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Cameron Ortis, ex-RCMP official accused of leaking secrets, says he did nothing wrong

Cameron Ortis, the former high-ranking RCMP intelligence official accused of leaking top-secret intelligence to police targets, told court recently that while he has some regrets, his actions were “not wrong.”

The Crown alleges Ortis used his position as the head of a highly secret unit within the RCMP to attempt to sell intelligence gathered by Canada and its Five Eyes allies to individuals linked to the criminal underworld.

Ortis has pleaded not guilty to all six charges against him. His defence team says he was acting on “secret information” sent by a foreign agency to protect Canada from “serious and imminent threats.”

Ortis began testifying in his own defence last week, behind closed doors. A redacted transcript of what he told the jury a week ago was released to reporters Thursday night.

The former civilian member of the RCMP told the jury his “mission was to meet the threats to the security of Canada head on.”

“Do you regret acting now?” asked his defence lawyer, Mark Ertel.

“I don’t make decisions based on my career or career prospects, but I couldn’t have envisioned or imagined that all of this would transpire,” said Ortis.

“Of course, in some sense I regret everything that’s happened over the last four years to everyone, but what I did was not wrong.” 

Cameron Jay Ortis, right, a former RCMP intelligence director accused of disclosing classified information, returns to the Ottawa Courthouse during a break in proceedings in Ottawa, on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023.
Cameron Jay Ortis, right, a former RCMP intelligence director accused of disclosing classified information, returns to the Ottawa Courthouse during a break in proceedings in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press)

Ortis said his arrest has been personally “devastating.”

He said his pension and possessions are “all gone” and his reputation has been “completely destroyed.”

“Family stood by me. Friends did not,” he said.

“Friends from the old days in British Columbia who I’ve known for a long time have stood by me, but friends and colleagues in Ottawa and professional contacts have not.”

‘Surprising’ that intelligence was not being used: Ortis

The 51-year-old faces six charges, including multiple counts under the Security of Information Act, the law meant to protect Canada’s secrets. He is accused of sharing special operational information “intentionally and without authority” with three men, and of attempting to share information with another.

During the first few hours of his testimony, he detailed how he joined the RCMP to work in the critical infrastructure intelligence program, which dealt with threats against things like dams, telecommunication systems and passenger rail.

He said he came into contact with “high-side” material — a term used to describe classified material, including human and signals intelligence —  by clicking on an icon on Canada’s Top Secret Network (CTSN). That’s the computer network used by the federal government to share classified information.

“I clicked on the icon. The icon brought up a window. The window said, ‘You do not have access to this but if you want access, call this number.’ And so, I called that number,” he said.

He said he was not aware of any other civilian members or Mounties who were accessing allies’ information at the time.

“It was surprising,” he said.

“Given its mission and its reemergence into the national security world after 9/11, tasked with counterterrorism, I was surprised that the information from the 5EYES, all of the information, was not being utilized.”

Ortis said he flagged it to his superior and asked if he could “paint a picture of what the threat reporting was on this system.”

In 2012, Bob Paulson, then an assistant commissioner, asked Ortis to help create a new unit within RCMP national security called Operations Research (OR), which was meant to brief senior leadership on emerging threats based on intelligence gathered by Canada and its allies.

Ortis says he was told to pursue money-laundering

The unit began dealing with counterterrorism files but took on transnational organized crime through a file known to the RCMP as “Skyfall.”

“It was money laundering that was threatening the integrity and the fabric of the Canadian financial system,” Ortis said.

“I saw some unique reporting during the ordinary course of triage that explained, described, and outlined a threat to Canada and the banking system. An extraordinary amount of money that was being laundered through Canada and its closest partners, and the actors that were involved with that money laundering.”

He said those “actors” were hostile state actors — “enemies of the Western world.”

“Iran, Russia, China, and several other countries,” said Ortis.

“It seems from what’s being reported sort of generally in the media, like, it’s sort of commonly accepted that Iran is funding Hamas in the Israel-Hamas war,” said Ertel.

Ortis said around 2011-2012 the RCMP had not been successful investigating  international money launders’ connection to Canada

He said he decided to create an infographic on what he learned to present a briefing to the RCMP’s senior chain of command  —  to the assistant commissioner, the deputy commissioner and the commissioner.

“This was right on the RCMP’s mandate in terms of high-level organized crime carrying out money laundering that at least in my experience had a scale and scope that I had never seen before,” Ortis testified.

Ertel asked Ortis if, after the briefing, he had the impression the issue was something his superiors wanted him to pursue.

“That’s correct,” said Ortis.

“I was told, I can paraphrase, ‘Get on this.'”

The transcript provided to media Thursday night ends at the point when the court took a lunch break on Nov. 2.

A consortium of media organizations that includes CBC News fought the move to restrict access to Ortis’s testimony.

Other details of the secrecy measure are covered by a publication ban.

LISTEN: Did a former RCMP official have secrets for sale?

Front Burner20:51Did an ex-RCMP boss have secrets for sale?

Featured VideoInside the trial of former RCMP intelligence director Cameron Ortis, who’s facing allegations he tried to sell secrets to some of the very people police were targeting. What sensitive documents do police say Ortis exposed? For transcripts of Front Burner, please visit: Transcripts of each episode will be made available by the next workday. How are an encrypted phone dealer and international money laundering network involved? What’s behind the defence’s bombshell claim that Ortis was acting on foreign intel? CBC Parliamentary reporter Catharine Tunney returns to explain.

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