Almost a year after arrest in alleged RCMP spy case, lawyer says he's waiting for 'substantial' disclosure

Almost a year after an RCMP director accused of leaking secrets was arrested, his lawyer is arguing the Crown is taking far too long to disclose key information.

Crown argues disclosure has been ‘extremely complex’

Cameron Ortis, a senior intelligence official at the RCMP, leaves the courthouse in Ottawa with his lawyer Ian Carter, right, after being granted bail, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. Ortis is accused on charges of violating the Security of Information Act and breach of trust for allegedly disclosing secrets to an unknown recipient. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Almost a year after an RCMP director accused of leaking secrets was arrested, his lawyer is arguing the Crown is taking far too long to disclose key information.

Cameron Ortis, who served as director general of the RCMP's national intelligence co-ordination centre, is charged with violating the Security of Information Act. He was arrested in mid September and is accused of trying to share sensitive information with a foreign entity or terrorist organization. He's also charged with sharing operational information in 2015.

His lawyer, Ian Carter, said his client remains concerned about the pace at which disclosure is being turned over to the defence.

"By the time disclosure is complete, it will have been essentially a year, or just over a year, which is an extraordinary intake period for disclosure in the case," said Carter during a special sitting this morning.

"The disclosure that remains outstanding is not insignificant. It is not a question of a few final documents that are going to be given. It's substantial."

Disclosure process 'extremely complex'

Crown attorney John MacFarlane said that 5,500 documents have been given to the defence so far, and another tranche of documents is coming Carter's way in late September, which will cover the majority of the disclosure.

"As the parties know, the documents are highly sensitive," he said.

"The disclosure process has been extremely complex, many parties looking at every document before they're being disclosed so that he gets full disclosure, but at the same time sensitive information is protected."

The disclosure delay was raised as the Federal Court conducts a case management conference to discuss how to proceed with Section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act, which prevents disclosure of "sensitive" or "potentially injurious" information in a criminal proceeding without the consent of the attorney general or a court order.

According to documents viewed in the immediate aftermath of his arrest, the classified intelligence material Ortis is accused of preparing to share includes some of the most closely protected of Canada's national security assets, and its dissemination would have threatened Canada's relations with its allies.

During the federal proceeding today, a lawyer with the Department of Justice suggested that at least 1,000 documents have a Section 38 claim to deal with.

"Just to give you an understanding of the scope of that, we can tell you that about 480 documents is equal at this stage to 14,500 pages," said Elizabeth Richards Thursday morning.

'Complex and unique issues'

One of the first steps in the case management conference will be to appoint an amicus curiae — a special adviser. 

Carter is asking that two vetted advisers be appointed so that Section 38 proceedings don't hold up the criminal case. 

"These are documents that are at the heart of the case," he said.

"I can't really get into too many details of this on this call — obviously this is a unique position, given my client's role within the RCMP and the access he had to certain materials — but what I can say is that there are going to be complex and unique issues that will arise on this section 38."

The involved parties will send in their terms for appointing a special adviser to Justice John Norris in a week.