The judge presiding over an unprecedented national security trial reminded the jury Friday that they can believe “some, none or all” of the testimony they’ve heard over the past seven weeks.
Justice Robert Maranger delivered his instructions to the 12 jurors who will decide the fate of Cameron Ortis, the former RCMP intelligence official accused of leaking secrets to police targets.
The 51-year-old has pleaded not guilty in Ontario Superior Court to six charges, including multiple counts of sharing special operational information without authority.
The former civilian member of the RCMP said he was acting to protect Canada from a “grave threat” passed along by a foreign entity.
“You may believe some, none or all of the testimony of a given witness,” said Maranger.
“When you go to the jury room to consider the case, and consider the witnesses, use the same common sense that you use every day in deciding whether people know what they’re talking about, whether they’re telling the truth.”
The trial has heard from nearly a dozen witnesses over the past seven weeks — including the accused — and has received more than 500 pages of evidence. Some of the evidence has been redacted.
“This is because of national security issues, or concerns,” Maranger said.
Even before the trial started last month, a Federal Court judge ruled that certain information could not be entered into evidence or mentioned in open court, Maranger said.
“This should not be held against either the prosecution or the defence. It is just the nature of the case. You should not try to guess what the information might or might not be,” he said.
Crown wraps its closing arguments
The Crown spent close to five weeks of the trial arguing Ortis used his position within the RCMP — leading an intelligence unit that had access to Canadian and allied intelligence — to leak sensitive information, violating the Security of Information Act.
It’s the first time the act has been tested out in court.
Ortis is accused of leaking special operational information “without authority” to Phantom Secure CEO Vincent Ramos — who sold encrypted cellphones to organized crime members — and Salim Henareh and Muhammad Ashraf, two men police suspected of being agents of an international money-laundering network with ties to terrorists.
He’s also accused of trying to leak information to Farzam Mehdizadeh. One RCMP witness told Ortis’s trial he believes Mehdizadeh worked with “the most important money launderers in the world.”
He’s accused of leaking information during the first few months of 2015. Ortis ran a unit within the RCMP called operations research (OR).
According to the agreed statement of facts, he took annual leave for about two weeks in March 2015. He then took full-time French language training until March of 2016. When he returned to work, he was tasked with leading a new unit, the National Intelligence Co-ordination Centre,
In her closing remarks Friday, Crown prosecutor Judy Kliewer told the jury that Ortis never sought authority to release the information “because what he was doing is something that was so out of line, he never told anyone about it.”
“He didn’t do it for Canada or the RCMP. He did it for his own purposes,” she said.
For five hours over two days, Kliewer attacked Ortis’s story, pointing to what she called inconsistencies
“You will have noticed that when, in responding to questions in a cross examination, you heard, ‘I can’t recall, I don’t remember.’ Things that ought to have been among the most significant in his career at the OR, in fact in a lifetime, really,” she said.
“You know, if you’re working while you’re on leave, you kind of remember what you were working on.”
She also reminded the jury the Crown doesn’t have to prove the “why” of the case — only the “what.”
“Was there a profit motive? Maybe. It’s not something the Crown has to prove,” she said to the jury.
“All you have to decide is, did he communicate without authority?”
On Thursday, the defence team used its closing arguments to focus on the “why.”
Ortis was motivated “to protect Canada and its citizens like you and me,” said defence lawyer Jon Doody.
During his four days of in-camera testimony earlier this month, Ortis claimed he was actually working on a secret operation based on information from a foreign agency.
Ortis can’t tell his whole story: defence
He testified the alleged operation, which he said he called “OR Nudge,” was intended to lure criminals to an encrypted email service to allow authorities to intercept their messages. Outside of the courtroom, the email service has called Ortis’s claims “completely false” and “salacious.”
Ortis, who is permanently bound to secrecy, said he didn’t loop anyone else from the RCMP in on his plan because his counterpart shared information with him on the condition that it be kept private.
He also testified the targets had moles within Canadian law enforcement agencies.
During his closing arguments, Doody said his client “did not cower away from testifying” despite limitations on his testimony.
“Cameron Ortis is quite possibly the first Canadian required to testify in their own defence without the ability to tell the jury … the full story,” he said.
“I suspect that after hearing Cam’s testimony, you were still left with questions,” Doody added, addressing jurors. “And unfortunately, that’s a reality of this case.”
Maranger is expected to finish his instructions Monday, after which the jury will begin its deliberations.
“Rest for the weekend,” Maranger told the jury.
“You’re going to have a busy week.”