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Cameron Ortis, ex-RCMP official guilty of leaking secrets, sentenced to 14 years in prison

Former RCMP intelligence director Cameron Jay Ortis returns to the Ottawa Courthouse during a break in trial proceedings in Ottawa on Oct. 3. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Former RCMP intelligence director Cameron Jay Ortis returns to the Ottawa Courthouse during a break in trial proceedings in Ottawa on Oct. 3. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press - image credit)

An Ontario Superior Court justice has sentenced Cameron Ortis — the former RCMP intelligence official found guilty late last year of leaking secret information to police targets — to 14 years in prison.

Accounting for his time served, the former civilian RCMP member will serve seven years and 155 days. The Crown has indicated it plans to appeal.

Ortis, 51, was found guilty in November of all six charges against him, including violating Canada's secrets act. It was the first time charges under the Security of Information Act were tested in court.

"Cameron Ortis was in a position of extreme trust," said Justice Robert Maranger as he handed down his decision Wednesday morning.

"His actions potentially put lives at risk... His actions undermined Canada's reputation in the intelligence community internationally."

The Crown had sought a far steeper sentence: 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."

Ortis's lawyers, meanwhile, argued that he endured hardships while in custody, including long stints in solitary confinement. They said his time served should be his sentence and he shouldn't serve another day in detention.

"No inmate has had to suffer what Mr. Ortis suffered," defence lawyer Jon Doody said last month.

Maranger said Wednesday the Crown's request was excessive and the defence's proposal was "inadequate." Throughout his decision, Maranger said that his ruling is without precedent.

"The sentence I'm going to impose is by any objective measure a severe penalty in Canadian criminal law," he said.

"In my view, it is a fit and just sentence that addresses both the gravity of the offences and Cameron Ortis's moral responsibility for the commission."

Ortis appeared stoic and looked directly at Maranger as he delivered his decision.

'Society is justifiably outraged,' says judge

After a complex trial, which included redacted documents and shielded testimony, the jury found Ortis guilty of leaking special operational information "without authority" to Phantom Secure CEO Vincent Ramos — who sold encrypted cellphones to organized crime members — and to Salim Henareh and Muhammad Ashraf, two men police suspected of being agents of an international money-laundering network with ties to terrorists.

He also was found guilty 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.

The trial heard Ortis was accused of sharing Canadian intelligence and information from Canada's allies. As a member of the Five Eyes alliance with the U.S., the U.K., New Zealand and Australia, Canada has committed to sharing and protecting pooled intelligence.

Crown prosecutor Judy Kliewer speaks to reporters outside the courthouse in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. Former RCMP intelligence official Cameron Jay Ortis has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for breaching Canada's secrets law.
Crown prosecutor Judy Kliewer speaks to reporters outside the courthouse in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. Former RCMP intelligence official Cameron Jay Ortis has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for breaching Canada's secrets law.

Crown prosecutor Judy Kliewer speaks to reporters outside the courthouse in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. Former RCMP intelligence official Cameron Jay Ortis has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for breaching Canada's secrets law. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

Ortis oversaw an elite team within the RCMP that reviewed intelligence, including allied information. He was described throughout the trial as a rising star within the RCMP and one of the smartest people in the organization.

"Cameron Ortis is somewhat of an enigma. In my time as a trial judge, I have never encountered an accused described by Crown witnesses in the manner that they described Cameron Ortis," Maranger said.

"Retired deputy commissioner Todd Shean's once high regard for Cameron Ortis while testifying was unequivocal. That said, his sense of betrayal and raw emotion were palpable when shown examples of what Cameron Ortis had done."

Maranger said Ortis's motives — the why —  remain a mystery, but his level of "moral blameworthiness" is high.

"Society is justifiably outraged in the face of betrayal, especially by someone employed by the state for many years precisely to protect the national interests and state secrets," he said.

"Society is also entitled to expect that those who betray state secrets will be punished harshly enough to deter others from doing the same thing, or at least to make it clear to those who consider doing so what the price will be if they do, and are caught."

Crown appealing sentence 

The Crown is already appealing the sentencing, arguing Maranger "erred by imposing a sentence that was demonstrably unfit, given the gravity of the offences and moral blameworthiness of the offender."

"Obviously, we thought this conduct was deserving of a much higher sentence than what the judge imposed today," said Crown prosecutor Judy Kliewer.

"But I think what this case does signal ... is that when someone chooses to violate the oath to protect secret information that Canada needs to protect its security, that case will be vigorously prosecuted thoroughly investigated and that person will be held to account."

Maranger said he did consider the number of times Ortis would have been X-rayed and strip-searched while in custody because of the requirement for him to review disclosure at a secure facility.

The defence filed more than two dozen support letters, including one from Michael Kovrig, one of two Canadians detained in China for almost three years. Kovrig, who spent over 1,000 days in solitary confinement, said someone with Ortis's "high intelligence and ... curious mind" shouldn't "rot in a prison cell for the sake of deterrence."

Doody said Ortis is disappointed by today's result.

"It was a bit of a shock," he told reporters outside the courthouse in Ottawa.

"But he was prepared for the worst so he is, again, respecting the jury's decision at this time, and the sentence imposed."

Defence plans to appeal 

The defence plans to appeal and is arguing Ortis never got a fair trial due to the limitations imposed on his trial by national security law.

"He stands by his innocence. the fact that the jury couldn't hear a lot of his defence obviously still bothers him," said Doody.

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 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 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. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

The defence team said it intends to seek bail pending appeal.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the case sends a message to would-be leakers.

"The charges, and the convictions, were extremely serious. That a jury came back with these convictions says something, I think, very effective about our justice system that can hold to account those who decide to breach some of the most fundamental obligations they have," he said on Parliament Hill.

"We think the court system and the police investigative system, in this particular case, worked very well."