far from credible.”

Once the Crown concluded its closing arguments, Justice Robert Maranger began instructing the jury, saying there was “a large body of evidence” to consider.

Maranger is expected to finish his instructions Monday before the jury retires to weigh a verdict.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

READ MORE: Accused RCMP leaker tells of clandestine operation, moles inside law enforcement





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