Canada’s partners in the Five Eyes alliance are asking questions after one of the country’s most senior police officials was charged with breaching national security laws.
Cameron Ortis, a director general with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s intelligence unit, faces charges under a little-used security law.
Diplomatic sources said the Five Eyes alliance was waiting for a formal damage assessment from the public safety minister’s office, the CBC reported. New Zealand, along with Canada, the US, Britain and Australia, are members of the intelligence-sharing network.
The 47-year-old senior intelligence official appeared in an Ottawa court on Friday, facing five counts under the Security of Information Act and two Criminal Code violations.
Mr Ortis is accused of communicating special operational information in 2015 and faces charges related to preparing, in the past year, to share either safeguarded or operational information with a foreign entity or terrorist group, the CBC reports.
“It is alleged he obtained, stored and processed sensitive information … with the intent to communicate that information with people he shouldn’t be communicating to,” federal prosecutor John MacFarlane told reporters in Ottawa.
The rarely-invoked Security of Information Act was created to ensure operatives who know Canada’s top secrets keep them secret.
Security and intelligence expert Professor Wesley Wark said Mr Ortis was a senior civilian official on the national security side of the RCMP.
“He would have had a lot of access to very sensitive information because the RCMP is deeply involved and integrated into security and intelligence work in Canada.
“He is a person under Canadian law who is deemed to be permanently pledged to secrecy, which puts him into a special category and essentially means he had access to top secret information.
That information could include signals intelligence and allied information, said Prof Wark, a visiting professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa.
The RCMP is responsible for national security investigations, including counter-intelligence investigations, and cybercrime investigation, he told Morning Report.
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“He would have had a lot of access to very sensitive information” – Prof Wesley Wark
Little is known about what information Mr Ortis was allegedly gathering and preparing to pass on. The CBC is reporting that sources who knew of Mr Ortis’s work said he probably had access to Mountie operations, intelligence dossiers and information from Canada’s allies.
The RCMP said in a statement that the alleged offences had taken place when Ortis was a member of the force, but it gave no further details and said nothing about what other nations might be involved.
– RNZ / CBC / Reuters