The bombshell moments in Cameron Ortis’s national security trial, so far | CBC News

The bombshell moments in Cameron Ortis’s national security trial, so far | CBC News

Crown prosecutors have spent the past five weeks laying out their case against Cameron Ortis in an unprecedented trial.

They allege he used his position as director of a highly-sensitive unit within the RCMP to attempt to sell intelligence gathered by Canada and its Five Eyes allies to police targets.

Ortis, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him, has also started to tell the jury his side of the story.

His defence team says he was acting with authority.

Here are some of the standout moments in the trial so far.

Ortis acted on info from a foreign agency: defence

In one of the biggest bombshells to land in the case so far, defence lawyer Mark Ertel told the jury earlier this week that Ortis protected Canada from “serious and imminent threats” and was acting on information sent by a foreign agency.

Ertel said Ortis not only acted with authority, but did so to protect Canada.

“His actions were in large part a result of secret information communicated to him by a foreign agency,” he said.

“Cameron Ortis is no enemy of Canada.”

Ertel also said Ortis will be limited in what he can share with the court due to security concerns. He also said his client doesn’t have access to his old work emails.

“He has one hand tied behind his back,” said Ertel.

RCMP watched suspected ‘agents’ of money-launderer

The jury has been shown redacted intelligence reports explaining Canada’s role in investigating a multi-billion dollar international money laundering network.

Around 2015, the Five Eyes alliance — an intelligence sharing network made up of the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand — had identified a common international threat: Altaf Khanani.

The U.S. government says Khanani’s network laundered illicit funds for organized crime and terrorist outfits, including al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

A photo of a DVD recovered from Salim Henareh which contained FINTRAC documents. According to the agreed statement of facts, he told police he received the package in March 2015. (Court exhibit)

According to intelligence reports entered into evidence, the RCMP “identified a number of Canadian subjects that act as agents of Khanani” in the Toronto area.

The jury has heard that Salim Henareh, Muhammad Ashraf and Farzam Mehdizadeh and their respective companies were all subjects of investigation in Canada. Ortis is accused of sharing operational information with Henareh and Ashraf and of attempting to share information with Mehdizadeh.

One report showed FINTRAC, Canada’s financial transactions intelligence agency, flagged more than $3.5 billion in financial transactions from Henareh’s company Persepolis to the RCMP.

Another document viewed by the court said that over the course of 10 years, Mehdizadeh had been the subject of 48 suspicious transaction reports from financial institutions related to various indicators of money laundering and terrorist financing.

One of Ortis’s colleagues, Walter Mendonca, said he believed Mehdizadeh was working with “the most important money launderers in the world.”

Henareh and Ashraf have not been charged. Henareh’s lawyer Barry Fox told CBC News the allegations against his client “have been fully investigated by the RCMP and he has been completely exonerated.” Ashraf has not responded to CBC’s requests.

Mehdizadeh fled the country before his anticipated arrest in 2017, according to the agreed statement of facts in Ortis’s trial.

Ortis allegedly asked for $20,000

Ortis is also accused of approaching Vincent Ramos with information detailing the RCMP’s interest in his company Phanom Secure, which was selling encrypted phones to organized crime.

Emails found on Ramos’s devices after his arrest in 2018 alerted Mounties that someone within the organization had sent him special operational information. The recovered emails also make up part of the 500-page statement of facts agreed to between the Crown and defence.

“I assure you that this is a business proposition. Nothing more. It is not risk free, of course, but the risk to reward ratio will prove to be more than acceptable,” reads one of the emails the Crown alleges Ortis sent.

The Crown says that, using the email handle ‘See All Things,’ Ortis reached out to Ramos on Feb. 5, 2015 and told him he had information about a multi-agency investigation targeting Phantom Secure.

The email sender sent snippets of FINTRAC reports, a criminal intelligence assessment by the RCMP and a document summarizing other western intelligence and law enforcement information on the company.

The jury heard the sender then asked for $20,000 in exchange for the unredacted documents.

Leaked info ‘jeopardizes lives’

The jury has heard from multiple RCMP witnesses that the sensitive information Ortis is accused of leaking could have jeopardized police investigations and put lives at risk.

