Jury begins deliberating in trial of former RCMP official accused of leaking secrets

The fate of Cameron Ortis, the former RCMP intelligence official accused of leaking intelligence to police targets, is now in the hands of a jury.

After about three hours of instructions from Justice Robert Maranger, the 12 jurors were sequestered Monday. It could take hours or days for them to reach a verdict.

Ortis, a former civilian member of the RCMP, has pleaded not guilty in Ontario Superior Court to six charges — including multiple counts under the Security of Information Act, the law meant to protect Canada’s secrets.

The trial, now in its eighth week, has heard from nearly a dozen witnesses — including the accused — and has received more than 500 pages of evidence.

The Crown argues Ortis used his position within the RCMP — leading a unit that had access to Canadian and allied intelligence — to leak sensitive information to police targets in early 2015.

Ortis claimed during his trial that he was acting to protect Canada from a “grave threat” passed along by a foreign entity. 

Wesley Wark, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, said the jurors have an “extremely tough” job ahead of them.

“This is the first time a jury has ever met to hear a secrets trial — a spy trial —  in Canada, ever,” he said.

“A jury, not really knowing much about the world of intelligence, the world of RCMP operations, the Five Eyes … is going to have to decide that this evidence does get them to the point where they don’t have a reasonable doubt …”

Crown says Ortis can’t be believed

Ortis is accused of leaking special operational information “without authority” to Phantom Secure CEO Vincent Ramos — who sold encrypted cellphones to organized crime members — and Salim Henareh and Muhammad Ashraf, two men police suspected of being agents of an international money-laundering network with ties to terrorists.

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The Crown alleges that, in an email to Ramos, Ortis asked Ramos for $20,000 in exchange for information on police operations.

The 51-year-old is also accused of trying to leak information to Farzam Mehdizadeh. One RCMP witness told Ortis’s trial he believes Mehdizadeh worked with “the most important money launderers in the world.”

In closing arguments last week, prosecutor Judy Kliewer said Ortis’s version of events “doesn’t have the slightest ring of truth” and can’t be believed.

She reminded the jury the Crown doesn’t have to prove the “why” of the case — only the “what.”

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

“All you have to decide is, did he communicate without authority?”

Ortis says he was working on a secret operation

During his four days of in-camera testimony earlier this month, Ortis claimed he was actually working on a secret operation based on information from a foreign agency.

Ortis testified the alleged operation, which he said he called “OR Nudge,” was intended to lure criminals to an encrypted email service to allow authorities to intercept their messages. Outside of the courtroom, the email service has called Ortis’s claims “completely false” and “salacious.”

WATCH | Jury in trial of ex-RCMP official hears final arguments  

Ex-RCMP official leaked intel to protect Canadians, defence argues in closing arguments

Featured VideoClosing arguments are underway in the trial of Cameron Ortis. The former senior RCMP intelligence official is accused of leaking top-secret information to a suspected money launderer. The defence says he was part of a covert operation aimed at protecting Canadians based on information from a foreign agency.

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Ortis, who is permanently bound to secrecy, said he didn’t loop in anyone else from the RCMP on his plan because his foreign counterpart shared information with him on the condition that it be kept private.

He also testified the police targets had moles within Canadian law enforcement agencies.

His defence has said he is prevented from identifying the unnamed foreign agency or stating what the threat entailed. 

The Ortis trial represents the first time Security of Information Act charges have been tested in court.

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