With new charges, senior Mountie now accused of divulging secrets to four people
By The Canadian Press
By The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — After the shocking arrest of one of their own on national-secrecy charges, rank-and-file Mounties were encouraged to get counselling if needed, decline to speak with the media and avoid the headquarters venue where a news conference on the case was taking place, newly released documents show.
RCMP members were also advised what to say to colleagues at home and abroad who asked about the Cameron Jay Ortis file.
Ortis, 47, faces eight charges under the Security of Information Act. He is also accused of breach of trust and a computer-related offence.
The director general of the RCMP’s National Intelligence Co-ordination Centre was arrested Sept. 12 for allegedly revealing secrets and planning to give additional classified information to an unspecified foreign entity.
At that time, Ortis was accused of divulging secrets to one unnamed individual. Court documents made public Tuesday say he is now charged with providing “special operational information” to a total of four people, identified only by initials, in the late winter or early spring of 2015.
The other four Security of Information Act charges relate to Ortis’s alleged plans, in the period of September 2018 to September 2019, to disclose additional secrets.
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada says the secrecy charges will proceed by way of direct indictment, meaning there will be no preliminary inquiry. The case would be heard by a jury.
During a brief hearing Tuesday in Ontario Superior Court, lawyer Ian Carter, who is representing Ortis, flagged the “complicated issue” of not being able to speak with his client about sensitive details for fear of violating the Security of Information Act or the Canada Evidence Act.
“I need to be able to communicate with Mr. Ortis in order to properly defend him,” Carter told the judge.
A hearing scheduled for Friday will help determine whether the issues can be sorted out informally or will be the subject of additional legal proceedings.
For that reason, Carter said, he had not discussed with Ortis the material disclosed by the Crown to date. He expects to receive thousands of pages of additional evidence by the end of next week.
Asked how Ortis was faring, Carter said, “It’s tough.”
Internal memos and emails released to The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act provide the latest glimpse behind the scenes at the RCMP in the early days of the high-profile case.
In a force-wide message Sept. 13, the day after the Ortis arrest, Steve White, acting commissioner at the time, emphasized it would “impact some employees personally who may have worked with the employee.”
“We must remember to look out for one another. If you or someone you know needs support as a result of this, or other incidents, please reach out to someone who can help,” said White, who provided details about the RCMP’s employee assistance programs.
He added: “I would like to remind everyone of the importance of their responsibilities to safeguard the information under their control.”
The same day, Eric Slinn, an assistant commissioner, advised colleagues the RCMP was aware of the potential risks from the Ortis case to the force’s investigations and to those of other agencies. He drafted a list of suggested responses to questions, seeing as “you will be asked for information from your partners.”
In a message a few days later, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said the force “has engaged domestic and foreign partners in order to mitigate concerns, address risks and answer questions they might have.”
She reminded members of the counselling supports available. “If you see someone struggling, reach out to them.”
Lucki also said anyone contacted by a journalist should refer them to the RCMP’s media relations unit.
She addressed reporters at a brief news conference Sept. 17 at the RCMP’s national headquarters.
“Media will be escorted through the building to the auditorium in order to participate in the event,” the force’s director general for national headquarters said in an email to members.
“Employees are kindly asked to please avoid the area surrounding the auditorium until the conference has ended. For those wishing to view the press conference, we encourage you to make use of the televisions throughout the building.”
Also Sept. 17, senior officials, including the force’s director general for departmental security, were informed of a meeting on the Ortis investigation, known as Project Ace.
Slinn asked officials Sept. 20 to join a call to “see how things are progressing in each of your respective areas in support of the investigation and ascertain if there are any challenges that we need to address as a collective.”
– By Jim Bronskill
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2020.
News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2020