One of the emails Ortis is accused of sending to Ramos implies an associate of Ramos “met someone friendly” while undergoing a secondary border services agency inspection at the Vancouver airport. The jury has heard that individual was an undercover officer meeting Kapil Judge, who also worked at Phantom Secure.

The Crown says other documents found on Ortis’s devices suggest he was preparing to tell Mehdizadeh not to trust someone in his organization.

Retired assistant commissioner Todd Shean testified that unauthorized disclosure of such information “jeopardizes lives.”

Crown prosecutor Judy Kliewer makes her opening statement in the trial of Cameron Ortis on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2023.
Crown prosecutor Judy Kliewer makes her opening statement in the trial of Cameron Ortis on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2023. (Sketch by Lauren Foster-MacLeod)

“You could be signing somebody’s death warrant and I’m not trying to overstate it,” he said.

“It is so reckless that you’re putting that person’s life at risk.”

Who is Cameron Ortis?

While the trial has focused largely on what Ortis is accused of doing, the jury also has heard something about the man at the centre of the case.

According to his former boss, Ortis was seen as a rising star by the top brass and was destined to climb the ranks as a civilian member of the RCMP.

“I’m not going to lie, I was a fan of Cam,” said Shean.

“Cam is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.”

Shean said Ortis oversaw an “extraordinary” team at operations research, which gave “meticulous” briefings. Shean suggested other units in RCMP national security did not met the same standard.

Dan Morris, who served as Ortis’s second in command in the OR, said his boss was an intelligent, detail-oriented person who often kept long hours. Morris said Ortis tended to work alone and rarely got involved in the details of his team’s intelligence projects.

WATCH | Former RCMP director was trying to sell secrets to police targets, Crown alleges

Former RCMP director was trying to sell secrets to police targets, Crown alleges

Featured VideoCameron Ortis, the former RCMP intelligence official accused of breaking Canada’s secret intelligence law, was trying to sell RCMP operational information to criminals — including targets of police investigations — the Crown team alleged in its opening remarks at Ortis’s trial Tuesday. The defence said Ortis had the authority to do everything he did.

Morris also said Ortis had a friendly relationship with the top Mountie of the day, then-commissioner Bob Paulson.

The Crown asked Ortis’s colleagues about his running habits.

“At one point, he told me that he ran about 14 kilometres a day, and that he would do this for about 14 days straight, and take one day off of running,” said Morris.

Another colleague from the OR, Greg O’Hayon, said he remembers “being amazed at the speed.”

‘I’m sick to my stomach’

Some of the most emotional moments in the trial so far came from Ortis’s former boss, Shean, after the Crown showed him the emails Ortis is accused of sending to the investigative targets.

“I’m sick to my stomach by what I see here,” he said earlier this week.

“I’m shaking because it’s just the irreparable harm that I expect this has done to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.”

Deputy Commissioner Todd Shean says it's early but they're already seeing results from the new crime reduction units.
Retired assistant commissioner Todd Shean said the unauthorized disclosure of operational information can put lives at risk. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Shean said he would often meet with Ortis, sometimes over a beer, to discuss work.

His voice shaking with emotion, Shean repeatedly told the jury he would not have agreed to Ortis sending special operational information to people police were trying to keep an eye on.

“So criminal, so reckless,” he said.

Canada was under ‘pressure’ from Five Eye allies

The case has also pulled back the curtain — slightly — on Canada’s position in the Five Eyes alliance around 2015.

According to retired RCMP staff sergeant Guy Belley’s testimony last month, Canada’s allies were disappointed that Canadian police were unable to stop companies from selling encrypted phones to transnational organized crime operations.

The RCMP was trying to go after Canadian company Phantom Secure as part of an investigation dubbed “Project Saturation.”

Belley said the RCMP was under “international pressure”  to take action.

A bald man sitting in a police cruiser with the rear passenger door open.
An image from body cam video of Vincent Ramos’s arrest by Bellingham Police on March 7, 2018. (Bellingham Police Department)

“It was well known, obviously, that our Five Eyes partners and maybe other partners were very disappointed that Canada was not able to make more progress in Project Saturation,” said Ertel.

“I think it’s a fair assessment,” Belley replied.

Shean also testified Canada’s inability to crack down on encryption was an “embarrassment for us.”

Ortis has started to testify behind closed doors. Redacted transcripts of his testimony are expected to be made public next week.

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