The trial of Cameron Ortis, a former senior RCMP intelligence official, is set to begin on Tuesday.

Ortis is accused of passing top-secret national security data to four unnamed persons without authorization.

This case will be precedent-setting because Ortis will be the first Canadian to undergo a trial for charges under the Security of Information Act.

Before he was arrested in September 2019, Ortis was the director general of the RCMP’s National Intelligence Co-ordination Centre. In that position, he was bound to secrecy and had access to top-secret information from both domestic and international partners. The allegations against Ortis date back to 2015.

“This is a first for Canada,” says Dan Stanton, a former executive manager at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada’s national spy agency.

“There will be a lot of interest in how Canada prosecutes…the unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” Stanton said.

Ortis is facing six criminal charges, including four under Section 14 of SOIA. The charges allege that he “intentionally and without authority” communicated special operational information to four unnamed individuals.

He also faces an additional two criminal charges of fraudulently accessing a computer service and committing a breach of trust.

Ortis will plead not guilty to all the charges and testify in his own defence.

“He is looking forward to appearing in front of a jury of his peers and telling them what happened in his own words. He’s been waiting years to tell his story,” his lawyer, Jon Doody, told CTV News ahead of the trial.


Ortis arrived in Ottawa two weeks ago to begin trial preparations. When his plane landed on Sept. 19 from British Columbia, he was watched by two RCMP officers who identified themselves to his lawyer.

Even though he wears a thick black GPS monitor around his left ankle that tracks his every move, Ortis told CTV News that police have been stationed outside his hotel since he arrived.

It’s a sign of how much of a security risk Ortis is still considered by his former employer.

Ortis spent more than three years in custody, before receiving bail last December. He was living under house arrest at his parents’ home in Abbotsford, B.C., after they posted $250,000 bail.

“He has very limited access to people in his life to communicate with, and he’s been looking forward to having his day in court to put this behind him,” said Doody. “His reputation has been tarnished.”


The trial is expected to be closely watched by Canada’s closest allies.

In his role as head of the RCMP’s Intelligence Unit, Ortis had access to intelligence shared by the “Five Eyes.” The international network consists of security agencies in five English-speaking countries: Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.

Stanton, who is currently the director of the national security program at the University of Ottawa, says this trial puts Canada's reputation on the line.

“Canada has a less-than-stellar record in prosecuting espionage and attempted espionage,” said Stanton, who pointed to recent leaks related to India and China as examples that have raised international concern.

“For some of our Five Eyes partners, the question is: is Canada able to do something with these leaks? Will we be able to prosecute someone with the legislation we have?”


According to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, only five people have been charged under the Security of Information Act (SOIA).

The Crown was able to secure a conviction in the 2012 case of naval officer Jeffrey Delisle after he confessed to selling secrets to the Russians and pleaded guilty.

After being sentenced to 20 years in prison, Delisle was granted full parole in 2019.

In 2021, a judge stayed criminal proceedings against naval engineer Qin Quentin Huang, because of an unreasonable delay in bringing the matter to trial. Huang was accused of attempting to pass secrets to China.

Two other SOIA cases are currently before the courts. 

Last year, Yuesheng Wang, a former Quebec hydro worker, was charged with economic espionage under the act.  

And in July, RCMP used the secrets law to charge retired Mountie Bill Majcher with offences related to foreign interference. He faces allegations that he used his extensive network to help the Chinese government “identify and intimidate” an individual in Canada.

But the Ortis case is the first to go to trial.

“There are no precedents to look at to see how this has been analyzed in the past. What criteria (of the law) need to be met? That poses a unique factor in the case,” Doody said.


The trial is expected to last at least eight weeks and could involve a dozen witnesses. Because some evidence will involve classified national security information, portions of the trial will be heard in-camera.

Julian Falconer is a prominent human rights lawyer, best known for representing Maher Arar, a Syrian-Canadian who was deported to Syria and tortured after the Mounties passed on misleading and wrong information to U.S. authorities that labelled him a terrorist.

Falconer is not involved with the case, but says he will watch the proceedings closely to see how the judge determines what is important for the public to know, what should be covered by a publication ban and what portions of the trial will be held behind closed doors.

“If we are unable to conduct these prosecutions, doesn’t Canada present itself as even more of a target for illegal violations of these acts and for spying?”

Falconer says the Ortis case will show whether the Canadian justice system can balance transparency and the rights of an accused to a fair trial without compromising national security.

“In the end, I think it’s essential that this is successfully carried out as a trial, whatever the result,” said Falconer.

“If we are unable to carry off these prosecutions we display ourselves to be horribly inept and lose even more credibility.”