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Arrest in RCMP secrets case touched off a flurry of activity at highest levels


December 20, 2019
By The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The head of Canada’s spy agency was briefed two dozen times in six weeks this fall about a security lapse at the national police force — an indication of the gravity of the alleged breach by a senior RCMP intelligence official.

The top-secret briefing materials, marked CEO, for “Canadian Eyes Only,” kept Canadian Security Intelligence Service director David Vigneault abreast of developments in Project Ace, the RCMP investigation of Cameron Jay Ortis, one of the force’s own members.

The Ortis case also touched off a concerted effort at the highest levels to address the concerns of Canada’s key allies, records disclosed through the Access to Information Act show.

Ortis, 47, was charged under the Security of Information Act for allegedly disclosing secrets to an unknown recipient and planning to reveal additional classified information to an unspecified foreign entity.

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He faces a total of seven counts under various provisions, dating from as early as Jan. 1, 2015, to Sept. 12 of this year, when he was arrested.

Under the terms of bail set in October by a justice of the peace, Ortis was living with his parents in Abbotsford, B.C., had to report to police once a week and was forbidden from using any device that connects to the internet.

But Ontario Superior Court Justice Marc Labrosse ruled last month that Ortis would be returned to custody as a result of a review requested by the Crown. The reasons are covered by a publication ban.

No trial date has been set, but Ortis is due to make another court appearance Tuesday in Ottawa.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki told a Sept. 17 news conference the allegations against Ortis had left many people shaken, noting that as director general of the force’s National Intelligence Co-ordination Centre, he had access to information from domestic and international allies.

Lucki said investigators had come across documents during a joint investigation with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation that prompted the Mounties to believe there could be some kind of “internal corruption.” The trail led them to Ortis.

The heavily redacted briefing documents for Vigneault, spanning Sept. 16 to Oct. 25, informed the CSIS director of media interest in the case and the unfolding bail proceedings.

On Sept. 23, the deputy director of administration at CSIS sent Vigneault a formal “Notification of Security Breach” in keeping with the spy service’s procedures on internal security inquiries and investigations.

Three days after Ortis’ arrest, Ralph Goodale, public safety minister at the time, began contacting his counterparts in Australia, Britain, New Zealand and the United States, says a briefing note prepared by the Privy Council Office. This included conversations with Australian Minister of Home Affairs Peter Dutton and New Zealand Intelligence and Security Minister Andrew Little. Those countries are members, with Canada, of an intelligence-sharing network called Five Eyes.

“The matter is before the courts in Canada and we can’t comment further at this stage,” a spokesman for New Zealand’s intelligence and security agencies told The Canadian Press.

Throughout Sept. 18, “multiple calls were initiated between Canadian and Australian officials,” says the PCO briefing note.

In addition, Greta Bossenmaier, the prime minister’s national security adviser at the time, and David Morrison, foreign and defence policy adviser, met with the Australian high commissioner to Canada “at Australia’s request,” says a Sept. 19 email from a Privy Council official.

The security advisers could provide “additional information of relevance” before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, says the email.

Trudeau was in the thick of the federal election campaign by mid-September, but there is an official record of a phone conversation with Morrison on Oct. 23, shortly after the Liberals won re-election.

A Canadian Press request for Australian records related to the Ortis arrest under the country’s freedom-of-information law identified 12 documents. However, all were ruled exempt from disclosure because they dealt with national security, defence, international relations or cabinet affairs.

– Jim Bronskill

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 16, 2019.

 

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2019