Former Canadian police intelligence head sentenced to 14 years for leaking secrets

The former head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police intelligence unit has been sentenced to 14 years in prison, months after he was found guilty of leaking state secrets.

Justice Robert Maranger delivered what he said was a “a fit and just” sentence on Wednesday after a jury convicted Cameron Ortis for violations of the country’s Security of Information Act.

The jury found Ortis guilty in November on three counts of violating the act and one count of attempting to do so. They also found him guilty of breach of trust and fraudulent use of a computer. The charges followed one of Canada’s largest-ever security breaches, a revelation that alarmed Five Eyes allies.

Ortis, 51, had pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Crown prosecutors, who had asked for 28 years, said Ortis had “jeopardised the safety of Canadians”.

Ortis, the civilian head of the RCMP’s intelligence unit, was arrested in 2019, after a lengthy internal investigation. His arrest sent shock waves through the intelligence community.

The trail to Ortis’s arrest began the previous year when the RCMP analysed the contents of a laptop computer owned by Vincent Ramos, the chief executive of Phantom Secure Communications, a company which helped produce encrypted smartphones used by organised crime to evade police. Ramos would later plead guilty to using his Phantom Secure devices to help facilitate the distribution of cocaine and other illicit drugs to countries including Canada.

During his trial, Ortis told the court he offered secret material to targets as a way of enticing them to use online encryption services that would feed information to allied spy agencies. He also told jurors that he was working to protect the country from an undisclosed “grave threat”, and that since his arrest his life had been “destroyed”.

But the jury sided with the crown, which argued that Ortis had acted in his own interest.

The closely watched case also exposed the challenges of mounting a defence when accused of stealing state secrets: reporters were barred from covering much of the trial, and portions of testimony and evidence were not made public. Instead, the court released heavily redacted transcripts. Ortis’s lawyer previously remarked that his client was the “the first Canadian required to testify in their own defence without the ability to tell the jury”.

As part of Ortis’s sentencing, the defence submitted 26 letters of support – including one from Michael Spavor, the Canadian diplomat who spent nearly three years in a Chinese prison.

“In the rising geopolitical storm engulfing our country, we need more people like Cameron Ortis to serve and protect Canada,” Spavor wrote. “The scale of the challenges we face are such that we can’t afford to waste his talent and energy. We need his hard work, and he needs our mercy.”

Ortis has already spent three years in jail in pre-trial custody and one additional year on house arrest, giving him a pre-trial custody credit of seven years. Justice Maranger said he can serve the remaining seven years of his sentence near his home in British Columbia. On Wednesday, Ortis’s lawyer said the sentence was “tough” and that his client was “disappointed” – but will appeal the decision and seek bail.

The Guardian