A former RCMP intelligence official has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for breaching Canada’s secrets law in what the judge called a case without precedent.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger handed the sentence Wednesday to Cameron Jay Ortis, who was found guilty in November of violating the Security of Information Act.
Maranger said Ortis will be credited with time spent in custody, and he must now serve another seven years and 155 days.
Ortis, 51, led the RCMP’s Operations Research group, which assembled classified information on cybercriminals, terror cells and transnational criminal networks.
He pleaded not guilty in court to all charges, including breaking the secrets law by revealing classified information to three individuals of interest to police in 2015 and trying to do so in a fourth instance.
At Ortis’s trial, a picture emerged of an intense, deftly intelligent man — an avid runner who kept his personal life to himself.
In November, jurors declared Ortis guilty of three counts of violating the Security of Information Act and one count of attempting to do so.
The jury also found Ortis guilty of breach of trust and fraudulent use of a computer system.
In delivering the sentence Wednesday, Maranger said Ortis was “somewhat of an enigma.”
While there were suggestions that a possible financial incentive was the reason for the crimes, “in truth, there was no tangible evidence of a motive for what Cameron Ortis did,” Maranger told the crowded courtroom.
“He was never paid anything by anyone. The ‘why’ here in my mind remains a mystery.”
However, Maranger found Ortis was in a position of “extreme trust” at the RCMP and the reaction of co-workers to what he did “support the heightened level of betrayal.”
“His actions potentially put lives at risk,” Maranger said, concluding that at one point Ortis disclosed the existence of an undercover officer.
“These actions undermined Canada’s reputation in the intelligence community internationally,” the judge said.
Canada’s reputation “may never be the same” among partners in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance that also includes the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, Maranger added.
At a January hearing, Crown prosecutor Judy Kliewer said a sentence for Ortis in the range of 22 to 25 years would be appropriate.
Defence lawyer Jon Doody said his client should be sentenced to a little over seven years.
Both sides expressed dissatisfaction with the result Wednesday, and the Crown swiftly filed written notice of its intention to appeal the sentence.
Kliewer said Ortis’s actions amounted to a betrayal of the national police force and the intelligence community. “Obviously, we thought this conduct was deserving of a much higher sentence than what the judge imposed today.”
But she added the case sends a signal that such behaviour “will be thoroughly investigated, it will be vigorously prosecuted and the offender will be held to account if convicted.”
Doody said he was “obviously disappointed” but understood that Maranger had a difficult task.
He said the sentence was “a bit of a shock” for Ortis, but added his client was “prepared for the worst.”
Doody confirmed plans to appeal Ortis’s conviction and sentence.
“He stands by his innocence,” Doody said. “A lot of this is to simply have another court look at the legal issues that were litigated for the first time in this case.”
At trial, Ortis testified he did not betray the RCMP. Rather, he said he offered secret material to targets in a bid to get them to use an online encryption service set up by an allied intelligence agency to spy on adversaries.
The Crown argued Ortis had no authority to disclose classified material and that he was not doing so as part of a legitimate undercover operation, though it could not pinpoint a motive.
Maranger noted Wednesday it was the first sentence to be handed out under these specific Security of Information Act counts.
“The task of sentencing an individual is a heavy burden on a trial judge, even in matters where the road is well-travelled. The Cameron Ortis case is without precedent,” he said.
“The journey to a verdict was a long and complex one, particularly as it related to what evidence could and could not be presented at trial for reasons of national security.”
Kliewer told the January hearing that Ortis deserved a sentence that would show the public and Canada’s international partners that the system intended to protect sensitive information “has teeth.”
Ortis was released briefly on bail following his arrest in late 2019, only to be returned to an Ottawa jail for more than three years. He was again granted bail under strict conditions in December 2022 as he awaited a trial that took place last fall.
At the January hearing, Doody recounted the unusual hardships Ortis had endured.
He said Ortis spent years alone in protective custody, contracted COVID-19 and was repeatedly strip-searched and X-rayed in the course of viewing documentation related to his case at a secure, off-site facility.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2024.
This is a corrected story. A previous version said Ortis would be credited with having served seven years and 155 days in custody.