A former senior RCMP officer accused of leaking top-secret information was attempting to “protect” Canada from “serious and imminent threats” spurred by intelligence from a foreign agency, his defence counsel suggested Thursday.
Cameron Ortis is facing multiple criminal charges for allegedly breaking the Security of Information Act, Canada’s official secrets law. He is alleged to have offered high-level intelligence to accused criminals in exchange for money.
But on Thursday, Mark Ertel, a lawyer with Ortis’ defence team, suggested the former civilian RCMP intelligence officer was motivated to act based on information from a foreign security agency.
“His actions were in large part a result of secret information communicated to him by a foreign agency,” Ertel told the 12-person jury Thursday morning in Ottawa.
“And he’s going to be forbidden from telling you what the information was or what the foreign agency was. So he’s defending himself with one hand tied behind his back.”
After Ertel’s opening statement, the public and reporters were ushered out of the court. Ortis – like some of the witnesses for the Crown in his trial – is testifying behind closed doors due to national security concerns, with transcripts expected to be released on Friday.
It is an unusual security measure in an unusual trial. Ortis is the first person to go to trial under the Security of Information Act, Canada’s official secrets law which was last updated after the September 2001 attacks on the United States.
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Ortis was a civilian director of the RCMP’s Operations Research branch, which analyzed top-secret intelligence from Canada’s security agencies and allies. He was arrested in 2019 and accused of selling secrets to criminal elements.
His defence is expected to focus on whether he had the authority to share those secrets.
“He’s going to tell you why he had a duty to act, why his actions were appropriate, (and) why (those actions) were necessary under the circumstances,” Ertel told the jury.
Ortis is expected to continue his testimony Friday, with transcripts released to the public after the fact.
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