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Fate of former RCMP official accused of leaking secrets now in hands of jury

Cameron Jay Ortis, a former RCMP intelligence official charged with breaching Canada's secrets law, arrives for his trial at the courthouse in Ottawa, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. The 12 jurors hearing his case retired today to consider a verdict after Justice Robert Maranger finished instructing them on how to approach their task. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA — The fate of Cameron Jay Ortis, a former RCMP official accused of leaking secrets, is now in the hands of a jury.

The 12 jurors retired Monday to consider a verdict after Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger finished instructing them on how to approach their task.

Ortis, 51, has testified he offered secret material to investigative targets in a bid to get them to use an online encryption service set up by an allied intelligence agency to spy on adversaries.

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.

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

The Crown argues Ortis, an official bound to secrecy, lacked authority to disclose classified material and that he was not doing so as part of an undercover operation.

The defence contends Ortis did not betray Canada, but was rather acting on a "clear and grave threat."

Ortis testified about being contacted in September 2014 by a counterpart at a foreign agency who advised him of the particularly serious threat.

He said the ally told him in strict confidence about an online encryption service called Tutanota that was actually a "storefront" for intercepting communications.

Ortis said he then devised a plan, dubbed Operation Nudge, to dangle secret material to investigative targets to get them to use the encryption service.

The company, now known as Tuta, flatly denies having ties to intelligence agencies.

Ortis's lawyers have stressed that their client stepped into the witness box even though national security considerations prevented him from naming the foreign counterpart or other details in his own defence.

Crown prosecutor Judy Kliewer told the jury that Ortis's story was full of flaws and lacked "the slightest ring of truth.''

The Crown contends the special operational information Ortis provided to people of interest was sufficient to let them know they were subjects of international and domestic law-enforcement efforts, and to learn what police knew about their businesses so they could thwart investigators.

The case comes down to whether Ortis "had the authority to take these unusual steps that he took" to communicate special operational information to targets, said Wesley Wark, a senior fellow with the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

"So now the jury is going to have to decide, was this a compelling story? Was it believable? What was the nature of the authority that he used?"

Wark, who has been in court to hear some of the proceedings, noted there was no evidence that Ortis received payment for providing secret information.

"The jury may wrestle with the question of, well, where's the motive?"

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2023.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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