A jury has declared former RCMP intelligence official Cameron Jay Ortis guilty of disclosing secrets to targets of police interest in violation of the Security of Information Act.
The verdict came after weeks of testimony from Ortis and current and former colleagues at the national police force.
But there’s much more the jurors didn’t hear.
A sworn statement filed in court, evidence from bail proceedings and a preliminary ruling from the presiding judge — all covered by publication bans until now — reveal that authorities were gravely worried about Ortis’s next steps.
In the summer of 2019, Ortis was director general of the RCMP’s National Intelligence Co-ordination Centre, a unit that aimed to track emerging trends of interest to the force.
He assumed the post in 2016 after several years with the RCMP’s Operations Research group, which compiled and developed highly classified information on terror cells, cybercriminals and transnational criminal networks.
Between Aug. 26 and Sept. 11, 2019, police conducted covert searches at Ortis’s downtown Ottawa apartment, where they found a laptop with a user folder entitled “Batman.”
It contained 400 classified documents related to national security that had been accessed and printed from a computer terminal allowing access to the Canadian Top Secret Network. The CTSN is a highly classified network that allows information to be shared within the Canadian law enforcement intelligence community.
The documents were stored by month in subfolders entitled “Processed” and “Un-processed.” The “Processed” classified records had been stripped of identifying marks and converted to PDF format using software.
RCMP investigators determined that Ortis’s access badge and credentials were used to enter a CTSN terminal room — primarily on weekends — to print documents from October 2018 to February 2019.
On Sept. 12, 2019, the day of Ortis’s arrest, a search warrant was executed, allowing for seizure of devices, documents, to-do lists, handwritten notes and other items from his home.
In an extensive May 2020 statement in support of an application to obtain an additional search warrant and four production orders, RCMP Sgt. Jamie Driscoll noted the discovery of a September-October 2018 to-do list that mentioned routine tasks including writing a thank-you note and booking a train ticket.
The list also mentioned “The Project,” with notes to “Finish processing” and “Start to plan first contact.”
Driscoll said he interpreted this as a reference to Ortis’s “plans to commit the offences.”
He noted that sometime after Aug. 26, 2019, Ortis added a folder called “First-Meeting-Files” to the Batman desktop folder system.
Within the system, Ortis saved a document with images of business cards of two diplomats from the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa.
“I believe Ortis planned to communicate safeguarded information to one or both of the Chinese officials.”
Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger, the judge in Ortis’s case, would later write in a summary of the Crown’s evidence that the business cards “could be interpreted as circumstantial evidence of Mr. Ortis preparing to share the documents/classified material with a particular foreign entity.”
Driscoll also provided a hint of the sort of material he suspected Ortis might hand over.
He wrote that inside the “First-Meeting-Folder” was an image of a Top Secret document of the U.S. National Security Agency that mentioned the Five Eyes, an intelligence-sharing alliance between Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
“I believe Ortis intended to share the NSA document with someone at a first meeting.”
As a result of these discoveries, Ortis initially faced four additional charges — ones the jury didn’t know about because they had been dismissed by Maranger long before the trial began.
The charges alleged that between Sept. 9, 2018, and Sept. 12, 2019, Ortis violated another section of the Security of Information Act by gaining access to, obtaining and retaining information in preparation of an offence.
One of the charges related to possession of a “device, apparatus or software” linked to preparation.
At an October 2019 hearing, the Crown argued against bail for Ortis, saying his efforts had escalated to “an alarming level.”
Given the belief that he was prepared to share information with foreign entities, a prosecutor raised the prospect of Ortis slipping away to seek asylum inside an embassy in Ottawa.
Ortis was initially granted bail with strict conditions, only to return to jail following a review of that decision.
As the criminal case inched along, a parallel process played out in Federal Court to determine whether certain information relevant to the case must be kept under wraps to avoid endangering national security.
Federal prosecutors served notice in June 2020 that sensitive or potentially injurious information might be disclosed during the Ortis case. That prompted an application to the Federal Court the next month to shield materials that could harm Canada’s security, defence or international relations if they were revealed.
On the issue of information relevant to the preparatory charges against Ortis, a Federal Court judge concluded that the public interest in not disclosing certain material outweighed the public interest in disclosure — even though the information was of immense importance to Ortis’s ability to respond to the accusations.
In October 2022, Maranger concluded that keeping this information under wraps would deny Ortis the chance to fully answer the charges. He therefore dismissed the four preparatory charges.
In written reasons that followed in May of this year, Maranger said Ortis had planned to defend against these charges by saying the purpose of printing and sorting the intelligence in the Batman folder was to eventually make a pitch to senior RCMP executives on how to best respond to a certain growing problem or threat from a foreign entity, which the judge did not identify.
Key pieces of intelligence would go into binders, along with a PowerPoint presentation, briefing notes and strategic backgrounder.
Ortis would have told the court he never intended to communicate this information to a terrorist organization or a foreign entity.
Driscoll’s statement reveals investigators interviewed former RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson, who once had a close working relationship with Ortis, in September 2019. Paulson told them Ortis was a “very competent, professional, intelligent, productive and hard-working guy,” the statement says.
It adds that Paulson considered Ortis discreet, attentive and security conscious, and the former commissioner was not aware of him going outside the scope of his remit.
Driscoll’s statement also says Ortis was interviewed for about eight hours following his arrest. At one point, Ortis said, “I live by my to-do lists.”
“When asked about the consequences, Ortis commented, ‘I anticipate the worst,’” according to Driscoll’s account.
During the initial bail hearing, a picture emerged of Ortis as a private person whose parents learned only recently that he had a 17-year-old child for whom he was making support payments.
At trial, the Crown acknowledged there was no clear-cut motive for the offences Ortis had allegedly committed.
But investigators got a glimpse of his state of mind in the weeks after his arrest.
They obtained a warrant to intercept Ortis’s communications from the Ottawa jail following his arrest, and began doing so in early October 2019.
During an Oct. 4 call with someone named Sean, Ortis discussed his future and said that everything he has done had been destroyed, according to Driscoll’s statement.
“He talked about starting over and said, ‘I owe everybody an explanation of how I think this happened and what happened.’
“He also said, ‘I’ll never do this again, I’ll never go into a deep dive in a career like this, at the sacrifice of family and friends … and my own happiness because I’ve been miserable the last four-five years so … never again, it’s just not worth it.’”