Misunderstood defender of Canada or criminal betrayer of the RCMP? As Ortis trial nears end, jury to decide his fate

Cameron Ortis’ lead counsel argued that for many reasons, such as his job description, Ortis had full authority to do what he did

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OTTAWA – Was former RCMP director general of intelligence Cameron Ortis acting as a patriot against “grave” threats to Canada when he leaked classified information to suspected lawbreakers, or is he a reckless criminal who put international investigations and undercover agents’ lives at risk by sharing top secret documents without legal authority?

That is the question that 12 jurors will have to decide as Ortis’ trial comes to an end with closing statements by both the prosecution and defence.

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Ortis, the RCMP’s former director general of intelligence, pleaded not guilty in October to six charges, including four under the Security of Information Act (SOIA) for allegedly “intentionally and without authority” sharing or trying to share “special operational information” with four individuals in 2015.

The two others are Criminal Code charges for breach of trust and misusing a computer.

“Cameron Ortis was not and is not an enemy to the RCMP and the citizens of Canada,” Ortis’s lead counsel Jon Doody told the 12 jurors at the start of his closing statement Thursday.

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In her final statement, lead prosecutor Judy Kliewer said that Ortis’s explanation was not believable and that what he did was a “betrayal of the RCMP.”

“Mr. Ortis had no authority to communicate this special information and the story that he told you about why he did what he did doesn’t have the slightest ring of truth. It doesn’t make sense,” she said.

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Ortis’ case is the first time in Canadian history that someone is tried for alleged breaches of classified information under the current version of the Security of Information Act. It is widely considered to be a test of whether Canada has the ability to prosecute espionage cases.

Ortis is suspected of having leaked or attempted to share top secret police and intelligence documents to Vincent Ramos, a businessman who sold hyper-encrypted phones to organized crime, as well as Salim Henareh, Muhammad Ashraf and Farzam Mehdizadeh, who were suspected members of a massive international money laundering ring.

Evidence filed to court shows Ortis sent an email to Ramos in 2015 offering sensitive documents containing law enforcement and intelligence agencies’ information on Ramos’ company, Phantom Secure, in exchange for $20,000. Prosecutors also said Ortis revealed information about an undercover police agent in those documents.

It also shows he sent or attempted to send the three other men documents containing RCMP, FINTRAC and Five Eyes Intelligence alliance information on their operations.

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Throughout the seven-week trial, jurors heard from a dozen RCMP witnesses, ranging from investigators to Ortis’ colleagues to his former boss and RCMP deputy commissioner Todd Shean, as well as the accused himself.

Most RCMP witnesses testified there was no world in which Ortis’ actions were permissible. His former boss offered the strongest indictment of Ortis’ actions, calling them “so reckless” and “so criminal.”

“What (Ortis) engaged in (with) Ramos, Ashraf, Henareh, Mehdizadeh, it is the riskiest type of activity imaginable. No one authorized it, no one knew about it, this was not RCMP activity, this was not on behalf of the RCMP,” Kliewer told the jury.

“This was a betrayal with the RCMP.”

Testifying for his defence in recent weeks, Ortis painted himself as a misunderstood patriot, saying his leaking of classified information to suspected criminals was part of an ultrasecret mission from a foreign agency that he was forbidden from speaking about, even to his superiors.

The former senior RCMP executive testified that his mission, which he baptized OR Nudge, was a “low-risk” and “low-resource” effort to lure criminals into using an encrypted email service called Tutanota (since renamed Tuta).

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He said that platform was set up as a “storefront” business by an unnamed foreign agency, designed to collect intelligence from unknowing criminal users who utilized its services to send encrypted messages. In a statement Monday, the company said Ortis’ claim was “categorically false.”

The information Ortis received from the unnamed foreign agency, which he says swore him to secrecy because there were allegedly “moles” with the RCMP, led him “to the conclusion that this was a clear and grave threat,” Doody told the jury, rocking back and forth as he spoke.

Doody said Ortis wanted to help get the suspected criminals on Tutanota because he hoped that the RCMP would eventually benefit from the intelligence accrued by the foreign agency on the alleged storefront in its fight against transnational organized crime.

“If you accept his explanation, then you should find he had the authority to do what he did and you should acquit him” on the charges under the SOIA, Doody told the jury.

Kliewer said “OR Nudge” was neither low-risk nor low-resource, but a posed a grave threat to police operations.

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She also said there were “seven fatal flaws” in Ortis’s explanation, saying it was at times contradictory and that it “doesn’t make sense” that he was under strict orders from the foreign agency to keep his efforts completely secret.

“The story was put to you for no other purpose than to throw a veil of secrecy and importance and a supposed duty to act,” she added.

Throughout his closing statement, Doody referred to Ortis by his nickname at the RCMP: “Cam.” He said that for many reasons such as his job description, Ortis had full authority to do what he did.

He said Ortis was significantly hampered in his defence by national security laws that limit the information and documentation he can share publicly, but did his best to disclose as much as he could.

Doody pointed to the exceptional circumstances of the case repeatedly when speaking to jurors as he implored them not to hold any ensuing information gaps “against” his client.

“I suspect that after hearing Cam’s testimony, you were still left with questions. Unfortunately, that’s a reality of this case. There are many answers that Cam simply was not allowed to give,” Doody told the jury.

“Cameron Ortis is quite possibly the first Canadian required to testify in their own defence without the ability to tell the jury, you all, the full story. He was impeded by a number of limits on that testimony,” he added.

The Crown is expected to finish its closing statement on Friday morning.

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