Politics

Cameron Ortis, former RCMP official convicted of leaking secrets, seeks acquittal

In a first-of-its-kind appeal, Cameron Ortis — the former RCMP intelligence official sentenced to 14 years for leaking secret information to police targets — is seeking acquittal, arguing that he didn't get a fair trial.

Ortis's lawyers say he didn't get a fair trial

Cameron Jay Ortis, a former RCMP intelligence official charged with breaching Canada's secrets law, arrives for his trial at the courthouse in Ottawa, on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023.
Cameron Jay Ortis arrives for his trial at the courthouse in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

In a first-of-its-kind appeal, Cameron Ortis — the former RCMP intelligence official sentenced to 14 years for leaking secret information to police targets — is seeking acquittal, arguing that he didn't get a fair trial.

A jury found the former intelligence director guilty on all six charges against him in November, including four violations of the Security of Information Act. The Crown argued Ortis used his position in the RCMP to try to sell secret information to police targets.

His case was the first successful conviction under the national security law.

It was a highly unusual trial, with multiple witnesses — including Ortis —  testifying behind closed doors to prevent the release of state secrets.

According to a redacted transcript of Ortis's testimony, the former civilian member of the RCMP told the jury he was on a covert mission on behalf of an unnamed foreign agency.

Defence lawyer Mark Ertel told the court Ortis was "forbidden from telling you what the information was or what the foreign agency was. So he's defending himself with one hand tied behind his back."

In an appeal filed last week in Ottawa, Ortis's lawyer Jon Doody argued that trial judge Justice Robert Maranger failed to find that Ortis's "right to a fair trial was impacted by the restrictions placed on his testimony, specifically his inability to be allowed to testify regarding the foreign agency source or provide details with respect to his motivations."

Defence lawyer Jon Doody for Cameron Jay Ortis leaves the courthouse in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. The former RCMP intelligence official Ortis has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for breaching Canada's secrets law.
Defence lawyer Jon Doody leaves the courthouse in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

Doody also criticized the judge for granting the Crown's application to close the court during certain testimony "without properly considering whether doing so was necessary," and for not issuing instructions to jurors on motive before they retired to make their decision.

Ortis's defence team is asking the court to set aside the conviction and either enter an acquittal or order a new trial.

Defence and Crown appealing sentence

Maranger sentenced Ortis to 14 years in prison earlier this month, telling the courthouse the former RCMP official's actions "potentially put lives at risk."

Doody called that sentence "demonstrably unfit."

During the sentencing phase, the defence argued that Ortis should serve no more time in prison because he had endured hardships in custody, including long stints in solitary confinement.

If the Court of Appeal for Ontario grants the request to appeal, the defence wants it to set aside Maranger's ruling and impose"a fit sentence."

The Crown also called the sentence "demonstrably unfit" and is appealing.

"Obviously, we thought this conduct was deserving of a much higher sentence than what the judge imposed today," said Crown prosecutor Judy Kliewer after Maranger handed down his decision earlier this month.

The Crown was seeking two consecutive sentences totalling 28 years in prison. It also argued that if the judge decided 28 years is too long, a sentence of 22 to 25 years, minus time served, would be "proportionate."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catharine Tunney is a reporter with CBC's Parliament Hill bureau, where she covers national security and the RCMP. She worked previously for CBC in Nova Scotia. You can reach her at catharine.tunney@cbc.ca

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