RCMP conducting 'character' checks on staff as former top intelligence official's trial approaches

It took the arrest of one of its top intelligence officials to make it happen, but the RCMP says it's now keeping better tabs on the "character" of the people it employs.

Force hired consultant to investigate the culture within its intelligence co-ordination unit

Cameron Ortis leaves the courthouse in Ottawa after being granted bail on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. Ortis is a former senior RCMP employee accused of divulging secret information. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

It took the arrest of one of its top intelligence officials to make it happen, but the RCMP says it's now keeping better tabs on the "character" of the people it employs.

Cameron Ortis, who led the force's National Intelligence Co-ordination Centre (NICC), was arrested in September 2019 in Ottawa. He was accused of revealing secrets to an unnamed recipient and of planning to give additional classified information to an unspecified foreign entity or terrorist group.

He is charged with multiple Security of Information Act violations, breach of trust and a computer-related offence.

As Global News first reported, he also faced internal accusations of "strange and controlling behaviour" that employees say the force ignored.

The force has since confirmed it brought in Alphonse MacNeil, a retired RCMP assistant commissioner turned consultant, to review the culture within the intelligence co-ordination unit. Ortis was appointed director general of the NICC in April 2016.

MacNeil's report pointed to a failure in leadership and a workplace culture that left employees feeling "broken," according to a redacted copy of the report recently released through an access to information request.

"The failure of leadership in this case was noted at many levels and it reveals a need for the RCMP to consider how leaders are selected," the report says.

MacNeil — who conducted an independent review of the RCMP's handling of the 2014 Moncton shootings, which claimed the lives of three RCMP officers — also wrote that NICC employees felt belittled, humiliated and demeaned in a workplace environment that violated the RCMP's core values.

RCMP says it's looking for 'balance of character'

In the wake of MacNeil's report on the NICC, the RCMP said it made some changes, including what it calls "a character leadership approach to its human resources processes."

"These new tools allow for the assessment and ongoing development of an individual's character, with a focus on judgment, inclusiveness and self-awareness," said RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Caroline Duval in an emailed response to CBC News.

"This approach ensures that employees, regardless of rank or level, have the competencies, commitment, and balance of character to make good decisions across a broad range of challenges and contexts."

The RCMP said it started its "character leadership approach" over the winter.

WATCH | Who is Cameron Ortis?

Who is Cameron Ortis?

2 years ago
Duration 3:01
Cameron Ortis, a senior Canadian intelligence official, has been accused of violating the country’s secrecy laws and plotting to leak sensitive information. Here’s how his expertise in cybersecurity and the dark web gave him access to intelligence from Canada and its global allies.

It also pointed to the launch of its new centre for harassment resolution in June as a sign of progress. The unit is housed within the RCMP but is meant to be independent of the environment in which the harassment complaints originated.

"Concerted efforts are being made to create a culture focused on prevention through a healthy and supportive workplace," said Duval.

The RCMP promised to tighten its security protocols after Ortis' arrest — and the international headlines it generated — but has been vague on what those changes entail.

"Some of the recommendations will take time to implement. Corrective actions have already been undertaken in several areas that required improvements, modifications and strengthening," said Duval.

Ortis is scheduled for an eight-week jury trial starting Sept. 6, 2022, almost three years after his initial arrest.