New Brunswick

Convicted spy released on parole less than halfway into sentence

The Parole Board of Canada is releasing convicted Canadian spy Jeffrey Delisle on day parole, just seven years into his 20-year sentence for selling secrets to the Russians.

Former Canadian navy officer, 47, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for sharing secrets with Russia

Jeffrey Delisle was sentenced to 20 years in prison for 'coldly and rationally' selling secrets to Russia. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The Parole Board of Canada decided Tuesday to release convicted spy Jeffrey Delisle on day parole, after a two-hour hearing at Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick.

Delisle, 47, a former Canadian naval intelligence officer, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for, in the words of the  sentencing judge, "coldly and rationally" selling secrets to Russia. 

It was considered Canada's biggest spy scandal in more than half a century.  

The RCMP arrested Delisle in January 2012, charging him with two counts of communicating information to a foreign entity without lawful authority and with breach of trust.

He was sent to prison in February 2013.

Delisle sold secrets about Canada and its allies to Russia between 2007 and 2012.

The parole board said his crimes are serious and their consequences far-reaching, but members felt there was little chance Delisle, a man with no other criminal history, will ever reoffend.

'I was what they termed a rising star'

Delisle's parole officer painted a picture of a man who joined the military purely out of a sense of obligation. Delisle's father and grandfather had each served the country.

"It was the manly thing to do," Delisle said at the hearing in front of the board Tuesday. 

He joined the Canadian Armed Forces full time at the age of 24.

Just two years later, he was granted partial access to top secret information. It would only take five years for him to get full electronic access to classified information. He was a corporal at that time.

"I was what they termed a rising star," he said, noting he obtained access at an unusually young age.

Delisle in a 1990 yearbook photo.

Delisle took a job in Ottawa in 2006, at the age of 34, working in the chief of defence intelligence office. He had been promoted to sergeant by then.

That's when his marriage started to fall apart. He said he eventually caught his wife cheating on him with their neighbour, sending him into a downhill spiral.

'I wanted to commit career suicide'

Delisle, a self-described "loner" who preferred video games to socializing with his wife and their friends, said the betrayal left him angry and depressed.

He said he thought about killing himself but couldn't get himself to do it, because he didn't want to leave his children without a father.

So he had another idea.

"I wanted to commit professional career suicide," he said.

Delisle has been serving his sentence at Dorchester Penitentiary in southeastern New Brunswick. (Correctional Service of Canada)

Delisle said he walked into the Russian Embassy in Ottawa in 2007, filled out an application form and flashed his Canadian military badge.

He had a half-hour conversation with someone there, during which he said he had access to Canadian intelligence.

The then 35-year-old sub-lieutenant set a price for his services — $10,000 US.

A month later, he received a letter by mail detailing what the Russians wanted, accompanied by a picture of his children.

This continued for the better part of five years. After the first payment of $10,000, he would receive $3,000 in exchange for selling information once a month.

Not about the money, Delisle says

At the hearing, Delisle claimed it was never about the money, but about trying to regain some sense of control.

He said he left a paper trail, hoping to get caught.

That took Canadian authorities five years.

Delisle received a mere $71,000 for betraying his country. He spent the first $10,000 on expensive earrings in a failed attempt to get his ex-wife back.

Before the parole board Tuesday, he sat with his back to the rest of the room. His new partner sat next to him throughout the hearing.

When asked if he had anything to say at the end, he expressed remorse for what he had done.

Delisle will be released on day parole at a halfway house in September. He will have to follow a treatment plan to deal with "personal emotional and attitude issues."

In March 2019, he will be eligible for full parole.

About the Author

Gabrielle Fahmy is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been a journalist with the CBC since 2014.