Top Canadian police official charged with espionage offenses

Official had access to international intelligence

By Rebekah Riess and James Griffiths, CNN
Copyright 2019 CNN

A top official is accused of multiple offenses under Canada's Security of Information Act.

OTTAWA - A senior Canadian police intelligence official charged with espionage-related offenses had access secret information from both domestic and international allies it was confirmed Monday.

Cameron Ortis is accused of multiple offenses under the Security of Information Act, as well as two sections of the country's Criminal Code, according to a statement from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

They include the "unauthorized communication of special operational information" and possession of a device "for surreptitiously communicating, obtaining or retaining information," the RCMP said.

The case has rocked the elite Mounties and sent diplomats scrambling to contain the fallout.

"Without going into too much detail, it is alleged he obtained, stored, and processed sensitive information, the Crown believes with the intent to communicate that information with people he shouldn't be communicating to," John MacFarlane of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada said.

Ed Prutschi, a legal analyst for CNN news partner CTV News, said the charges levied against Ortis are spy-related.

"(Ortis) is a civilian cyber security guy in the RCMP and the combination of charges implies he's accused of either hacking or just plain out stealing sensitive info through digital networks presumably and passing it along," Prutschi said.

Investigations are ongoing and Ortis is due to appear in court Friday. The Office of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told CNN that "Canadians can continue to have confidence in their security and intelligence agencies to protect our safety and rights," and directed further questions to the RCMP.

Speaking to CTV Monday, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said Ortis's arrest had "shaken many people throughout the RCMP, particularly in federal policing." She confirmed that Ortis was director general of the RCMP's National Intelligence Coordination Center, after starting his career with the Mounties in 2007.

"By virtue of the positions he held, Mr. Ortis had access to information the Canadian intelligence community possessed. He also had access to intelligence coming from our allies both domestically and internationally. This level of access is appropriate given the positions he held," Lucki said. "This is an ongoing investigation and we are assessing the impacts of the alleged activities as information becomes available."

CTV reported that, according to his LinkedIn profile, Ortis has a doctorate in international relations from the University of British Columbia and speaks Mandarin Chinese. Papers he has authored focused on the security situation in East Asia and the Pacific.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would not comment Monday on the potential impact on Canada's intelligence sharing with Five Eyes, the grouping that also includes the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

"I think people will understand I can't make any public comments on this, but I can assure you this is something that the responsible authorities are engaged with at the highest levels, including with our allies," Trudeau said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of John MacFarlane of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

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